In late June, the U.S. Department of Transportation sent out a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” – in essence, they were asking the public to comment on a change they (the DoT) was considering making in how “Pet Air Incidents” would be reported. Here is what they were thinking about doing:
Seems pretty straightforward, right? Well, in looking back at the comments from when the rule was originally made, we knew it wouldn’t be. So we got to work drafting a LOOOOOOONNG and fairly complicated document that would try to counter all the arguments that we thought the airlines, commercial breeders, and others who would not want to see this rule would come up with. In its final form, the document is 89 pages!! (This includes a listing of every incident that has been reported since 2005.). If you’d like to read the whole thing, you can do that HERE.
But to make this a little easier, I’m posting the section titled “Discussion and Recommendations” for you to read here. It sums up the main points we made pretty nicely. Your thoughts and comments are, of course, always welcome!! Enjoy!!!
Discussions and Recommendations
WHERE IS JACK? INC. supports the three amendments to 14 CFR 234.13 as proposed by the Department of Transportation and recommends that they be adopted immediately. All animals that travel by air must be counted equally. In addition, we would also recommend the Department of Transportation consider two additional amendments to the proposed rule to more completely fulfill PL 106-181, Section 710: §41721(b), which states, “The Secretary shall work with air carriers to improve the training of employees with respect to the air transport of animals and the notification of passengers of the conditions under which the air transport of animals is conducted.”
- FIRST, we ask that the Department require air carriers to follow-up and report on all incidents if they are not resolved at the time of the original filing, providing follow-up reporting for up to one year or until the incident is resolved (whichever time is shorter).
- SECOND, we ask that the Department require airlines to use the information they have already collected in their incident reports to identify and implement preventative measures that can be put into place to guarantee safe travel for all animals.
That said, we do recognize that air carriers are in a difficult position in responding to these requirements, and feel that some discussion is warranted.
Americans are now guardians to 78.2 million dogs and 86.4 million cats; almost two-thirds of U.S. households have at least one dog or one cat, and many have more than one pet, or even one or more of each species. Americans spend – literally – hundreds of millions of dollars per year on their pets, and increasingly, more and more pet owners view their dogs and cats as dependents, in much the same way they view or have viewed their human children.
While people who view pets as “just animals” may not understand how a person could equate their dog or cat with a child, science is consistently finding that animals are not only sentient beings – having the ability to be conscious and perceive specific situations with their own perspective – they are also both cognitively and socially intelligent as well. Like human toddlers, most dogs (and many cats) learn to associate words with specific objects, and respond to their guardians’ moods and feelings. They seek to run from situations that scare them, and they respond positively to other creatures who are inviting. This combination of sentience, cognitive ability and social adaptability is what makes domestic animals different from their wild counterparts, and why humans have chosen to incorporate these creatures into their lives.
Our growing knowledge about the richness of the lives of dogs, cats, and other domesticated creatures stands in stark contrast to a system where animals are treated as property to be bought and sold and are shipped by air with little regard for their travel experience in the cargo hold of a plane. Many commercial breeders (most commonly of dogs, but also of cats) regard their “product” – puppies or kittens – in the same way another businessperson would regard their product – such as electronics or widgets or beer mugs. Like all “manufacturers,” commercial breeders are resigned to the fact that some “product” will be broken, lost, or even stolen while being shipped – and a certain amount of “loss” is considered acceptable. But in its very nature as a living creature, a “broken” or “lost” animal is not the same as a crushed iPad. For many people, and for all those in the animal care advocate community, a dog who emerges from a flight overheated and dehydrated is not just “unsalable” – it is a sick, helpless creature who is suffering because of the conditions created by the actions (or inactions) of humans. The same is true for all animals who have been transported – from primates to parakeets. For many animal care advocates, it is particularly disturbing to learn that most of the errors that lead to “incidents” are both anticipatable and preventable, yet none of the responsible parties chose to act in the best interests of the animal.
The 14 CFR 234.13 regulations in their current form took the pressure off airlines by relieving them of the responsibility to report on the commercial dog and cat trade, and only making them responsible to report on pets travelling with their guardians. This was the best outcome that air carriers – and commercial breeders – could have hoped for. Air carriers felt they should not be held responsible for the assumed inevitable injuries and deaths of the large number of commercially-salable dogs and cats that they would be transporting for delivery to pet stores and private individuals – animals who may already have serious health problems even before boarding a plane. Commercial breeders certainly did not want the purchasing public to have access to how many of those “cute puppies and kitties” playing in the pet store windows had littermates who had died or were lost or injured en route. The regulations in their current form allow the commercial breeder system to be maintained – without any reference to the price paid by the animals. Unfortunately, occasionally (and if we are to believe the reports, “occasionally” means about every 10 days) – the price was also paid by pets already integrated into a family when air carriers’ less than careful practices and procedures caused them to be lost, injured or die.
Adoption of the proposed amendments to 14 CFR 234.13 is likely to place the workings of the commercial dog and cat trade squarely in the public eye. Strong opposition from the ATA, airlines, breeders, and the AKC itself is likely to be heard. All of these entities have a great deal of money at stake in this issue and may not see the safe and comfortable care of travelling animals as their highest priority.
But knowing that the amended regulations may negatively impact the finances of breeders, carriers and registries is not actually relevant to the bottom-line intention of the original legislation. These regulations are designed to provide information to the public regarding the safety of animals when those animals are travelling by air.
If an air carrier accepts an animal that is not fit to fly, just as that carrier is willing to take the fee for the transport, so too must the carrier be willing to accept the responsibility for participating in the injury, death or possible loss of the animal.
Indeed, air carriers are in no way obligated to accept that responsibility. In December 2011, the Reno Gazette-Journal carried the story of Lynn Jones, a baggage handler employed by Airport Terminal Services, who had been fired for refusing to load a dog that was described as “… emaciated … paws bloody … body covered with sores” onto an aircraft.
As the newspaper reported:
Jones said her supervisor told her to load the dog on the plane because the animal’s paperwork was in order and its condition wasn’t her concern. She said she was warned she would lose her job if she kept carrying on about the dog. … Jones said she was fired from her job on the spot.
The story received national attention and Jones was eventually re-hired. This story highlights the many pressures airlines face as they are asked to account for the animals in their care.
Most baggage handling is not performed by actual airline employees. Companies like Airport Terminal Services, Swissport, and a host of others compete to provide this service – at the lowest cost possible to the airline. If their actions – such as holding a dog back from flying – consistently cost the airline money, renewal of the contract may be in jeopardy. In addition, in many large-city locations, baggage handlers are often immigrants who may have a different view of animals (and particularly dogs and cats) than many middle-class Americans have. A baggage handler having different cultural values and beliefs about companion animals may have seen what Ms. Jones saw, but not have seen it as a problem, and might have loaded the animal on the plane. The dog may have then died in flight.
The airlines are likely to resist expansion of reporting regulations because of concerns about circumstances like these – and the effort that correcting these conditions might entail. Ultimately, though, it is the responsibility of the carrier to make clear to anyone loading animals on to their planes that the safety of the animal must come first. Just as an airline is responsible to make clear to sub-contracted mechanics that the most important thing is that the plane is able to operate safely, the carrier must also make the safety standard for pets crystal clear to all relevant sub-contractors and employees. There is now a substantial portion of the American public that does not support the callous and inhumane treatment of pets, and wishes to make decisions to support or avoid particular companies with this information in mind.
The public’s right to know about the safety of animals travelling by air should not be compromised by the commercial needs of airlines, breeders, and registries. All animal care advocates do not require that commercial breeding and transport be halted, but there is an ever-growing segment of the American citizenry that is saying that safe and humane transport of animals is not only possible, but must be required. Full and transparent reporting of the outcome of animal transport by the airlines is an absolutely necessary component of that mandate, and we support all efforts by the Department of Transportation to require all parties involved in transporting animals to take this work very seriously.