Necropsy confirms French bulldog puppy in United overhead bin suffocated

NEW YORK (WABC) -- A family from Queens is considering a lawsuit after the death of their 9-month-old French bulldog puppy on a United Airlines flight in March.

They say they were forced to put the dog in an overhead bin and that the dog suffocated.

"He was smart, intelligent," 11-year-old Sophia Ceballos said of little Kokito. "He was one of a kind."

She loved the dog, a $6,000 birthday gift from her stepdad. But he died March 12 on board a United flight from Houston to LaGuardia Airport.

Related: 'He couldn't breathe:' Family speaks out after dog dies on United flight to New York City

A flight attendant wouldn't let the family put the dog under the seat, but made them place his bag in an overhead bin despite the fact that they paid for the dog to travel on board. Ceballos and her mother, Catalina Robledo, who was also travelling with her 2-month-old baby, didn't like the idea, but they felt compelled to do what the attendant said.

"I thought it was wrong," Ceballos said. "But at the same time, I trusted her, because she probably knew there was air up there."

But there wasn't much air in the bin, and according to the newly released necropsy report by Cornell University in Ithaca, "The cause of death is suffocation."

It is a death that could have been avoided, according to the family's attorney.

"The airline knew that Kokito was on the plane, yet they did nothing to preserve Kokito's safety," attorney Evan Oshan said. "The dog was suffocated. It was entombed in an overhead bin. It was treated like a piece of luggage. It was a living, breathing family member."

United took responsibility for Kokito's death and refunded the tickets, but the family is still considering a lawsuit. Meanwhile there are two criminal investigations, one in Houston and one in Queens.

The airline has also reevaluated its pet travel policies since March and announced Tuesday that it has partnered with Animal Humane to improve safety measures. It is resuming operations for PetSafe, the program that allows pets to travel in cargo, but United is now banning more than 20 breeds from flying because they're prone to breathing problems, including French bulldogs.

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