U.S. Airplanes May Stop Flying Pets

Published September 2005

January, 2003 WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Many big airlines may stop carrying pets over the United States if the government makes them report figures on how many animals they lose and how many die or are injured on their planes, an industry group says.

Carriers say they fly millions of animals each year for a fee and endorse government efforts to make animal transport safer. The rule was ordered by Congress and proposed last fall by the Federal Aviation Administration.

But airlines oppose the plan to make them inspect such cargo more closely and submit detailed monthly reports to the Transportation Department on any incident that leads to loss, injury or death of a pet or an animal to be sold as a pet.

Editor's Note: At first glance, requiring airlines to report any animal death occurring while in transit seems like a very good thing. But it is important for each of us to understand the ramifications of such a law. It is natural for us to view any law only in how it affects us as cat breeders - and of course we want to know if an airline has lost a kitten while in its care.

Some animal protection groups argue that reporting standards are needed to at least give consumers access to information about an airline's record for handling animals.

There are currently no industry figures for pet deaths or injuries, and the airlines dispute widely circulated claims that roughly 5,000 animals die in their custody each year.

The biggest airlines, through their lobbying group, the Air Transport Association, say the rule would be logistically difficult and cost prohibitive. Delta Air Lines said the inspections could cost more than $1 million annually.

Editor's Note: The new law is not only applicable to the small breeder flying a kitten to its new home. The law as written applies to all animals being flown as pets. That would, for instance, include a cage of hamsters, or spiders, or lizards or canaries - typically animals that are not shipped as individuals but as a group of many in each container. Think about the task faced by the airline official at each end of a trip required to open and inspect a box filled with spiders or venemous snakes. Think about the inspector needing to count and record each individual insect. Consider the paper work involved in keeping track of the inspections details. It becomes clear why an airline might decide to just forego the shipping of animals rather than try to deal with the addition staff, paperwork and delays that such a law would require.

"Many airlines are struggling for their financial survival and would have no choice but to forgo carrying pets in an effort to maximize revenue while reducing the cost of burdensome federal regulations," Michael Wascom, the group's spokesman, said.

Some airlines crate cats, small dogs and some birds and permit them to travel in the passenger cabin. They count as carryon baggage. Larger domestic pets and other creatures are transported in cargo containers in the belly of the aircraft.

Airlines do not object to reporting a dog or cat death. They say those are rare. But they do not want to account for the well-being of every animal.

"Should we also be expected to open up every box of pet boa constrictors to see if they're all alive? It's a physical impossibility," Wascom said.

Delta said it called an expert from a zoo last year to open a container of venomous snakes.

"No matter how well trained, airline employees are not veterinarians with the necessary expertise to fully protect themselves from the danger of handling cold-blooded animals," Delta has told the Transportation Department.

The carrier and other airlines defend their record for transporting animals, and have offered alternative language to modify the proposal.

But animal protection and other groups, like the Humane Society of the United States, argue for reporting standards.

"Either animal suffering during air travel is the rare exception to the rule, in which case reporting it will pose a negligible burden. Or it goes on all the time, in which case it may be something of a hassle for airlines to have to report but all the more necessary from the public's perspective," the Humane Society told the Transportation Department.

But the American Kennel Club, the purebred dog registry, said current practices are adequate.

Editor's Note: Cat breeders need to understand how this law, no matter how well-meaning on the surface, might actually have a negative affect on the transportation of cats around the world. The American Kennel Club does not support the law as it is presently written because they see its flaws. As cat breeders, we also need to study this new proposed law to see if it will results in a situation that will be best for our cats and the cat fancy as a whole.

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