Cover Model's Dog Dies on United Flight

Model claims golden retriever was killed by the negligence of United Airlines.

ByABC News
September 21, 2012, 8:41 AM

Sept. 21, 2012— -- A model claims her two-year-old golden retriever was killed by the negligence of United Airlines.

Maggie Rizer was traveling from Newark to San Francisco with her family and two dogs, Bea and Albert. Bea died during the flight.

Rizer, 34, has been on the cover of Vogue, Elle and Harper's Bazaar.

On her blog beamakesthree, Rizer's post "United Airlines Killed Our Golden Retriever, Bea" said Bea was in perfect health and had received a full examination and health certificate four days prior to the flight.

"In addition to PetSafe's stringent requirements, we took every extra precaution we could think of," she wrote. "Both the dog's [sic] kennels were labeled front to back with emergency numbers, flight information and warnings. Their kennels were purchased specifically for the measurements and design specified by PetSafe. We purchased special water bowls which we filled with ice to ensure that the water wouldn't spill and that it would last longer."

The PetSafe program was adopted by United earlier this year as part of its merger with Continental Airlines. The program has won numerous awards over the years, including the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association award of excellence in 2008.

"We understand that the loss of a beloved pet is difficult and express our condolences to Ms. Rizer and her family for their loss," the airline said in a statement to ABC News. "After careful review, we found there were no mechanical or operational issues with Bea's flight and also determined she was in a temperature-controlled environment for her entire journey. We would like to finalize the review but are unable until we receive a copy of the necropsy."

Bea was a wedding gift to Rizer and her husband, Alex.

Rizer said the family drove the dogs six hours from their home in northern New York State to New York City to avoid the dogs the stress of having to make a connecting flight. In addition to the cost of the plane tickets, Rizer paid the airline $1,800 to transport the two dogs.

In her blog post, Rizer said the news of Bea's death was delivered coldly once they arrived in San Francisco. "One of them is dead," they were told by "the emotionless worker who seemed more interested in his text messages." It took 30 minutes, according to Rizer, for a supervisor to tell them which dog had died.

When she asked for her dog, she was told Bea had been sent to a local veterinarian for an autopsy. Rizer insisted the dog be returned to her for an autopsy by her own vet. "Over the next two hours the supervisor's lie unraveled as it became clear that Bea was right behind a closed door the whole time and he had been discussing how to handle the potential liability with his boss who had left and sticking to the divert and stall tactic that they had been taught. Eventually Bea was returned and we drove her to the vet at midnight."

The Rizer's veterinarian determined that in his opinion, Bea died from heat stroke. "Our little Beatrice died in pain, scared and alone," she wrote. According to Rizer, the airline has only said, "'our internal investigation does not show any irregularities, as evidenced by the fact that your companion dog and other animals on board did not suffer the same fate."'

"I'm not sure why the fact that the other dogs were not killed clears United Airlines but, they seem to think it does," she wrote.

She claims the plane was turned off twice, for 15 minutes at a time, before takeoff. She also claims United Airlines called her veterinarian and said Rizer had authorized them to review the necropsy results, something she said she did not do.

The airline told ABC News it was in the process of refunding the cost of travel for both pets.

"Aside from being completely emotionally distraught over the loss of our little Bea, I am so saddened by the complete lack of competence, honesty and compassion that United has shown," she wrote. "I am not writing this to start a lawsuit or to get anyone to stop flying United. I am writing this to help make people aware that airlines are incapable of ensuring the safety of our pets. All it takes is for one employee to not follow the proper procedure and then like me, your dog is dead."