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Fido Flies the Friendly Skies

The following post was originally published by Karen on KP’s Dog Blog, December 3, 2007.

There is good news on the horizon for people who must travel or love to travel long distances with their dogs but are justifiably fearful of making them ride in the cargo hold, which up until now has been the only option for all but the tiniest of dogs. A new company, DogTravel Company, LLC, has sprung up to offer this service, beginning in 2008, allowing passengers to purchase tickets for their dogs so that they can sit in the cabin with their guardians.

However, if your dog is a “problem child,” don’t expect him or her to be allowed on the plane. Only well-behaved, temperament-tested dogs who get along well with everyone can go, and they must be able to “hold it” for at least six hours. There are also strict guidelines on grooming, flea and tick treatments, vaccinations, microchips, ID tags, and health certificates. Still, in spite of all the regulations, I’m sure there are many dogs out there who would qualify and greatly benefit from this program. (One nice side note: No shock collars are allowed on these flights.)

Most people seem to be unaware of the hazards of flying dogs in cargo holds, but it really is a treacherous practice. Many dogs and other animals have died of heatstroke, suffocation, and freezing, and others have escaped from their travel crates and the airport and disappeared into the surrounding city. Some of these have been found dead, having been hit by cars, but others have been lost forever. In recent years, airlines have been forced to provide official reports of dead, injured, or lost animals on their flights, which may have improved safety somewhat, but the grim stats still convey a terrible toll. Just in 2007 alone, 29 animals have died, six have been injured, and seven have been lost on U.S. airline flights, according to U.S. Department of Transportation reports.

When I was young and naïve, I put dogs on planes four times. I thank my lucky stars that they survived the flights. I took my first dog, Koro, with me to France, where I taught English during the 1981-1982 school year, and I traveled to Germany and back with both Koro and my second dog, Druzhok, in 1985 and 1986, where I also taught English.

That last flight did take its toll. Back then, veterinarians advised people to tranquilize dogs before putting them on a flight, and my sweet Koro took three days to come out of her chemical-induced fog after arriving back in the U.S. I was terrified that she had sustained brain damage. Nowadays, vets know better—dogs can’t regulate their body temperature as well when they’re tranquilized, so tranquilizers are not recommended. But just think of the ear-piercing engine noise and the frighteningly unfamiliar environment for a lonely dog in a cargo hold! It’s a lose-lose situation either way.

Cargo-hold travel for dogs and other animals really does need to be relegated to the past. DogTravel Company, LLC, is definitely on the right track.

Incidentally, this blog post is dedicated to my beautiful, cosmopolitan Koro, who died 15 years ago (from splenic cancer) at the age of 13.

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  • Kara says:

    So I went and checked out the DogTravel website and the prices are obscenely high because you are not traveling on a regular plane, you are on your own flight and seem to be expected to be travelling with other members of the DogTravel in groups. I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t know 175 other people with dogs who want to fly at the same time I do.
    This company is on the right track, but something needs to be done that a common person could afford. $4,000 just isn’t in my budget to fly.

  • Fiona says:

    I think that flying dogs in cabins can be just as cruel. Planes are alien to dogs – my dog hates to hear one go past the house, let alone be inside one. Then there’s the weird, ear-popping sensation (Do dogs ears pop the same way ours do?) I personally wouldn’t put my dog on a plane in cargo or cabin.

  • Sha says:

    Couldn’t flying with dogs cause a real problem with people on the flights who are allergic to dogs?

    >>>KP’s Response:

    Hi Sha!
    Yes, I’m sure it could. People with allergies to dogs would definitely want to stay away from these flights, but I’m sure it will be very obvious that dogs will be on board, and of course, there will be umpteen regular non-dog flights to take instead.
    KP

  • Carol says:

    It is amazing to me the frenze that people can create just by the way they word things. I actually went onto the web site listed and read the incidents reported by the airlines. Any responsible owner knows that you don’t fly dogs with smashed faces as they have inheriant problems breathing. Flying 14 and 15 year old dogs is also a gamble. If you have ever lifted a kennel with an animal in it, such as a small dog or cat, you will find that the pins of the door will pop out. You need to secure these yourself to prevent escape, don’t leave it up to the airlines. I personally know people who have been driving with their pets and have been in accidents that have either injured or killed their pets. I am sorry, but I have a real problem with people who attempt to mislead the public. I would have more respect for you if you actually reported how many of these deaths or injuries were transit related and due to improper handling of the pet. You know most people aren’t going to go onto the site and acutally read the incidents and therefore will take your word for it. Your stats are then passed along to create paranoia. Try being totally honest!

    >>>KP’s Response:

    Hi Carol!
    Thanks for writing.
    I hate to say it, but you sound like an airline PR person. Obviously, some dogs are more fragile than others, but if an airline accepts a dog for transportation, then it is making a tacit agreement to get the animal to his or her destination safely.
    Sure, savvy dog guardians should take extra precautions to keep their dogs safe, but not every dog guardian is savvy, and airlines shouldn’t take advantage of this. (Of course, airlines are aware that in the event of a dog’s death, they will likely only be required to reimburse the guardian for the market value of the dog, which isn’t much.)
    The death of a dog is a tragedy, especially to the dog’s guardian, but you seem to be blaming the victim. Any airline that isn’t competent to keep a dog alive during transport should refuse to transport dogs. Period.
    KP

  • Alice says:

    Dogs should definitely be allowed to fly in the plane with their companion. How wonderful a company has been formed to do just that. And thank god shock collars aren’t allowed. Geeeshe, those things are scarey! What a way to ruin a dog’s vacation.

  • Laura F says:

    This is very exciting news. Finally someone is thinking of our companion animals as more than just baggage. It’s about time they let our dogs board the plane with us. They let children on planes, and there are many children that cause way more damage than a dog would.

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