A year ago, a Chinese woman, Zhao Nan, said good-bye to her golden retriever Mars after settling her into a travel carrier. Zhao and Mars had gone to visit Qinghai province in western China, where Mars and another dog, July, had a grand time running on the grasslands.
Zhao and Mars were flying back to Beijing to get back to their home in Tianjin in northern China. Before boarding China Southern flight CZ6993 on August 5, Zhao posted a photo of Mars in the crate on her microblog, along with the words “Take care, stay safe.” She also told a friend that she had no plans of having Mars travel this way, via a dog crate on an airline, as it was just “too upsetting.”
Zhao’s words were sadly prescient. After the plane landed at Beijing Capital Airport on the morning of August 6, the crate containing July appeared, but not the one with Mars in it. It was only very late the next day that China Southern Airlines told Zhao that an unidentified dog had been found. Airline staff said that, after they had netted Mars, she “collapsed, went into spasms, coughed up blood and died within two minutes,” China Dialogue reports. When Zhao’s husband, Chen Lei, was taken to an airport office after this, he found Mars “lying dead on the back of a truck, with traces of blood around her mouth.”
That was the beginning of a year-long ordeal for Zhao and Chen that led to them suing China Southern Airlines, one of China’s “big three” carriers, last fall. Months later, Zhao and Chen have won justice for Mars: in what the animal activist site Care for Chinese Animals calls a “historical victory,” Zhao and Chen have won compensation (albeit only a small amount). More significantly, it is the first time that the Chinese legal system has “acknowledged the level of the bond between a pet and their owner; if our pet is taken from us, our hearts will be broken.”
What Happened to Mars on China Airlines Flight CZ6993?
In their suit, Zhao and Chen accused the airline of causing Mars’s death. While the airline said it would pay compensation, it contended that there was “no way to identify the cause of the problems” because no trace of Mars was said to be found on airport cameras, despite the fact that Mars had been within Beijing Airport’s security for over 30 hours.
When Zhao initially discovered that Mars was missing, airline employees simply said that Mars’s carrier had been damaged, that she had run off into the airport and that she could not be found. As the airline refused to offer any further assistance, Zhao and her friends spent the rest of the night walking around the terminal in search of Mars, to no avail.
An autopsy conducted by the Beijing Andong Animal Hospital determined that Mars had “breathing difficulties at the time of death, and heart failure may have resulted from terror or other stimuli.”
Did China Southern Airlines Attempt to Cover Up Mars’s Death?
Shortly after Mars’s death, comments surfaced on Chinese microblogs suggesting that China Southern Airlines was more than responsible:
On August 11, a microblogger with the name “China Southern Staff” wrote: “I’m a dog lover, but I work for China Southern and so I can’t say who I am as I need to provide for my family. But here I can say, for the sake of my conscience, that the dog was beaten to death by China Southern employees.”
This reporter found a microblog of that name on Sina’s Weibo, but on trying to open it was told there was a problem with the account.
Another microblogger wrote: “A China Southern employee has said that the two crates were taken by baggage truck to the oversized luggage desk. July’s crate was underneath Mars. Just before they arrived, the crate Mars was in fell about a metre and burst open. Mars ran off.”
China Southern Airlines was indeed concerned about reports about the death of Mars and about Zhao’s and Chen’s lawsuit. After the court case opened, an editor from China Business News spoke of being asked to remove an article about the case. The Beijing Evening Times simply took down an article about Mars’s death “after it was reposted on major online portals.”
As a result, China Southern Airlines found itself facing numerous demands that it apologize to Zhao and Chen as well as accusations that it had caused the death of Mars. Many people called for a boycott of the airline. More than 100 animal welfare groups wrote a letter to the airline and China’s Civil Aviation Administration of China, pointing out that the case “showed the urgent need for better standards in airline transportation of live animals, and demonstrated many failings in the industry.” The letter also noted that China Southern is a member of the International Air Transport Association, which has specific rules for transporting live animals, the Live Animal Regulations.
The good news is that all of these efforts have been successful. As of July 26, the court has ordered that Zhao receive (1) a refund of 836 Yuan (about $136) for Mars’s transportation fees; (2) compensation of 22,200 Yuan (about $3,500) for loss of assets including autopsy fees, damage to the dog transportation carrier and Mars’s family’s expenses during the legal case; and (3) 5,000 Yuan (about US$800) for the emotional loss suffered by Mars’s owners.
As a Chinese animal welfare group, Hand In Hand With Asia’s Animal Activists, says, the case “is not about the money [sic] this is a milestone in China’s animal welfare history.” Winning justice for Mars is a victory not only for her, Zhao and Chen but also an important step to ensure humane treatment for animals in a country too notorious for just the opposite.
Photo via HornheadStudio/Twitter