Airline flies beloved pet overseas, won't let him fly back home to Bay Area

ByMichael Finney and Renee Koury via KGO logo
Thursday, August 25, 2022
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"I was like, 'You let me travel with the dog to Romania. You don't allow me to travel with the dog back to the U.S.?'" said Coconut's owner when Lufthansa sent an alert warning that no pets would be able to fly for weeks.

CONCORD, Calif. (KGO) -- When you take a flight, you expect the airline will also fly you back home. But it didn't happen for one furry passenger -- a service dog and beloved family pet who nearly got stuck overseas.

It was very traumatic for the family of "Coconut." They flew with their dog to Romania, but when it came time to fly home, the airline wouldn't let the dog on board.

Veronica Burdeti of Concord couldn't imagine life without Coconut, the family's toy poodle who grew a little too big.

"It was really stressful for me to think he's not coming back home," she said of her ordeal. "I told my husband I'm 100% sure God sent me this dog because I needed him."

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Coconut became more than a beloved family member, eager companion and cuddly pet -- Burdeti says he saved her life.

"In September, I was diagnosed with cancer," she said.

When Burdeti got sick, Coconut responded.

"I had days that I wouldn't move from the bed, and I wasn't feeling well. He was by my side 24/7. He would sit by my bed the whole day," Burdeti said.

When she wanted to give up, Coconut took charge.

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"I had a really bad experience. I had depression, and I had thoughts of suicide," she said. "He would pull me out of the bed every morning for a walk. Force me. So he kind of saved me. I started noticing the trees blooming, the flowers, the birds."

The experience gave her new life. And in May, the family flew off to their homeland of Romania for a visit, with Coconut sitting in their laps on the plane.

"Coconut was really happy. He really enjoyed the freedom in Romania. He was running in a field," Burdeti said.

Then the trouble began. Without explanation, Lufthansa Airlines sent an alert: no dogs allowed to fly until Aug. 31 -- three weeks after their scheduled flight.

"And I told my husband, 'It must be a mistake,'" Burdeti said.

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She told Lufthansa that Coconut is a service animal and should be allowed on board.

The airline sent her an email saying she had to produce a certificate from a dog training facility.

But Burdeti had trained the dog herself.

"I was like, 'You let me travel with the dog to Romania. You don't allow me to travel with the dog back to U.S.?'" she said.

She says other airlines would only ship Coconut by himself -- a risky 11-hour flight in a cargo hold.

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"I prayed a lot. I prayed a lot, 'Please God allow Coconut to come back,'" Burdeti said.

By now, many in her town knew about the little American dog stranded in Romania.

"Everybody, like friends in Romania, keep calling," Burdeti said.

A Facebook friend suggested 7 On Your Side. We contacted Burdeti in Romania and Lufthansa in New York. Soon, a solution was met.

"And I was like, 'Yes! We can bring Coconut back home. We can be back home,'" Burdeti said.

Lufthansa booked the dog on their flight. All were back home.

Burdeti says the folks back in Romania are now wondering, "What's 7 On Your Side?"

"Yes, they all know you now," she said with a laugh.

Apparently a whole town in Romania, called Cluj-Napoca, has now heard of 7 On Your Side and wants to say thanks.

This is a heads up: countries and airlines have different rules for flying with your pet or service animal. Lufthansa and other airlines don't consider "emotional support" dogs as service animals, but they can fly as pets.

Read Lufthansa's "Traveling with Animals" guide here.

Read the Department of Transportation's information on international service animal travel requirements here.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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