Pet transportation: How animal owners can protect their precious cargo on cross-country trips

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Pet transport services are a popular way for people to move their dogs and cats across the country, but how do you know if your pets will be safe?

The ABC 7 I-Team found that your precious cargo may not always make it home.

"We miss her. And she doesn't deserve this. I know some people say, 'Oh it's just a dog,' but it was our family member," said Karen Locasio, who moved to Chicago in May.

She left her beloved terrier-chihuahua mix Anabelle, at home in Phoenix, Arizona, never expecting it'd be the last time she'd see her.

"I was fearful doing it anyway, but honestly, I felt like we didn't have a choice," Locasio explained.

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Locasio was told by her airline that temperatures were too high for Anabelle to be transported in cargo, and her dog was too tall for the cabin.

She found Citizen Shipper, an online marketplace that connects customers with independent, third-party, transport operators. One of those transporters was to deliver Anabelle from Phoenix to Chicago. One day into the trip, Karen was told that Anabelle escaped.

"You're not supposed to be transporting dogs if you're not knowledgeable on animals, and why on earth would you leave my dog in the middle of the desert at night? And then tell me the next day?" Locasio questioned.

She filed a police report and searched tirelessly with the local humane society, but Anabelle has not been found.

"I just want my cat back," said Tejashree Devale. She and her husband are devastated about what happened when they tried to ship their cats across the country.

Back in March of 2020, they also used Citizen Shipper's website to book a third-party driver to take their two cats, Jack and Bean, from Virginia to San Jose, California.

"So I received this message saying, 'I delivered your cats,'" Tejashree Devale.

Despite receiving that message saying the cats were delivered, they were nowhere to be found. The Devales said they waiting there at the home where the cats were supposed to be delivered.

Jack was found in a residential area in Texas 43 days later. After a year and a half, Bean is still missing.

"The worst part is, we as customers put our faith in Citizen Shipper," Amey Devale said

The couple said Citizen Shipper refunded them the initial booking fee and blocked the third-party driver's account.

Citizen Shipper said the company itself is not involved in the transport of any animals, adding "..Transporters are not employees of, or sub-contracted by CitizenShipper. They are independent operators. " and that the customer is responsible for the selection and payment of the drivers.

The company also says it performs standard background checks and "We continually upgrade our vetting process adding new verifications."

"It's terrible," said Locasio. "She never leaves my side, she sleeps with me."

Citizen Shipper refunded Locasio's booking fee of $179 and she won a dispute through PayPal, getting $500 back from the third-party transport company, Pup Protectors. Pup Protectors did not respond to multiple emails, texts, and calls from the I-Team.

"She doesn't deserve this because she did nothing wrong. Other than she got put in the hands of inexperienced people who thought that it was okay to leave my dog there and not lift one finger to help find her," Locasio told the I-Team.

Citizen Shipper's Better Business Bureau record has a B+. However, it also responded to 32, now "closed" complaints, in the last 12 months. Seven of those complaints involved missing or stolen pets or the treatment of pets.

The company says that it has addressed all BBB complaints, adding that "...tens of thousands of pet owners use our platform annually to connect, vet and hire independent contract pet transporters." Resulting in countless successful transports.

"It's like losing your own kid," Amey Devale said. "Pets are like your kids, so we are fortunate enough that we were able to recover one of our kids, but our second kid is still out there."

When looking for a pet transport service you should always dig deep. Look beyond the first few hits online. Research BBB reviews and try to hire a company a friend or family member has had success with.
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