The Air Force is investigating the death of “Kolbie,” a Marine Corps family’s dog that was found dead after transit on an Air Mobility Command plane from Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in southern Japan on July 1.
Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Panko and his wife Amber are devastated by the loss of their 10-year-old Pomeranian mix, according to a Facebook post on her page.
A necropsy found that the dog died of heat stroke. Air Mobility Command, which is responsible for the AMC Patriot Express on which Kolbie was flown, posted a statement to Facebook on July 6 saying it was looking into the incident.
“AMC’s Aerial Port specialists take seriously the responsibility to maintain and enforce established pet transport protocols while they are entrusted to our care,” AMC’s post says. “We are working diligently to contact the family to reconstruct what transpired, identify potential areas of concern and devise actions we can take now to mitigate a future incident.”
Initially, AMC shared the post before reaching out to the Pankos. However, AMC commander Gen. Mike Minihan contacted the Pankos over the weekend to offer his condolences and talk about how the Air Force would ensure live cargo is safely moved in the future.
Lt. Col. Brandon Greenawalt, commander of the 730th Air Mobility Squadron, also reached out to the family to extend an apology.
“[Minihan] explained to us that Kolbie has his full attention, and his situation, [and] the situation of live cargo transportation is his number one priority,” Amber Panko told Military Times. “[He] gave us his word that change will happen, and I do not take that lightly. Our request is for air-conditioned rooms to be built or designated at every single military installation that transports live cargo for families traveling with pets, as well as pet relief stations.”
The general did not tell Amber Panko what specific changes will or have been made, but she noted that he promised to keep her family in the loop. She says she will not rest until Kolbie’s story creates definitive change, such as re-boarding pets on delayed flights instead of holding them in cargo, temperature controls in cargo space, and the pet relief stations.
“I have said and will continue to say that until I see change I will continue fighting the good fight and sharing Kolbie’s story,” she noted. “He deserved so much better than this, as did every animal that has died at the hands of negligence from AMC.”
Emotionally, the family is still reeling, particularly Amber. Her oldest son, she added, is still somewhat in denial.
“A week later and I find I am still stuck in between the reality that Kolbie is gone and still believing it isn’t true,” she added. “He was with me every second of every day, he literally followed me everywhere. One moment I am in a panic looking for him, wondering where he is because he is not down at my feet, and the next I am tormented with his death again.”
Panko said that while this event has been heartbreaking for her and her family, she is hopeful that it will lead the Air Force to change its practices with live cargo. Then, she said, it will give meaning to the tragedy with Kolbie.
“I hate that I had to lose him, especially like this, but if he can make a change and end up saving other animals, and just overall have them be taken care of the way they should be ... then he didn’t die for nothing, and I may be able to find healing,” she said. “We are not done with his story and will not be until a big change is made.”
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.