Meet the woman who handles the snow leopards, flamingos, dogs, and spiders that fly in and out of one of Europe’s busiest airports

  • Clare Beadle is manager of the Animal Reception Centre at Gatwick Airport, one of the busiest in London.
  • It mainly handles dogs and cats, but has also works with more exotic species.
  • They include guinea pigs, a pygmy slow loris, a tree kangaroo, tortoises, flamingos, and even a snow leopard.
  • Beadle once had to chase down a spider that was loose in an aeroplane cabin.

For the past eight years, Clare Beadle has spent her days checking documents and passports at one of Europe’s busiest airports – but it’s not human passengers she concerns herself with.

Beadle is manager of the Animal Reception Centre at London’s Gatwick Airport – open 24 hours a day, seven days a week – where she handles the four, six, or even eight-legged creatures travelling to and from the global hub.

She studied Animal Management at Hadlow College in Tonbridge, Kent, for five years. But, she told Business Insider, she had “never been the vet type” and thought that working at the airport would be “something different.”

GatwickAnimalReception 2

She “popped her CV into the post” to Gatwick and, after being called in for an interview, landed the job which mainly sees her “making sure the animals coming in are looked after, well fed” and “making sure their paperwork meets the requirements to enter.”

“On a daily basis from the animals coming in, we’d let them out of their boxes, make sure they’re OK after a flight, and give them time to stretch their legs and have a drink,” she said.

Then, they do checks such as see whether the animal’s paperwork fits with pet travel scheme guidelines, whether they have a passport or a country certificate, and whether they have their rabies vaccinations.

Pets from EU countries require a “pet passport,” while animals arriving from anywhere else need to have a five-page document filled out.

If they don’t have what they need, they often have to go into quarantine until their owners are able to provide it.

“We would do our best to try and make sure everything meets [regulation],” she said. “[But if they] need extra documentation, it may be they might need to go into quarantine.”

From kangaroos to snow leopards

While most of the animals that come through are cats and dogs, things can get a little more bizarre.

In September, the centre’s list of incoming animals included 207 pet dogs and cats, 31 assistance dogs, 2 guinea pigs, a pygmy slow loris, a tree kangaroo, and tortoises.

“There’s many different exotics we get in – flamingos, snow leopards, we do get a varied amount of animals that come through,” Beadle said.

And travelling with animals isn’t a new thing. Below, you can see a horse arriving at Gatwick after being flown from stables in France in 1969.

Horse arriving at Gatwick airport

Beadle said that she hates spiders, but once even had to handle one when it escaped on a plane.

“They did have a spider on board an aircraft that was walking down the aisle and we had to go out and catch it,” she said. “I don’t like eight-legged creatures.”

The only animals actually permitted in an aeroplane cabin are recognised assistance dogs, and the centre is always aware they’re coming in or going out.

All other animals go into the hold – and there are no dangers for the pet, according to Beadle.

The animals aren’t ‘in with the luggage’

Dog on plane

“I think people think the animals are in with all the luggage and in between bags, [but] they get a special part of the hold that they go in,” Beadle said. “They’re secured safely so they’re not moving about. The captain is aware of anything on the aircraft and will make sure the heating is on and everybody is aware.”

She added that a lot of preparation goes into an animal boarding a flight, including checking them in and making sure their paperwork is in order, making sure everyone on the airline knows they’re coming, picking them up, and handing documents to the captain.

“There are so many people and processes and paperwork involved,” she said.

She also said there’s no need to worry about them being put on the wrong aircraft.

“They’re given specific numbers, everybody knows where it’s going, what aircraft and stand they’re going to,” she said. “While I’ve been here in the last 10 years, I’ve never sent an animal to an incorrect place. Because it’s such a precious piece of cargo, everybody is on the lookout for the animal.”

The emotional part of the job

Still, getting them off the aircraft and reuniting them with their owners – and hearing their stories – is one of Beadle’s favourite parts of the job.

“When we get animals in they’re from all over the world,” she said. “You’ll get the owners talking about how the animals got there or how they got the animal.

“Sometimes after such a long time away people haven’t seen their pets, [and] to see them reunited it’s quite an emotional thing to be involved with. It’s nice to be part of uniting them at the end to join the family back together again.

“Every day is different,” Beadle said. “It’s just a lovely job to be in.”