Months after a dog went missing aboard the Spirit of Tasmania, and with no news of its whereabouts, pet safety queries are seeing owners look elsewhere for travel options.
Holly Alexander's pet doberman and rottweiler cross, Ester, went missing without a trace five months ago and she said she has not personally heard from the company since early in February and still has no idea what happened to her pet.
"There's been no news at all and that's the worst bit - the uncertainty. I still don't know if she jumped off and there's no proof on the cameras," she said.
When Ester went missing between January 25 and 26 Ms Alexander said she was shown 10 seconds of CCTV footage which had given her no answers or surety.
A TT-Line spokesperson did not confirm when the company was last in contact with Ms Alexander but said, "senior staff were in regular communication with the owner after we were notified that the dog was missing".
Ms Alexander's experienced has since reverberated around some of the pet owner community.
Travel Australia with Dogs group founder Agnes Jarzabek said the group, which had over 70,000 followers, remained concerned about Ester's wellbeing and how safe the Spirit of Tasmania was as a result.
"It certainly caused an increase in apprehension," she said.
A percentage of our community have said, 'until the Spirit becomes better we aren't even going to visit Tasmania'.- Travel Australia with Dogs group founder Agnes Jarzabek
She said a majority of the group thought the company could have done better and found an answer to Ester's disappearance.
The TT-Line spokesperson said the company had invested "considerable resources" to help find Ester and support Ms Alexander.
They said a "thorough" investigation was conducted into Ester's disappearance along with a "comprehensive" risk assessment and confirmed improvements to pet accommodation had been planned for the new vessels which are forecast to start sailing from 2023.
In the meantime, Ms Jarzabek said group members who wanted to travel to Tasmania with their dog were seeking alternative methods.
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She said there was an increase in people offering to sign a waiver aboard the Spirit so their dog could stay in their car or caravan and other were opting to use charter flight services.
Campbell Town based pet travel group Adstaff owner and operator Michelle Booth said she had seen a boom in pet owners choosing to fly their pets over the Bass Strait.
Ms Booth's company operates nationally and rose to prominence at the start of 2020 as airlines shut down their services - seeing demand for her service trebling.
She had to opportunity to use Hobart based airline Par Avion as a freight service of pets which had helped the business take off.
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While Ms Booth said she had seen a boom as far back as the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, since Ester went missing at the end of January she had seen numbers burgeon even further and a new clientele hop on board.
"People have booked and said they don't feel comfortable using the Spirit of Tasmania ... Previously, we were more known to registered breeders whereas now we're getting a lot of business from pet people," she said.
Ms Booth said she always offset queries about the Spirit's safety for pets saying she had used their service, albeit with her dogs in a specially made dog transporting car, multiple times without an issue.
The Spirit of Tasmania's website was updated on February 28 this year to include a section stating: "Spirit of Tasmania places a high importance on the welfare and safety of animals in its care. Since July 2018, Spirit of Tasmania has safely transported more than 32,000 pets".
The Examiner asked whether the number of pets booked to travel aboard the Spirit of Tasmania had decreased since Ester went missing until now, compared to the same periods in 2018, 2019, 2020.
We are not experiencing any downturn in the number of passenger pets travelling on the Spirit of Tasmania vessels.- TT-Line spokesperson
"Interest in our service is increasing across the board now that the borders with Victoria have been re-opened."
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