Pets on Planes

December 15th, 2011 by Andrea Bennett

When should pets be allowed to fly, and who is responsible for their safety?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

As holiday vacations approach, pet owners everywhere are facing a tough decision: leave Fido with a friendly sitter or bring him along for the festivities?

If you’re flying, the responsible choice may be to find a way to keep your pet grounded, according to Texas-based veterinarian Dr. Scott Johnson. "Flying is incredibly traumatic for pets, and should really be avoided if at all possible for their safety,” Johnson stated in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal. “But if you must, be sure to prepare well ahead of time.”

Airlines have come under fire recently due to an increase in animal-related incidents between 2008 and 2010. Harsh conditions – from bitter cold to lack of food and water – make the environment in an airplane’s cargo hold less than ideal for any dog. But some dogs are clearly unfit for travel, and the Associated Pressrecently uncovered a story out of the Reno-Tahoe International airport in which a baggage handler was fired for refusing to load an emaciated, visibly ill dog onto an airplane.

Baggage handler Lynn Jones lost her job for refusing a supervisor’s orders to load a dog in bad condition onto a Texas-bound flight. As Jones describes it, she saw the, “listless, emaciated pointer sitting in a pet carrier” and knew something was wrong. “It was so thin, it made me cry,” she said. She told the Reno Gazette Journal, which first reported the story, that TSA officials couldn’t even get the dog to stand up to be X-rayed.

Jones’ supervisor told her that if the dog’s papers were in order, which they were, that the animal’s condition was none of her concern. According to Jones, her boss continued to say, “The dog is going,” even as she repeatedly assured him that the dog would die if it were loaded. Ultimately, airport police called the local animal welfare agency, who took the dog into custody.

Shortly after the Reno Gazette Journal published the story, her company issued a statement commending her “employee situational awareness.” But if Jones is offered her job back, she’ll have to think hard about taking it considering the aftermath of the event.

Despite Jones’ protests, the dog was shipped back to Texas after being nursed to health in Nevada. According to the Reno Gazette Journal, it belonged to a hunter who ships it to his various hunting destinations. “It just breaks my heart to think that dog has been sent back to that owner,” Jones told the AP. “I can’t fathom why they would sent it back to someone who obviously was abusing the dog.”

Jones isn’t alone in her outrage at the Nevada laws that dictated the process. Krys Bart, CEO of the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority, sits on the board of the Nevada Humane Society and told the RGJ, “In all my years here, this is the first time I’m thoroughly disgusted over what I understand to be the situation this animal was put in.”

What’s the right choice when it comes to animal air travel? Who is responsible? Owners? Airport officials? Animal welfare authorities? What would you have done in Jones’ position? Sound off on pet air travel in the comments section below.