Travel with pets is either rewarding or risky business. Consider Mike Bell. Last June, the quality assurance manager for Network Associates in Santa Clara, boarded United Airlines for his direct flight home to California from Washington, D.C. While Bell’s boarding pass was coded, correctly, for San Jose, his dog’s crate was stamped for Salt Lake City, Utah. “Ironically,” says Bell, “ I passed the guy who had loaded him and asked if my dog, Dakota, was O.K. He said, ‘Yeah, have a safe flight.’”
Several hours into the trip an attendant brought Bell to the cockpit where the pilot told him the dog’s true fate—he was stuck in a freezing cargo hold on another aircraft. The pilot diverted the plane to Denver in order to save the dog. When the plane landed, Bell found Dakota, an African breed known as a Basenji (Swahili for “Bush Dog”), alive, but nearly a pooch popsicle. United bent its rules, allowing the dog to sit with Bell in the cabin for the flight home to California.
65% of pet owners travel with their pets and 41% have stayed in a hotel/motel with their pets
37% talk to their pet on the telephone or through an answering machine when away
93% buy presents for their pets
80% take their dogs with them on errands
44% have purchased souvenirs for their pets while on vacation
28% take their pets to work
Source: American Animal Hospital Association 2000 Pet Owner Survey based on a national study of 1’189 pet owners who take their pets to American Animal Hospital Association Veterinarians.
Statistics on incidents such as these will be easier to track in the near future. Legislation introduced by the recently retired U.S. senator Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey), and attached to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Reauthorization Act, became law last April. According to the senator’s former communications director, Retha Sherrod, the goal is to reduce accidents and poor treatment of animals when they are transported on commercial airlines.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) regulates the commercial transport of cats, dogs and most other warm-blooded animals protected by the Animal Welfare Act, according to agency spokesperson, Jim Rogers. Exceptions are animals brought on board as carry-on luggage.
To fly, dogs and cats must be at least eight weeks old, and weaned for at least five days. Animals six months and under, may travel in the same kennel; all others must go solo in kennels that allow them to stand up and turn with ease.
Minimum kennel standards for safety, strength, sanitation and ventilation apply. These standards are more stringent for international flights. Animals may not be shipped C.O.D. unless the shipper guarantees their return. Dogs and cats may not arrive at an airline more than four hours before departure, unless they come via a pet shipper. And many airlines require owners to double confirm pet travel within 24 to 48 hours of departure or risk refusals. Some limit the number of pets on board, even in cargo areas, and it’s on a first-come, first-served basis. Last-minute policy changes due to weather or for other safety reasons are also common.
Understand also that airlines may refuse to take a pet if it cannot be shipped within a 24-hour period. A number of airlines now only work through certified pet shippers — a policy that may well be related to tightened airport security measures.
Unaccompanied pets or those too big to meet carry-on rules must travel airfreight. Exceptions are service assist animals. The most common are seeing-eye dogs but more unusual animals can be found as well, as in the “Case of the Flying Pig.” Last fall, a woman presented herself at a Philadelphia airline check-in counter en route to Seattle, accompanied by her pink-leashed, pot-bellied pig. The woman had a doctor’s note stating that the pig was instrumental in preserving her cardiac health. According to Jim Peters, a FAA spokesperson, air carriers must act in accordance with U.S. Department of Transportation (D.O.T.) regulations and seat service assist animals with their owners in the first class section, by the bulkhead.
Bill Mosley, a spokesperson for the D.O.T., says the three most common gripes fielded by his agency are, “Complaints about other people’s pets — being allergic, the pet making noise or smelling bad; the cost of transporting pets; and misinformation given about the size of the kennel,” resulting in pets being denied access to board. “It’s not the ‘Friendly Skies’ anymore. Each year it gets a bit harder and every year there are new regulations,” says Jane Edwards, past president of the Independent Pet and Animal Transportation Association International (IPATA).
No airline will guarantee acceptance of an animal it has not seen, and advance trips to the vet are a must. In most cases, vets are required to examine pets at least 10 days prior to the travel date, providing the owner with proof of specific vaccinations and other treatments. Health certification may vary from airline-to-airline, and by region, so check with both the airline and a local vet, as well as with embassies both here and abroad if the travel is international. Some regions require a rabies shot to be administered within one year of travel, even if the animal has a vaccination good for three years. In certain countries, that timetable may be shorter.
European pet owners may take advantage of a Pet Passport system, but even that is fraught with difficulties, say pet shipping experts including Edwards, who also owns BKS International Pet Shipping, a pet relocation service based in Houston, TX. “Get references and make sure they actually personally interact with your pet,” Edwards advises, “and get all costs, in writing, in advance, so there are no surprises at the end.”
For those with a fear of flying, there are other modes of transportation. Don’t look to AMTRAK or Greyhound buses, however, unless a service assist animal is involved. Many pet owners say automobiles are the only way to go.
It is important to properly restrain animals while traveling by car, in a kennel or carrier. Even a 15-pound cat becomes a dangerous, clawed missile on the highway, and there is nothing fun about a puppy stuck under the gas pedal.
Regardless of the mode of travel, get the name and number of a local vet beforehand. Call the American Animal Hospital Association member services at 1 (800) 883-6301 between 7:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Mountain Time (local zip code required) to find one at your travel destination.
Do’s and Don’ts of Pet Travel
DON’T: Administer sedatives to your pet before a flight
DO: Offer herbal calming agents: Rescue Remedy and Bach Flower Remedy—the pet equivalents of Chamomile tea—are available at certain health food stores.
DON’T: Feed pets’ solid food up to six hours before flight time
DO: Give water at will
DON’T: Use kitty litter—it will stick to the cat’s fur.
DO: Pack kennel bottoms with layers of newspaper topped by layers of shredded newspapers, then a soft
blanket—to absorb any “accidents.”
• Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS): The agency provides a free brochure on pet travel. Log onto http://www.aphis.usda.gov/oa/pubs/petravel.html
• Pet Sitters: log on to www.petsitters.com
• Family Safety Solutions LLC: another good resource for traveling with pets, including links to “Pet Friendly Lodging” and more. Log onto www.familysafety.com
• Travel Tips: Compiled by members of canine-I, the Dog Fancier’s List, and feline-I, the Cat Fancier’s List, the tips on www.geocities.com/Heartland/Ranch/6750/travel_tips.html are very helpful.
• Atlas Vanlines: Good tips for “Moving Your Pet”. Log onto www.atlasvanlines.com/pets.html
• Dog Lovers Bookshop: New York bookshop offering a free listing of guidebooks on pet-friendly places for travelers. Check out www.dogbooks.com or call 212-369-7554
•Quality Travel Worldwide: www.quinwell.com
• Inns, B&B’s: www.innscom/pets.html provides tourist information about inns, bed and breakfasts and small hotels in the U.S. and Canada.
•The Humane Society of the United States: For airline regulations log onto www.hsus.org/programs/compaion/pet_care/travel_alert.html