'My heart broke': Metro Vancouver woman whose dog arrived dead after flight wants answers, action from airline

Warning: Disturbing content

VANCOUVER -- Monique Collette dreamed of the day she’d get to bring her two dogs home to B.C.

She had adopted her small mixed-breed dog, Chocolate, as well as a golden retriever she named Maverick, during the three years she spent teaching English in China.

“We were like a pack,” she said. “Everywhere I went, my dogs went and came with me.”

Collette got Maverick as a puppy, and said he had a goofy and loving personality. He also responded well to training, learning to sit and wait for his food, and shake a paw. Collette said Maverick was so obedient, she would sometimes tie her smaller dog to him if they were off-leash, and he would always steer her back when called.

“He loved playing fetch. He was obsessed with his ball or sticks,” she said. “My dream was to bring him back to Canada...and let him run wild on the beach, and bring him to big fields.”

Her dream ended with a tragic loss last summer. She was making plans to return to Canada, and had hired a professional pet mover to help make travel arrangements for Chocolate and Maverick. The dogs ended up travelling before her, in July of 2020, on a China Southern Airlines flight.

“I was excited to hear the news that they had gotten on the plane,” she said. “I had received photos of them in their crates.”

Collette’s mother, Dorice Bastarache, was waiting in Vancouver to greet the dogs. She said she waited hours, before finally being told while Chocolate had arrived OK, Maverick had died.

She recalled the shock of seeing his crate: bloodied, with mangled bars.

“It was clear he had a horrific, horrific death,” she said. “His crate was in terrible shape. It was very difficult to see him, what he went through.”

Collette got the devastating news in a text from the pet mover.

“My heart broke,” she said. “I went through so much effort and time and money and everything to give him the best life, and I failed. I feel like I failed him.”

Bastarache said Canadian Border Service agents advised the airline to take the dog for a necropsy and have his remains cremated, and they agreed. However in the following days, she said the airline informed her that hadn’t been done.

“And that I had to come and pick him up,” she said. “Or he would be considered abandoned cargo.”

A family friend ended up driving Maverick’s body to a clinic.

Collette’s legal counsel Rebeka Breder said the 2.5-year-old dog had flown before, and was healthy.

“Clearly something went wrong, and right now, sitting here today, we have absolutely no answers,” she said.

Collette and Breder said the necropsy found Maverick’s brain had hemmoraged, and he likely had a heart attack.

“We suspect that the reason why he died of a heart attack or stroke is because something went very wrong in the cargo of the plane, whether it was air pressure or temperature,” Breder said. “China Southern Airlines has never offered an explanation about what happened.”

Breder added that temperatures were high that time of year, and there were “very few, if any” airlines that were allowing the transportation of animals in cargo: something Collette did not know at the time.

“We want to know exactly where the dog was put in the cargo, whether he was loaded on together with the other dog who was shipped at the same time, whether the people who were loading the dogs on the plane advised the pilot of the plane where the animals were,” she said. “We want to know what the temperature was, what the air pressure was.”

Breder said a demand letter has been sent to the company, which requests $35,000 in compensation for losses including pain and suffering, and added legal action is being considered.

So far, she said the airline has not responded.

“Ms. Collette and her family, they want answers,” Breder said. “They want to know what happened, how it happened, and more importantly, they want to be assured that something like this does not ever happen again.”

CTV Vancouver reached out to the airline, and connected with a representative over the phone on Monday who said they weren’t able to talk at that time and needed to contact colleagues in China.

Collette said she is hoping Maverick’s story will lead to change.

“Change their policy, change their customer service, change how they treat people that are going through things like this,” she said. “He was a really good dog, and I loved him.”

Bastarache agreed.

“They need to apologize to her, and they need to explain what happened,” she said. “We’re numb. We’re just numb.”