#JusticeForKolbie: Pet Jets Is Striving To Help Advocate For American Military Families And Their Pets

Back in the summer, I read one of the most heartbreaking stories about a USMC family losing their beloved dog, Kolbie while moving to Japan. I reached out to Kolbie’s family and spoke with Amber Panko about sharing their story to bring awareness to the tragic reality military families have had to face while moving with their pets overseas. Pets are family, period. Military families are asked to move thousands of miles away to serve our country, and in return the government can’t even promise to help families safely move to their new homes? It is absurd. It is unacceptable.

On July 1st 2022, Kolbie died on AMC Flight 279. A necropsy found that Kolbie died of heat stroke. It was 100 degrees in Japan that day and Kolbie wasn’t allowed to be brought inside with his family before boarding for their final flight. The saddest and most infuriating part of this story is that Kolbie’s death was preventable. The Panko family has had to suffer a heartbreaking loss due to negligence. Who is responsible? The United States military and government. When military families are required to move on military orders then the government should be required to ensure the safety of the move for the entire family, including pets.

Positive changes are in the works. Thanks to Liz K Hensel, the founder of the nonprofit organization, Leave No Paws Behind, changes are being made for military families and their pets. I started following Leave No Paws Behind in the summer of 2022 when I found them after reading about Kolbie’s story. I have closely followed the organization and their efforts to bring change for military families and their pets. Back in October, Honey and I made calls to our senators to voice our support for the Pet Transportation Bill (Sec 624, Pet Reimbursement) on behalf of Pet Jets. We are thrilled to see positive changes being brought to military families and their pets!

But, we want to do more. Pet Jets believes pets belong beside their families while flying, but currently accessing flights that allow pets in the cabin is complicated and expensive. Commercial airlines only allow small pets (normally under 20 pounds) or service animals in the cabin of a plane. Private jet flights are not the most affordable option. Military flights are booked months in advance which often leaves no availability for families with last minute orders. Even shared private jet flights are expensive and out of budget for most families, especially military families who are already burdened with other costs of moving. I know from experience that although the military will reimburse some moving expenses, there is often a lot that is not covered so it comes directly out of the pocket of families. Families are left with limited options for safely flying their pets overseas. Pet Jets is aware that private jet flights are not a realistic option for all families and that is why we are choosing to advocate for options for military families that would be accessible for all.

As I was brainstorming for today’s blog post, I realized it has been eight years since my husband, Elliott graduated from Marine Corps boot camp. Eight years ago I watched him graduate from boot camp while I was just a senior in high school. I never pictured that his military career would take us 4,000 miles away from home years later, but here we are living in Hawaii while he is beginning year eight of his military career. Hawaii is beautiful place to be stationed with the military, but it was not the easiest place to move, especially with pets. We spent thousands of dollars moving Gizmo and Stormy to Hawaii. I also stayed behind in Ohio to take the dogs to their required vet appointments in order to avoid quarantine in Hawaii. I want to make other military family’s moves less stressful.

When we received military orders for Hawaii I was beyond excited, but I was also extremely overwhelmed. I thought about how I would need to prepare out house for sale, ship our car, ship our household goods, and so much more. The biggest worry I had was about safely getting our two dogs, Gizmo and Stormy to the island. From Ohio to Oahu it was over a 4,000 miles journey they would need to take. I am certain that many military families who have moved anywhere overseas can agree with me that flying your pets is one of the most stressful parts of the PCS.

The option to fly pets as cargo through Alaska and Hawaiian airlines is available to Hawaii, but flying pets to places like Korea, Japan, Guam, and Europe is more complex. Military families are given timeframes they must work within to move to a new post so they do not have months to save money or research options for the move. Here’s the other thing – should military service members really have to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for moves that are required by the government? I think not.

Why am I sharing this story? I am looking for other companies, organizations, and individuals, who want to join the fight for military families and their pets. Actually, not just for military families, but for families and their pets in general. We need advocates from various industries and organizations to come together to create change. We need voices from the military, from the airline industry, from the government, and from pet loving families. We need support from pet-friendly brands and companies who value pet safety.

I will keep fighting for change. The government needs to value caring for families pets and so do airlines. Although it has been months since Kolbie passed away, that doesn’t stop me from wanting #justiceforkolbie and his family. The heartbreaking stories make me want to fight so we never have to read about another family losing a pet due to negligence again. The heartbreak when losing a pet never goes away and pets should not have to suffer when it is completely avoidable.

Reach out to me if you have a story to share, or if you want to discuss ways to bring positive change for air travel with pets. Pet Jets extends it’s greatest sympathy to any family who has lost a pet. Our hearts are invested in the fight for safe air travel with pets.

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