The French bulldog puppy who was stored in an overhead bin on a United Airlines flight died of suffocation, an autopsy has revealed

By Stephanie Petit
May 03, 2018 12:00 PM

The French bulldog puppy who was stored in an overhead bin on a United Airlines flight died of suffocation, an autopsy has revealed.

A necropsy report conducted at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, also found that stress and the pet’s narrow airway were additional factors in Kokito’s death, according to TMZ.

Catalina Robledo, along with her 11-year-old daughter and 2-month-old son, brought the family dog onto a March 12 flight from Houston to New York in a pet carrier. The owner stored the canine under the seat in front of her but was told by a flight attendant to move the carrier, with Kokito inside, to the overhead bin. Robledo resisted the direction, but ultimately followed the flight attendant’s instruction.

At the end of the flight, when Robledo went to retrieve her dog, who was heard barking at least 30 minutes into the flight, she discovered her pet had died during the trip.

Kokito
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“My mom got up and got the bag, and she took him out, and she’s like, ‘ Kokito,  Kokito, wake up!’ and he didn’t,” Robledo’s daughter Sophia Ceballos told Today in an emotional interview.

Fellow passenger Maggie Gremminger told PEOPLE that she was “stunned” to see the puppy being stowed in an overhead bin but understood why the family followed the flight attendant’s instruction.

RELATED: The Pet Travel Policies for North America’s Top Airlines

“My only thought is that if it had been me, it would have been a hard scenario. The flight attendant is the authority figure, who should be trusted. I was thinking ‘maybe there is an improved ventilation system’ or something of the sorts,” Gremminger said. “Also, the owner had an infant and other daughter. Causing a scene before flight could risk being kicked off the flight. I can only imagine she felt stuck in her decision to comply.”

Although United refunded the tickets and apologized for the tragedy, the family’s attorney Evan Oshan told ABC 7 that they are still considering filing a lawsuit.

“The airline knew that Kokito was on the plane, yet they did nothing to preserve Kokito’s safety,” he said. “The dog was suffocated. It was entombed in an overhead bin. It was treated like a piece of luggage. It was a living, breathing family member.”

The airline announced it was making changes to its pet policy, specifically to rules regarding pet carriers, following the tragic incident.

According to United’s current pet policy online, non-service dogs are permitted in the cabin with a service fee of $125 as long as the dog “is in an approved hard-sided or soft-sided kennel. The kennel must fit completely under the seat in front of the customer and remain there at all times.”

“To prevent this from happening again, by April we will issue bright colored bag tags to customers traveling with in-cabin pets. This visual tag will further help our flight attendants identify pets in-cabin,” United Airlines spokesperson Maggie Schmerin said in her statement to PEOPLE.

RELATED: Everything You Need to Know About Traveling on a Plane with Your Dog

A Texas district attorney also launched an investigation into the pet’s death. Division Chief Carvana Cloud confirmed in a statement provided to PEOPLE that the Animal Cruelty Division of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office was partnering with the Animal Cruelty Taskforce to review the incident.

“After law enforcement concludes their investigation, we will review their findings and make an appropriate decision based on the applicable law and facts,” Cloud said in the statement. “At this time, no charges have been filed and our office will not make any charging decisions until the investigation is complete.”

United recently made changes to their PetSafe pet cargo travel program as well, prohibiting French bulldogs, and many other dog and cat breeds, from traveling in the cargo holds of United planes.

“As we have said before, we are deeply sorry for this tragic accident. In March, United began a comprehensive review of its transportation of animals,” United said in a statement to PEOPLE in response to news of Kokito’s necropsy. “We also recently announced our collaboration with American Humane to make significant improvements in our program and adhere to the best practices of animal comfort, well-being and travel on behalf of our customers and their pets.”

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