Tuesday, November 08, 2011
No Justice for Jack
The headline on MSNBC rather understated the whole matter: "Jack the cat dies after getting lost at JFK". For those of you who haven't been following this story, Jack was a companion animal that - due to some rather lax handling - escaped from his cage after being checked in for an American Airlines flight at one of the world's busiest airports in late August. The search for Jack gained international momentum on Facebook, and thousands of people all over the world were delighted when Jack, rather bedraggled but in decent spirits, resurfaced two months later.
Jack suffered extensive, and apparently inoperable, injuries, however. Despite reportedly great efforts, his companion, Karen Pascoe, in consultation with an apparently extensive number of vets, made the decision to euthanize Jack on Sunday. My condolences go out to her.
Not that this wasn't the humane thing to do. I have mixed feelings about euthanasia myself. Never really had a problem with Dr. Jack Kevorkian; his patients all made a conscious, reflective, deliberative decision that their quality of life was so poor that they did not want to go on. With animals, it's tougher because they can't explicitly weigh in on whether they agree that their quality of life is so low that it is not worth enduring any more suffering to enjoy one more meal, one more sunset, one more pet on the head. It is agonizing to make that decision for someone - anyone - else. I know this from painful experience. I have no doubt that Karen thought long and hard about her decision and did the best she can do. No doubt also this whole incident will weigh heavily on her for many years to come.
What is much less clear is whether there is any meaningful lesson here for American (or the airline industry as a general matter). Changes to the Animal Welfare Act (must be some ten years ago now?) came in response to other pet travel horror stories and were supposed to help prevent needless tragedies like Jack's. Obviously, those changes fell short. Supposedly stiffer penalties apparently were not stiff enough to persuade American Airlines to make safe baggage handling enough of a priority to actually avoid blunders like Jack's.
If ever there were a poster cat symbolizing the need for - Republicans, cover your eyes - MORE REGULATION of the airline industry, it's Jack. And I'll go one step further. If ever there were a fact pattern to argue for the fundamental fairness of extending the tort of negligent infliction of emotional distress to non-human animals, this is it. (Illinois does not have a physical proximity or contemporaneous injury requirement; that's what I'm visualizing here.) Jack's story - despite the temporary black eye to AA - is basically nothing more than a heart-wrenching cost to be borne just about exclusively by Karen. Until the airline industry truly has to bear some of the cost of its actions, the only real question is: whose companion is next?
Posted by A at 10:12 AM