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The first and last flight of Snickers the cat

I feel bad for what happened to Snickers the cat. But to be brutally honest, I’m having a hard time working up much sympathy for her owner.

Snickers died last week, shortly after arrival at the Hartford airport aboard Delta Flight 738.

Airline officials had promised Heather Lombardi, who had purchased the cat from a breeder in Utah and was having her delivered, that the cargo hold the cat would travel in was climate controlled.

If you can’t guess what happened next, here’s some additional information:

Snickers was 11 weeks old.

Snickers was a Sphynx, or hairless cat.

It is winter, and a particularly cold one.

Once a plane lands, the cargo area is depressurized, and that climate control stuff doesn’t apply anymore.

Lombardi sent out an email blast to tell the world about “the worst tragedy I have ever personally experienced” — not to gain pity, or money, or, we’d hope, bolster her odds in a lawsuit. Instead, she says, she wanted to inform the world of the dangers of shipping a cat, by air, in winter.

With her two children, Lombardi arrived at the airport and was told to wait in the baggage area. Fifty minutes passed after the flight landed, the delay in unloading baggage being caused at least partly by a cargo hold latch that was stuck, she was told.

“I wasn’t incredibly alarmed … I figured she would be fine as long as she wasn’t outdoors,” wrote Lombardi, who paid $290 to transport Snickers. Outdoors, it was 7 degrees.

Upon being handed the crate, Lombardi opened it and pulled Snickers out:

“The kitten was ICE cold, limp, and unresponsive. I IMMEDIATELY put her into my coat, grabbed my kids by the hands & ran out of the airport to get her into my car & cranked up the heat putting all vents on her as I rubbed her trying to warm her up. She couldn’t lift or control any limbs, her breathing was labored, she had a blank stare in her eyes, and she let out a meow. As if to say help me — please. We rushed her to the emergency vet clinic, but to my utter devastation, on the drive, she let out a blood curdling cry & went completely limp …”

Ten minutes after handing the apparently lifeless cat to the vet, Lombardi was informed that Snickers was indeed dead.

“Her last hour of life was spent frozen & unable to escape. I am so utterly devastated — I cannot express to anyone how this feels. I am so sad for her, her little 11 week life lost for no reason. A tragedy that could have been prevented if the airline had valued her little promising life.”

Delta told her it is investigating, but, she said, “the bottom line is that they can’t bring her back to me or my family, there is nothing they can say or do to make this whole. We don’t want a new kitten; we fell in love with HER. She was our new child & there is nothing that can be done to bring her home to us. Snickers lost her life unnecessarily …  Value life everyone, I have just experienced something I pray no one else has too. Don’t let Snickers lost life be in vain, I pray you guys read this & maybe another animals life won’t be lost to the cold & lonely Delta Cargo holds.”

Reading over her summary of events, what stuns me most is that a customer would even consider having an 11-week-old hairless cat transported by air in the dead of winter. That the breeder would permit it is surprising as well. That Delta signed off on it is equally shocking.

So, much as we regret Snickers’ passing, we, unlike Lombardi, wouldn’t aim our anger solely at Delta. There appear to be plenty of humans to share the blame, including the one who — though her subsequent warning not to ship animals when it’s below 30 degrees is valid — probably should have done a little more research and used a little more common sense before having her new hairless cat placed on a plane.

And we have to wonder a little bit, too — coldhearted as it may be at her time of clearly anguishing loss — why, any allergies aside, someone would opt for a pricey, high-maintenance novelty pet from the other side of the country when hundreds of cats are in the Hartford area’s animal shelters, waiting for homes.

Heather Lombardi responds: 

“… I first wanted to thank you for bringing attention to what happened to Snickers. Knowledge is power & even if you don’t agree with my actions & poor decision, not everyone knows or understands the risks of placing your pets in a climate controlled cargo hold. I myself was guilty of that. I do not place blame solely on Delta, my lack of knowledge & belief that travel was safe for animals in this weather was the obvious reason she was on the flight. It’s why I decided to share her story. She died due to my lack of knowledge & an obvious service failure on Delta’s behalf. I can’t control Delta, their practices or policies, what I can control is how I handle the situation. I choose to raise awareness, and I thank you for helping with that.”


Comment from Foley Monster and Pocket
Time January 26, 2011 at 8:17 am

Pets traveling in the cargo area are always high risk. You are right. A hairless cat in a cargo area in winter is akin to putting in a crate on the top of your car in the winter and driving for an hour.

Comment from planecrazyjosie
Time January 26, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Not true about the cargo holds, unless the pet cargo crew inadvertently put Snickers in the wrong hold. The holds that pets and other fragile cargo travel in are on the same system as the main cabin. I have flown mine as both cargo and in the cabin with no ill effects at all.

However, a tiny, hairless kitten is not going to survive even a couple of minutes in 7 degree temps while waiting for the van to get there to pick her up.

A reputable breeder who cares about more than cash would never ship a baby. I have yet to see a rescue that will ship an animal, baby or adult. You have to go pick them up.

My blame could be with the airline if they messed up. However, the breeder shipped in bad temperatures, and the owner did not care enough to go out there to pick up her new, trendy kitten.

Comment from Darlene Shea
Time January 26, 2011 at 2:30 pm

I Don’t think the owner is looking for sympathy – she admits she had no idea the risks and wants to make sure that other pet owners know rather than risk anyone else to ever have to go thru this again.

It takes a lot of guts to be honest that you made a mistake. I give her a lot of credit, she could of put in an insurance claim and life would just go on.

I would never of thought twice about flying a pet until this story

Comment from Anne’n’Spencer
Time January 26, 2011 at 2:35 pm

I think the airlines try to do a good job of acquainting people with the risks of shipping their animals. This sounds like a breeder who wanted to get her hands on the money and didn’t really care. Couple that with a buyer who didn’t do much homework, and you have all the makings of the disaster that obviously occurred. Anybody who flies now knows enough to be prepared for all sorts of baggage delays, and anybody who would ship an animal via an airline and who doesn’t take all this into account is beyond incompetent. Poor little thing.

Comment from planecrazyjosie
Time January 26, 2011 at 3:31 pm

If the prospective owner did not know the risks, she had no business buying the kitten. Most people do research and weigh the risks of anything before proceeding. I have been in aviation for over two decades, and even I did my homework before I shipped my precious cargo. I was also aware that mishaps do happen, and hoped they would arrive fine and dandy. And they did.

I agree with Ann, the breeder wanted the extra cash and probably charged more than the airline required. She probably would have lost the sale if she made the owner fly out, but a reputable breeder cares more about the pet than the cash.

I do think she is playing the sympathy card though, since she is placing the entire blame on Delta and none on a breeder who packed up the kitten. Also there is none on herself, all things considered, other than the “I didn’t know” card.

(For the record, if the kitten was placed in the wrong hold, it would have been frozen solid; the air temps are -50 to -60 up there. I think we can rule out an error on that score.)

Comment from practical one
Time January 27, 2011 at 12:29 am

A responsible breeder is like a responsible pedophile. There is no such thing. They both justify contributing to suffering and death of those they “love” for their own personal gratification.

Comment from Meredith
Time January 27, 2011 at 1:50 am

Did she address your point about buying a trendy pet? Just curious.

Comment from Anonymous
Time January 27, 2011 at 10:01 am

I do feel bad for the owner. She was obviously naive & stupid but I don’t think she had anything but love in her heart & her intentions. I sure she is beating herself up enough over this, and I don’t see any point in my doing so. I do think it is courageous of her to share her story so that many people who would otherwise be as naive her she was, may stop and really think about what they are doing. NO responsible breeder would ever adopt/sell a cat to an owner that they had never met. Hopefully she will learn from this and be wiser next time. “novelty pet” or not, Snickers was just a tiny, helpless little kitten and this is a tragedy all the way around. RIP sweet little Snickers.

Comment from jwoestendiek
Time January 27, 2011 at 11:07 am

Well said, Anonymous.

Comment from Janet Boss
Time January 27, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Ah yes, instead of just addressing the issue of flying a juvenile pet in the dead of winter, we have to breeder bash, right? Responsible breeding is not a crime, nor does it add to the number of pets needing homes. That lies solely on irresponsible breeding and owners. The breeder of this kitten is not a responsible breeder. Shipping a hairless kitten in this weather is unheard of and both the breeder and Delta are to blame for allowing/doing such. The owner is typical of many owners – uninformed. Buying from a less than responsible breeder, not researching shipping criteria. Not sure how she and her family were in love with a kitten they knew for all of about 10 minutes, but perhaps that quote was for drama. The warnings are good ones though. Shipping pets is not something to be taken lightly. Neither is choosing a breeder or source for acquiring a pet. I hope Ms Lombardi is educating herself about responsible breeders and the MANY risks of dealing with internet advertisers. Go through the AKC breed club for referrals and ask questions. Expect a zillion questions in return. If the welfare of the pet isn’t the primary concern, run the other way.

Comment from SphynxMomma
Time January 27, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Oh give me a break… I can tell none of you are actively involved in any hairless animal community. Sphynx breeders, Chinese Crested breeders, Peterbalds, Rexes, etc, all ship 12 months out of the year. As easy as it is to bash the owner- which, hey- it’s always easier to bash a human being that made an error then a company- how about we look into the shipping policies of Delta?

“We provide safe and reliable year round transportation for your pet.” That is a direct quote from Delta. Yeah, sure.

Oh and Meredith- grow up. Perhaps if Heather Lombardi was going to put her Sphynx in a sweater and carry it all around the local shops in Beverly Hills, you could make your snide comment about trendy pets. But Sphynx have been a recognized breed within both cat fancies for many years- and why shouldn’t she purchase a Sphynx anymore then the next person should purchase a Bengal (the number one registered breed as of the last few years within TICA)?

Oh-oh! And the comment on rescues won’t ship? Bull. I am adopting two adult purebred cats from a rescue and I had the option to ship them. First, I don’t want to pay $600 to ship and second, I don’t want them to undergo that stress, so I’ll be picking them up at the cat show I will be attending shortly.

A lot of assumptions keep on being made about this story. The good news is- no matter what nasty things people have to say about Snickers’ and her owner- at least it will make others think twice.

Comment from Janet Boss
Time January 28, 2011 at 10:31 am

While breeders and rescues may indeed ship 12 months of the year, responsible ones would not ship in this kind of weather. I had a puppy shipped to me on 11/30 3 years ago. 8 puppies got shipped on different flights to different parts of the country, from TX. I have pics from that day and I’m not wearing a coat, so obviously the weather was appropriate for shipping. If it hadn’t been, the breeder wouldn’t have shipped. I was a nervous wreck but a little common sense goes a long way. Continental counter-to-counter did a great job.

Comment from Barbara Antle
Time January 29, 2011 at 2:23 am

The “owner” is responsible for the decision regarding flight and weather..and is responsible for attempting to foresee all that might go wrong..and to act most conservatively, in the best interest of the helpless, caged animal. Generously put, only a fool would subject a hairless kitten to flight in the middle of winter. One can easily fly to pick up the animal, and to bring her back, in the cabin, with people, and access to blankets, etc. for a small amount of money!

A pug ‘owner’, who flies often, only with pug in cabin!

Comment from Gina (Sheba’s Mom)
Time January 29, 2011 at 8:11 pm

I am so sorry for Ms Lombardi’s loss of Snickers. A friend told about the story and I looked it up and read it, and I started crying. I hate that that happened. I would like to think that breeders know what they are doing, and I would also like to think that airlines would ALWAYS be extra careful with the shipment of animals, especially hairless breeds. But I guess not. Super extra caution should have been taken with the unusual cold and snowy winter. My heart goes out to Ms Lombardi, and that photo of snickers will always leave little pawprints on my heart. I recently purchased a sphynx kitten (Sheba), and I thought of shipping disasters such as that of Snickers, and decided to go with a breeder within driving distance. I am so glad, because I love my little Sheba, and wouldn’t trade her for anything. As for those who think of us as trendy or novelty pet owners, Sheba was my first “breed purchase” with lots of thought and considerations. I already have rescued a dog, two cats, and took in my very first cat in West Virginia in 1997 who I just recently euthanized secondary to ESRD (end stage renal disease). My sphynx kitten replaced that cat, because I have been wanting one for the last eight years, so I feel I have done my share. Sheba gets along with my three other cats and one dog. Nevertheless, a sad lesson learned–PLEASE–Breeders and Airline companies–take that extra special precautions with ALL animal shipments.

Comment from kathy
Time February 2, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Wow, give the poor woman a break! Your column made me cry all over again. I can’t imagine the heartbreak of the woman and especially her daughters. Perhaps the breeder should have cautioned her against shipping in the winter. But, if you pay extra to have a pet handled with special care, someone at Delta should have made sure this occurred. Whether it makes sense to pay for a purebred is not the issue here. You can complain all you want, but Ms. Lombardi did a public service by telling the world what happened. I think it’s highly unkind to adopt the tone you did with your column. Shame on Delta and shame on you!!! Rest in peace, Snickers!

Comment from Kenneth
Time February 3, 2011 at 1:57 am

What a sad, sad story. A lot of blame to go around here. I would NEVER ship an animal in winter or summer. The airlines lie about the temperatures in the cargo hold, and having spent enough time around airports, I would never trust a poor animal’s life with the dregs who are hired to handle cargo. Therefore, though Lombardi can be accused of being naive, the money-hungry breeder showed an amazing lack of care for the cat’s safety, packing it off like an old suitcase in 10 degrees. And, again, the soulless airline with the human debris they hire to shill for them showed a disgusting, but unfortunately, all-to-regular dereliction of their duties.
RIP, poor little Snickers….

Comment from TreeFrog
Time February 16, 2011 at 12:52 am

I flew to Oklahoma to pick up my new little Somali kitten. The breeder met me in the airport and I went home on the next flight. The kitten slept in her new carrier at my feet till we landed.