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Travel Tips
When making travel arrangements, look for ways to maximize comfort and minimize risk for your companion animal. Is it really necessary to fly, or can you drive, go via passenger train, or take a ship instead? Can you leave your companion at home with a relative or trusted sitter?
The Unfriendly Skies
While flying may seem at first to be the fastest and least stressful way to go, flying an animal in the cargo compartment can be extremely dangerous, even fatal. Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) doesn't keep statistics on how many animals are injured or die each year in transit, almost every major airline has been fined repeatedly for violations of the Animal Welfare Act.(1)
Cargo holds generally have no heat or air conditioning, so they can reach extreme temperatures quickly. In one case, five dogs were loaded onto a flight that was delayed for nearly three hours in sweltering heat. Passengers heard the dogs' frantic barks, but the airline refused to do anything. When the plane reached its destination, only two of the dogs were still alive.(2)
Most cargo compartments are also unventilated to help prevent fires. Former Federal Aviation Administration safety officer Jim Wippert warns, "An animal in the hold has a limited amount of oxygen to breathe. When the oxygen is gone, so is the animal. It happens. The airlines don't like to talk about it."(3) In 1990, 32 puppies on a Delta flight and 24 dogs on a United flight suffocated after delays depleted their oxygen supplies.(4)
Tragedies also occur because of improperly trained or uncaring airline personnel. One cat flown from Los Angeles was killed when an American Airlines employee drove a baggage conveyor over the cat's crate.(5) Sometimes cats and dogs escape from carriers damaged in transit and become lost inside airplanes or airplane hangars, never to be found.
Preparing for the Flight
When making reservations, let the airline know you will be carrying an animal with you; most airlines limit the number of animals on board. Ask for the airline's rules for animal transport to avoid problems.
If you are traveling abroad, or to Hawaii, check with the relevant embassy for quarantine laws. A lengthy quarantine can be a stressful ordeal for an animal. If you must put your animal through it, be sure to visit every day to alleviate his/her boredom and loneliness.
Be sure to use a sturdy, escape-proof carrying kennel, as cats can easily squeeze through small openings. USDA-approved kennels, required by most airlines, are available through airlines or at pet supply stores.
Open the carrier several days before the trip to let the animal get used to it.
To avoid an upset stomach, do not feed your animal for six to eight hours before flight. Give water immediately before placing him/her in the carrier.
Tranquilized animals may remain frightened and lose most motor control. Tranquilizers diminish the body's ability to regulate temperature, which is important when traveling.(6) Only tranquilize animals if they are frantic and could hurt themselves trying to escape. (Use a veterinarian-prescribed tranquilizer.)
Make sure your animal is wearing a collar and an identification tag. Take some temporary tags with you, one for each place you will be staying. (Be sure to keep the permanent tag on too.)
Minimizing Risk
If you absolutely must fly your animal friend in the cargo hold, take the following precautions:
Always book a non-stop flight. Animals are at extra risk of accidents, trauma, and escape during transfers. If you must transfer, ask about the airline's transfer policy. Most will not transfer animals to a connecting flight; you will need to retrieve them at the baggage claim area and recheck them.
Avoid extreme temperatures. Fly in the very early morning or after dark if there is warm weather at either end of your journey. Fly during the day in winter. Don't ever fly on an extremely hot or frigid day. Animals can freeze to death, suffocate, or die of heat prostration in cargo holds, especially if there is a delay.
Avoid "hub" airports and heavy traffic days such as holidays and weekends, when delays are more likely.
Verify that the kennel's baggage claim tag shows the correct destination and is securely attached. Also, double check the carrier's clasp, and consider padlocking it. It must be adequately ventilated, with at least a 3/4-inch rim around the sides so that the air holes aren't covered if the cage is pressed against other boxes.
Mark the kennel with the animal's name, your name, address, phone number, and destination. Include information about feeding and watering, even if the animal is not to be fed or watered. Write "Live Animal" in at least one-inch-high letters, with arrows showing which side is up.
Do not put a leash in the carrier. It could fall out and get tangled or your animal could get twisted in it and get strangled.
If the flight is delayed, inform the crew that an animal is on board, and ask that the captain be informed. If the delay is lengthy, the animal must be removed from the plane until flight time. Insist on this. Remember, you are the only person who is going to protect your animal and think of him/her as other than property. When one heartbroken passenger sued an airline after his dog died of heat exhaustion in the cargo hold, a federal judge ruled that the dog's death was the equivalent of "lost luggage"!(7)
Watch as your animal is loaded into the cargo area to assure that he/she is on your flight. If you cannot watch, ask the flight attendant to phone the cargo area to make sure your animal is on the flight--before you board.
When you reach your destination, retrieve your animal immediately. If you notice anything wrong, rush to a veterinarian.
On the Road
Driving is less risky than flying. The following tips will help make your journey safer.
Don't feed dogs and cats within an hour of departure, but carry water for rest stops. No-spill travel bowls are available in many animal supply stores and catalogs.
Install shade blinds on car windows and never leave animals unattended. A car can quickly become an oven. Also, animals left alone are vulnerable to theft.
For dogs prone to carsickness, consult your veterinarian for remedies.
Cats can turn into escape artists on the road, so confine them to sturdy, well-ventilated carriers big enough for them to stand up and turn around in comfortably. Line the carrier with a towel and a tiny litter tray, and secure the carrier to the seat with a belt.
Dogs can travel in a kennel or ride unrestrained. Stay alert to prevent possible escapes. For added safety, some stores and catalogs sell companion animal restraint devices similar to seatbelts. To try the safety belt from Pedigrees, call 716-352-1232.
Don't carry your animal in a cardboard box--it will provide almost no protection in an accident.
If your cat or dog is unrestrained, never open a car window or door. Countless dogs and cats have been lost at tollbooths and rest stops this way!
Don't forget to Stop to walk dogs often!
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You can also Contact PAWS Rescue for a pack of information on traveling with your pet , traveling without your pet , and vegetarian eating around the world.