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Dog sent to Japan in United Airlines mix-up heads back to Kansas

By Alana Wise
A United Airlines aircraft is seen at the Monsenor Oscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport in San Luis Talpa, El Salvador, January 17, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

By Alana Wise

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A German Shepherd that United Airlines mistakenly shipped to Japan was headed home to Kansas on Thursday, even as the carrier was still grappling with fallout over the death of a puppy on a separate United flight this week.

"An error occurred during connections in Denver for two pets sent to the wrong destinations," United said in a statement on Thursday. "We have notified our customers that their pets have arrived safely and are on their way to be reunited with their owners."

During the Denver connection, the German Shepherd, named Irgo, was scheduled to transfer to a flight arriving at Kansas City International Airport on Tuesday, but was mistakenly shipped to Japan instead while a Great Dane was sent to Kansas City.

"The German Shepherd is currently enroute from Tokyo to Wichita. The Great Dane arrived safely in Tokyo and is awaiting its connecting flight to Hiroshima," United said.

The German Shepherd's owner, Kara Swindle, had told Kansas City's KCTV that she was worried that given the 10-year-old dog's advanced age, he would not be able to survive the long flight home.

"He's never been on a flight before. I honestly don't know if he's going survive this flight," said Swindle, who is in the process of moving from Oregon to Kansas.

United's treatment of animals was questioned earlier this week when a French bulldog puppy in a carrying case died after a flight attendant insisted that the dog's owner put the animal in the overhead storage for the 3-1/2-hour flight from Houston to New York.

United has apologized for the death and said it was the result of a misunderstanding between the flight attendant and passenger about whether there was an animal in the carrying case.

The carrier has the highest rate of animal deaths and injury of any U.S. airline at a rate of 2.24 per 10,000 animals transported, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

On Thursday, U.S. senators John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, and Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat, introduced the Welfare of Our Furry Friends Act (WOOFF) bill that would direct the Federal Aviation Administration to prohibit storing live animals in overhead compartments and establish civil fines for violations.

The Transportation Department has said it is looking into the events that led to the dog's death and was in contact with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency that enforces the Animal Welfare Act and handles complaints about alleged animal mistreatment.

(Reporting by Alana Wise; Editing by Suzannah Gonzales)