The second Comment of the Day on the recent Ethics Alarms post about a United attendant killing a French bulldog puppy through her ignorance, cruelty and stupidity focuses on a crucial factor not covered in my post: the harried mother who allowed it to happen. I have seen this issue raised on social media, only to be followed by “how dare you blame the victim?” attacks. Well, the immediate victim was the little dog, and anyone who adopts a pet has accepted the responsibility of keeping the trusting animal safe from authority-abusing fools and the perils of being imprisoned in small, hot, airless spaces like a furry piece of luggage.
Here is Emily’s Comment of the Day on the post, A Cruel And Stupid Flight Attendant, A Dead Puppy, And A Plane Full Of Sheep:
This is a reply to several people at once who wondered about the pet owner…It’s also not a defense of the pet owner, but more an attempt to pin point where the ethical breach was on her part. A number of people here have wondered what she was thinking. From reading the article, Jack’s description, and a few other recountings across the net I can tell you exactly what she was thinking.
She was traveling with an infant, another daughter (I haven’t seen the kid’s age)* and a dog. With an infant, there’s probably a 70% chance the mother didn’t get enough sleep the night before. Then she got both kids ready to go, and trekked through an airport, clearing security, keeping track of all of their stuff, feeding the baby, keeping the puppy quiet, making sure the other kid got her shoes off and back on, getting to the gate, getting everyone boarded…
Then a flight attendant tells her there’s a problem with the dog’s carrier. Now, from what I read elsewhere, it was a TSA approved carrier, so I’m not sure what the problem was. Maybe she also had the diaper bag crammed under the seat, maybe it was an older model bag or plane, maybe she didn’t have it closed right. But whatever the case, the flight attendant tells her to put it in the overhead.
She points out there’s a dog in it, and the flight attendant insists.
I can tell you that pet owner was not thinking clearly, and had no mental space to be thinking about her pet while dealing with the two kids. I’ll be honest: she might even have been relieved to have the dog someplace “safe” and tucked away for the flight, assuming (as other people have suggested, and I agree) she didn’t know much about the overhead compartments and expected the flight attendant to know what she was talking about.
I understand 100% what was going through this woman’s mind, as she was juggling a hundred things at once, and that’s where she was unethical.
I’ve mentioned here before, I have a special needs toddler, and I think that makes me way more sensitive than most parents (and other people) I talk to regarding the weight of responsibilities both to and for small children and pets when they go someplace. I can’t assume that public places or people’s homes will be equipped to be safe and comfortable for my daughter, and I can’t assume that her behavior won’t be disruptive to other people. I have to go into every situation knowing I might have to tell people “this isn’t going to work. What else can you do?” and with a plan for how to evacuate or mitigate the damage if my daughter is incapable of dealing with it. I rarely go places without a second adult (my husband or mother, usually) and the idea of trying to take her on an airplane, even with back-up, seems insane to me.
Every parent (and pet owner) should be ready for those situations. They should be considering that their charges will have emergencies, that their plans will get messed up, that the people they’re working with will not have in mind what’s best for their charge, and they’ll have to fight for it. And they should plan accordingly with enough trusted adults with them to handle whatever situation arises and back-up plans for their back-up plans.
But most of the time, they don’t have to. Most of the time it never comes up, and if there are a few bumps — the kid wants a snack they can’t have, or the puppy won’t stop barking — they can just move past them. So they don’t. They overestimate their ability to advocate for the beings in their charge, and their ability to keep control of situations, and if something big does come up… they make mistakes. Sometimes annoying mistakes, sometimes tragic mistakes.
Now, maybe this situation was totally unavoidable for the woman in question. Maybe she was escaping an abusive husband, or trying to get to a dying relative, and had no money to board or check the dog, and knew she was taking a risk but absolutely had to do it anyway. In that case, she has my sympathy.
But more likely, she didn’t even think about the risk she was taking by taking on that responsibility for three lives as she traveled. She thought she could get away without paying to ship the dog in the hold (not a perfect solution, but better in the case of someone also juggling two kids) or boarding the dog.
That’s absolutely unethical, and in my experience all too common.