The ordeal began Tuesday when Kara Swindle went to retrieve Irgo at a United Airlines cargo facility in Kansas City. But Irgo was nowhere to be seen. In his place, she found a Great Dane that was supposed to be en route to Japan. The dogs had both been in Denver, where they were to catch connecting flights.
Panic quickly set in over the fate of Irgo, who the Swindles adopted when he was 4 years old.
"They had no idea where the dog was," Swindle said. "I burst into tears instantly because this has just all been a whirlwind. They didn't know (where Irgo was) until 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday when the plane landed in Japan."
Swindle said Irgo -- who was flying for the first time -- had no water or food on the 16-plus hours flight to Japan. Irgo is suffering from an ear infection and hasn't had medication in three days, she said.
But Irgo was examined in Japan and is OK to fly, Swindle said.
She said Irgo is set to be flown from Narita, Japan, to Wichita on Thursday on a private charter.
United Airlines issued an apology and is looking into the matter.
"An error occurred during connections in Denver for two pets sent to the wrong destinations. We have notified our customers that their pets have arrived safely and will arrange to return the pets to them as soon as possible. We apologize for this mistake and are following up with the vendor kennel where they were kept overnight to understand what happened," the airline said.
On Monday, a French bulldog died on a Houston-to-New York flight after a United flight attendant told its owners to put the dog, in its carrier, in an overhead bin. The airline said it was investigating the French bulldog's death "to prevent this from ever happening again."
As for the Kansas City-Japan mix-up, Swindle said she thinks United might have footage of the mistake transfer and said it doesn't know how the mix-up occurred.
"I'm hoping that from now on they take better care of animals. They kind of treat them like they are luggage. I'm hoping they can put something into policy so that this will never happen again. Maybe putting a picture of the animal on the outside of the pen (instead of just paperwork, which is affixed on the outside of each crate). I don't want anyone to ever have to go through this again."