Beginning July 1st, 2005, commercial airlines in the United States will be required to report the incidents of family-owned pets injured, lost, or killed while flying in the cargo hold of domestic flights. The reporting requirement will provide pet owners who wish to travel with their companion animals with invaluable, sometimes life-saving information regarding an airline's track record on transporting pets in the cargo hold of airplanes.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®) spearheaded the introduction and passage of the "Safe Air Transport for Animals Act," due to the industry's annual estimate of 5,000 animals injured, lost, or killed during transit in the late 1990's, as well as being contacted by thousands of pet owners who had lost their animals in transit. Since then the number of animals transported each year has grown to two million.
"The original legislation lobbied by the ASPCA would have required the airlines to change the cargo hold in which animals are transported from holds that are only pressurized, to the newer holds that are pressurized, temperature controlled, and ventilated, said Lisa Weisberg, senior vice president, Government Affairs and Public Policy for the ASPCA. "This requirement, which was eliminated from the bill due to the opposition waged by the airline industry, would have better ensured the health and safety of the animals."
Because of this change in the legislation, ASPCA is warning air travelers of the ongoing dangers of transporting their pets in the cargo hold. Weisberg added, "Unless your pet is small enough to place under your seat in the cabin, travelers need to decide whether they want to risk the safety and life of their companion animal, or leave them under the security and care of someone at home. Unfortunately, despite the increasing public demand of Americans wanting to travel with their pet, air travel is no safer today than it was before passage of the law."
Among other requirements, domestic airlines are required to establish a tracking database for animals in the cargo hold separate from the current lost baggage claim system. If and when a companion animal is injured, lost, or killed, the airlines are required to investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident, and take the necessary remedial action to prevent or minimize its occurrence in the future.
"In theory this should lead to safer track records for airlines transporting animals, but do you want your companion animal to be the guinea pig in helping the airlines get there," questions Weisberg. "We had hoped the airline industry would have recognized the flourishing market for pet travel, and supported the upgraded cargo hold requirement. Certainly, pet owners are willing to pay for the cost of a seat for their companion. In the alternative, we suggested that airlines set aside an area in the cabin to safely store one or two kennel cabs." The airlines dismissed these ideas at the time.
The ASPCA will monitor the track records and progress made by the airlines. "We believe this is only the first step in reaching our objective of making air travel truly safe for all animals, not just family owned pets," Weisberg stated. For those people who have no choice but to transport their pet in the cargo hold, the ASPCA recommends that travelers follow the air travel guidelines provided on their website, www.aspca.org. In addition, travelers should review the track record of individual airlines, also available on the ASPCA site, or on the Department of Transportations monthly Air Travel Consumer Report site at http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/reports/atcr05.htm.
Founded in 1866, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) was the first humane organization established in the Western Hemisphere and today has one million supporters. The ASPCA's mission is to provide an effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States. The ASPCA provides national leadership in humane education, government affairs and public policy, shelter support, and animal poison control. The NYC headquarters houses a full-service animal hospital, animal behavior center, and adoption facility. The Humane Law Enforcement department enforces New York's animal cruelty laws and is featured on the reality television series Animal Precinct on Animal Planet. Visit www.aspca.org for more information.