Soju, a 5-year-old French bulldog, died of heatstroke on a Patriot Express flight between Misawa Air Base, Japan, and Seattle.

Soju, a 5-year-old French bulldog, died of heatstroke on a Patriot Express flight between Misawa Air Base, Japan, and Seattle. (Anne Surette)

TOKYO — Although a pair of pet bulldogs died recently on a contract flight for U.S. military personnel, the command that oversees those flights said it’s reduced the overall number of pet fatalities by more than half.

“We've made multiple changes over the last year to improve the safety of our pets as they travel and though one death is too many, we have seen a 60% reduction in pet fatalities from 2022,” Air Mobility Command spokesman 1st Lt. James Stewart told Stars and Stripes via email Wednesday.

Despite the changes, Winter, an 11-year-old Old English bulldog, and Soju, a 5-year-old French bulldog, died of heatstroke Aug. 17 en route to Seattle on an 8 ½-hour flight from Japan, their owners, Tim and Anne Surette, told Stars and Stripes on Monday.

Tim Surette said the aircraft was not air-conditioned on the way from Misawa Air Base, Japan, to Seattle. The Defense Intelligence Agency contactor and his wife were making a permanent change of station from South Korea to Virginia.

“We deeply regret the deaths of these pets,” Stewart said. “We take the movement of families and pets very seriously and that's why we've adjusted our procedures and have implemented changes to better serve customers.”

The Patriot Express frequently flies military families and Defense Department employees making PCS moves. After four pets died last year on flights originating in Asia, the mobility command created a working group to identify improvements to ease service members’ stress caused by moving with pets, Stewart said.

Since then, the command has moved pets into climate-controlled terminals where they can stay with their owners until boarding; pets are loaded as late as possible and ground crews use ground air-conditioning units, when they’re available, to cool lower compartments in the aircraft.

The command also warns travelers that certain breeds, including snub- and short-nosed dogs, are at greater risk during air transport, Stewart said.

Air Mobility Command continues to transport at-risk breeds while many commercial airlines do not. Airlines that still fly those breeds include Etihad Airways, Copa Airlines, Gulf Air, Aloha Air and Hawaiian Airlines, according to, a pet travel guide and care website.

Stewart said the command “looked into the circumstances” surrounding the Patriot Express flight, which involves military and contracted support.

“Once passengers and pets were loaded onto the plane, the international charter service personnel take over the remainder of coordination for preparing the aircraft, passengers and pets for flight,” he said.

“It is at this point that AMC personnel were no longer involved in the immediate decision making and preparation of flight, however AMC leadership and teams will continue to work on improving processes for our families and their pets,” Stewart said.

The command has also established an email contact box to discuss pet travel and address procedures and concerns. Every suggestion is reviewed to improve the process, Stewart said.

“While we cannot change the outcome of this unfortunate situation, AMC leadership is analyzing the circumstances of this mission and are committed to doing all they can to reduce negative outcomes while still providing pet transport for our service members,” he said.

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Kelly Agee is a reporter and photographer at Yokota Air Base, Japan, who has served in the U.S. Navy for 10 years. She is a Syracuse Military Photojournalism Program alumna and is working toward her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland Global Campus. Her previous Navy assignments have taken her to Greece, Okinawa, and aboard the USS Nimitz.

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