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NY Press: FAA rule pits breeders against rights activists

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Posted by W von Papinešu on December 21, 2002 at 22:21:55:

WALL STREET JOURNAL (New York, NY) 20 December 02 FAA rule pits breeders against rights activists (Ryan Dezember)
(AP): Shipping snakes born in Florida to pet shops in Pittsburgh has never been easy: There are temperatures to consider, the right containers to pick. But things may get a lot harder for Marc Cantos, a pet wholesaler who ships thousands of reptiles a year.
The Federal Aviation Administration has proposed regulations that would require airlines to report all pets, including fish and snakes, that die or are injured in transit.
But airlines say the rule is so cumbersome and the term "pets" is so vague they might stop shipping animals altogether, or at least make it more costly.
That prospect has breeders and pet shop owners up in arms. The proposed rules, says Mr. Cantos of Burgundy Reptile Traders in Estero, Fla., "would effectively close our industry." Among others to be affected: dog and small-animal breeders and the $7 million-a-year ornamental-fish export business.
Animal-rights activists have a different take. They say they hope the FAA's proposed rules will force air carriers to compete for pet lovers' business. "We were hoping airlines would want to stand out as pet friendly," says Lisa Weisberg, senior vice-president government affairs for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Both sides are drumming up grassroots campaigns, flooding the Department of Transportation with more than 3,000 letters so far, ahead of a Dec. 27 deadline for comment.
Because airlines haven't been required to keep records on animals killed or hurt in flight, the number is highly disputed. Animal rights groups say thousands of animals die in flight each year, while airlines say there are only a handful of such cases a year. It is hard to estimate because air carriers won't even disclose how many animals they fly each year, citing industry competitiveness.
The proposal would require carriers to monitor the condition of animals they transport and to report any injuries or deaths to the FAA. Pets traveling with their owners would be included, as well as animals being shipped by breeders to shops or individuals. Currently, the rules don't apply to lab or zoo animals. But the proposal covers any animal that could be a pet, including parakeets, snakes or fish.
Animal breeders and other commercial shippers of animals say the rules go way beyond what they were intended to achieve, which was to keep family pets, such as dogs or cats, safe during air travel.
Even the American Kennel Club, which has long championed safe air travel for dogs, says the proposal goes too far. It "would require the airline to determine the cause of death and file a report on literally every tropical fish that died during air travel to a pet store!" the club says.
"The airlines aren't in a position to determine what might be sold as a pet -- to save trouble they'll make everything a pet," complains Marshall Meyers, general counsel for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, a trade association. "The carriers are going to have to investigate everything."
Sally Matluck Boisseau, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., backs the proposals. She told the FAA how her dog, a Belgian Tervueren named Rio, went deaf from being left on the tarmac for 24 hours amid the din of jets.
Animal-rights activists say the rules don't go far enough and want the FAA to include lab animals, such as rats and mice, and zoo animals. "Even if you're only worried about the safety of your own dog or cat, wouldn't you want to know if another animal -- for example, a lion headed to a zoo or a dog going to a research lab -- was hurt while in the care of a particular airline?" asks Mimi Brody, director of federal legislation for the Humane Society of the United States.
While airlines often charge fees for passengers to carry pets on board with them and ship large numbers of pets as cargo, they say the costs would outweigh the benefits -- especially if baggage handlers must count dead goldfish. Airlines say they don't mind checking on cats and dogs. "But, should we also be expected to open up every box of pet boa constrictors to see if they're all alive?" asks Michael Wascom, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, which represents major U.S. carriers. "It's a physical impossibility."
Most airlines have weather-related embargoes to prevent animals from freezing or overheating in their hulls. Some won't ship certain species, including venomous snakes or primates, which can carry the Ebola virus. Some carriers such as Southwest Airlines Co. don't take animals at all.
Any further restrictions "would paralyze the industry until it could figure out how to switch to ground travel, which would probably be more inhumane," says Mr. Meyers, a former airline attorney.
Concern for in-flight animal safety dates back decades. In 1956 the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals opened Animal Port, a holding area for animals in transit, and oversaw the handling of live cargo. A 1976 amendment to the Animal Welfare Act allows the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to penalize airlines for inhumane treatment of animals -- after a complaint. Under that law, U.S. Airways was fined $50,000 after 46 forgotten ferret kits starved in an Evansville, Ind., warehouse, and, in two other incidents, 11 rodents were overheated.
The new reporting requirement, part of AIR-21, the aviation bill passed in 2000, could lead to more of these reprimands as airlines would have to report even minor mishaps.
Whether airlines limit service or raise prices to cover expenses, the $28 billion pet industry is sure to take a hit -- especially breeders of small animals who pay as much as $200 dollars to ship a single animal. The nations' 9,000 pet shops which get most of their small animals by plane would be forced to give up such inventory as newts, gerbils and cockatoos. "The reality is that some of the stuff would be priced out of the market," Mr. Meyers says.

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