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Tito the lost cat becomes a matter of state in Bolivia

Several government agencies have been tasked with finding a beloved pet that disappeared from a plane’s cargo hold during a short domestic flight

Tito the cat
Tito, who went missing during a short domestic flight and has sparked a nationwide search in Bolivia. Andrea Iturre (RR.SS.)

Bolivian Minister of Public Works Edgar Montaño’s press conference was broadcast live to the nation by the state-owned television network. The news he wanted to announce? “Tito is still alive and could be living in some of the houses near the airport.” Montaño informed viewers that he had instructed the fire department and staff from four different state agencies to join the search for Tito. “We have placed food and water everywhere for the cat, who likes tuna fish. We remain hopeful that Tito will be found,” said Montaño.

Tito is three years old and weighs 13-15 pounds. His fur is white and gray, and he has a distinctive mark on his face. Owned by Andrea Iturre, the pet’s disappearance has aroused widespread indignation among Bolivian animal lovers. Iturre’s Facebook post on December 10 said that Tito disappeared sometime during a local flight from Tarija to Santa Cruz (southeastern Bolivia), on the state airline, Boliviana de Aviación (BoA).

“I asked for permission to keep my pet with me in the cabin, but they said no pet carriers were allowed there. They made me put him in the airplane’s cargo hold,” said Iturre in a post that was shared more than 19,000 times.

Iturre said that when the flight was delayed for more than two hours, she begged the airline staff for permission to bring Tito into the cabin because the sedation was wearing off after such a long wait. But Iturre says that BoA just told her to be patient, and that the plane would take off in 20 minutes. “When we arrived in Santa Cruz, I went to the baggage claim area and almost died when I found my cat’s pet carrier empty. No one knew where he was. A few minutes later, a BoA agent came and told me that they lost him in Tarija. They didn’t bother to tell me before the plane took off – I had to find out hours later in Santa Cruz.”

Iturre decided to take action and returned immediately to Tarija to find her cat. But 24 hours later, Tito was still missing. On December 10, the airline feebly posted a statement on social media: “Regarding the case of Tito, the cat that escaped from its pet carrier, Boliviana de Aviación has designated a task force to find Tito and return him to his family.”

“I have instructed ATT [the Bolivian state agency for telecommunications and transportation] to take responsibility and conduct an investigation,” stated Montaño in his press conference. ATT proceeded to request information from the airline on BoA’s pet-handling procedures and the circumstances surrounding the cat’s disappearance. ATT’s executive director, Néstor Ríos, said that BoA could be fined $10,000 for losing the cat, a laughably small penalty in the eyes of many social media posters considering the owner’s irreparable loss.

For many Bolivians, Tito’s disappearance was the last straw for an airline plagued by years of poor service. The Bolivian government established BoA in 2007, but the airline didn’t begin flying until 2009 when it finally obtained an operator’s license. Since then, the state-owned company has secured a monopoly over domestic routes in the Andean country. According to various sources, BoA roughly owns an 80% share of the domestic market. According to ATT, during the first six months of 2022, BoA made 11,470 flights and recorded 1,209 complaints about delays, technical failures, and luggage losses and thefts.

Iturre, who lives in Ireland, had returned to Bolivia to bring Tito back with her. She says she suffers from anxiety, and her cat has been a constant companion and comfort to her. “He’s everything to me,” said Iturre. “My plan was to take him to Santa Cruz where I could get him chipped and certified as an emotional support pet. I’m going to stay until I find my kitty. I’m going to see this through and won’t leave without him, or without a clear explanation of what happened,” she said during an interview near the Tarija airport.

Iturre hasn’t given up hope of finding Tito, and continues her search around the environs of the airport for any information or sign of his whereabouts. Firefighters, ATT personnel, and the Bolivian aviation agency have been tasked to help Iturre locate her beloved pet – finding Tito is now a matter of state.

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