One of the issues dog owners face is that when they move, they need to figure out how to get their dogs to the new location. Most of the time this is accomplished by automobile; sometimes, though, it needs to be done by airplane.
My gut reaction to the idea of allowing my dog to be kept in the cargo area of a plan has always been an emphatic NO. I’ve read the horror stories and seen the petitions from people whose dogs have suffered, been lost, or died at the hands of the airlines. However, for the sake of this article I looked at some statistics about incidents involving dogs who’ve flown as cargo, and I was surprised by what I found.
The Department of Transportation requires that airlines file a report about any incident involving an animal that travels on any flights. Yes, it’s possible that not all incidents are reported, but I think the government takes such reporting seriously. I reviewed all of these reports from 2014, and in addition to finding that there were far fewer of these than I’d imagined (32 incidents), here’s what I found:
- The majority of these incidents (17) were injuries caused by dogs chewing on their crates. No dog was seriously injured during these incidents.
- Of the 8 deaths that were reported, four of them were on breeds with short muzzles (Bulldog, Boston Terrier, Pug), 3 were breed unreported, and 1 was with a deep-chested breed (Great Dane mix).
- Out of four incidents, there were two cases of escaped dogs that had never been found.
For those of you who think these numbers are suspiciously low, it’s very possible. Following criticism that these reports did not include all of the animals being transported on airlines, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has changed the rules. As of January 1, 2015, reporting now includes all U.S. airline carriers that operate with at least one aircraft with more than 60 seats and will also include cats and dogs that are transported as a pet by its owner as excessive baggage or in cabin, as well as cargo shipments and breeder shipments. Previously, breeder shipments were NOT included, and fewer airlines were required to report. Airlines will also be required to file a year-end report that will include the total number of animals transported and the total number of animals that were lost, injured or died during air transport.
Medical and travel experts have the following recommendations:
- Don’t fly during warm weather.
- See your vet before flying.
- Try to use direct flights whenever possible.
- Try to purchase a space for your pet in the cabin.
- Remind airline staff and baggage handlers that there is an animal in cargo. Ask them to make sure that your animal is placed in a well-ventilated area and has water.
- Don’t fly snub-nosed dogs in cargo, period.
- If you don’t have to take your pet with you (i.e., if you are going on vacation rather than moving), don’t.
To this I would add to make sure to consider anti-anxiety medications if your dog is stressed out. Also, remember that traveling by plane is a extremely stressful, unfamiliar experience for your dog. It’s not normal, and they will be scared and uncomfortable. This (traveling in cargo) is going to be an unpleasant experience for your dog, no matter what you do to make it better.
So would I let my dogs travel in cargo? Yes, probably, although I’d still want to take precautions. Would I let my short-muzzled or bloat-inclined dogs travel in cargo? No. Is that an emotional, rather than intellectual, response? Yes, but these are my dogs, and there’s no such thing as acceptable losses.