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An Excerpt from Dog, Inc.

The agitated American was back.

She’d stood before the same ticket agents at the United Airlines Counter in Seoul-Incheon International Airport the day before, and the one before that – pleading in tears one moment, loudly threatening lawsuits the next. She and her five nearly identical puppies needed to get home to California and putting them in the jet’s cargo area – as the airline was insisting its rules required – was, to her, out of the question.

Even after she presented them with some dubious “official” certificates stating the pups, despite their tender age, were service dogs, the airline officials held firm. She could carry one in her lap. The other four, they insisted, would have to travel as cargo.

“But I have three handicaps,” Bernann McKinney countered, big blue eyes staring out from under blond bangs. “I should be allowed to take at least three dogs, one for each.”

For hours a day, over a week’s time, the argument continued – irresistible force versus immovable object, further complicated by language problems. Airline employees spoke only broken English; McKinney, despite having left her hometown in the mountains of North Carolina ten years earlier, still spoke in a syrupy southern drawl.

The puppies were too fragile and too valuable to travel in the cargo hold, she tried to explain, nicely at first. Federal law, she insisted a little more strongly, allows service dogs to travel in the cabin. She tried seeking pity: her money was running out, and her heart medication, too. She tried making a scene: she was, she argued, being kept in Korea against her will. She threatened to call the CEO of the airline, the police, and the U.S. embassy. Nothing worked.

Each day’s failure to book passage meant another $150 in taxi fare for McKinney, and having to find another dog-friendly hotel – a rare commodity in Seoul. She’d already been kicked out of four of them. One, she said, relegated her and the dogs to the boiler room. She had planned to spend six days in Seoul. Yet it had stretched to two weeks, with each day being a repeat of the previous one, like the movie Groundhog Day, but with five yapping, pooping puppies – all, like the passing days, nearly mirror images of each other.

Every morning, she checked out of a hotel and arrived at the airport with them – five dogs, wearing five service dog vests, in five individual carrying bags. First, she sought travelers who might be willing to stretch the truth and carry a dog on board under the guise of being handicapped. She offered them free airfare to California and back in exchange for the favor. But even among those who spoke English and heard her out, she found no takers. That left her no recourse but to go back to the ticket counter, and, in what was almost a carbon copy of the previous day’s exasperated exchange, plead her case again.

“You don’t understand,” she said finally. “These dogs are clones.”

When that didn’t work either, she gathered her mismatched luggage and her five genetically identical puppies – the world’s first commercially produced canine clones – went outside and hailed a cab. She’d try again tomorrow.

Marines and Trackrs
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