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Public Statements

Letter to Secretary LaHood


Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) today applauded the Department of Transportation (DOT) for moving to close a loophole which allows U.S. passenger airlines to skirt a requirement to more fully report animal injuries, deaths and losses. Today is the deadline for comment on the Department's proposed changes to the current rule which narrowly defines "animal" to mean one being kept as a pet.

"I wrote the Boris bill more than a dozen years ago because when our pets travel on U.S. passenger airlines, we have to ensure they're not handled like baggage," said Senator Menendez. "A dog is a dog is a dog, whether he's on his way to a dog show, a pet store or vacation with the family. Consumers deserve to know just how safely airlines transport animals, so they can make informed choices."

"No matter where they are going or who they are going with, our nation's pets deserve to be treated with care and consideration when traveling on an airplane. I commend Secretary LaHood for taking action to expand reporting requirements to better protect our pets and provide consumers the information they need in order to make the right choice for their pets when they travel," said Senator Durbin.

"It is tragic that an animal would ever be treated cruelly or callously in transit," said Senator Lieberman. "Too many pets have already suffered such mistreatment, and I hope that the Transportation Department's proposed rulemaking will provide Americans with more information about airline animal safety efforts."

Menendez's Boris Bill, named for a boxer-pit bull severely injured during a trip in a cargo hold, was signed by President Clinton in 2000 and required airlines to report when animals die, are lost or are injured to the Department of Transportation. The DOT then publishes the data so consumers can make better informed choices for pet travel. The law also required better training for airline employees. Unfortunately, under the Bush Administration, the Department of Transportation implemented the law by narrowly defining the word "animal" as only those kept as pets and transported on the same flight as the owner. That means airlines haven't been required to report about the loss of cats and dogs transported by breeders, those with handlers for dog or cat shows or en route to pet stores.

In a letter to DOT Secretary La Hood, the Senators praised efforts to expand coverage of protection to animals transported commercially and suggested that any final rule require carries to report the total number of animals transported each year. The Senators hope that report leads to further protections protecting even more animals.

Menendez and other Senators have called on the DOT for years to close the loophole which hides the transport of thousands of animals each year by updating and expanded its current rules. Click Here for a PDF of a letter Senator Menendez sent to DOT in 2008 and Click Here for a PDF of a letter Senators Menendez, Durbin and Lieberman sent to DOT in 2010.


Dear Secretary LaHood:

Thank you for pursuing the rulemaking to expand the coverage of rules designed to protect the welfare of animals shipped in airplane cargo holds. As you know, these rules are the result of legislation authored by Senator Menendez, and we appreciate your responsiveness to the discussions our offices had in 2010 and the resulting pursuit of expanding these rules. We write to commend your work and make some suggestions for clarifying and fully pursuing these protections.

Senator Menendez first pursued this issue when he was moved by the story of a dog named Boris. His owners took him on a trip and were horrified when Boris was thrown from his cage and injured on a flight. They were further distressed when they discovered that the airline was not required to report the incident and there were no standards for handling pets on planes. The so-called Boris Bill was shepherded through Congress by then Congressman Menendez to correct this gap in oversight. Unfortunately, there have since been several incidents demonstrating that we still have more work to do.

Maggie Mae, a West Highland terrier puppy, flew in the cargo hold of a 2008 Delta flight and was tragically crushed to death during a flight transfer at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Since the breeder was a commercial owner and not a family household, Maggie Mae did not fit the definition of "animal" under current regulations. I

n another incident, Illinois resident Mr. James Hough was awaiting the arrival of a Neapolitan mastiff puppy from a breeder when he was informed that the puppy died en route aboard a Delta flight. Even though the mastiff puppy was being delivered from the breeder to its new owner, the airline did not have to report the incident because it was a commercial shipment and not technically considered an "animal" under these requirements.

Thankfully, you have acted on this issue and now propose to expand the definition of the word "animal" to include dogs and cats sent commercially via a U.S. passenger air carrier. Furthermore, we are glad that the number of U.S. air carriers that will be required to report will increase from 15 to 36 carriers. These sensible changes to current regulations better match the intent of the Boris Bill and will protect many more animals.

We also are encouraged that the Department is proposing that carriers provide a total number of incidents resulting in death, injury or loss and is asking for comment on requiring carriers to report the total number of animals transported each year. We strongly support such reporting and believe it will give more useful information to consumers and help the Department determine what other measures should be taken to ensure these animals can be transported safely. Frankly, we were surprised to learn just how many animals and how many different species of animals are shipped via plane. Baby chicks to exotic zoo animals, including a polar bear, have all found themselves in plane cargo holds. A spokesperson for Delta Airlines said recently that they carry "hundreds of thousands of animals a year" and "transport all sorts of unique animals." Given the volume of animals involved and the complexity of shipping such diverse species, we hope that the Department will consider pursuing a comprehensive study on what animals are traveling in plane cargo holds and how the Department could further expand the definition of "animal" without placing undue burden on air carriers.

One issue we wanted to be sure was specifically addressed in this rulemaking is the issue of guardians transporting animals, such as handlers of dogs or cats for events. These professionals are charged with the care of animals but in some cases are not the owners. The word "guardian" in 49 U.S.C. § 41721 was intended to cover anyone entrusted with an animal's care. The proposed rule arguably covers this situation, but we believe the Department should specifically include animals that are being kept as a pet in a family household in the United States, but are shipped by guardians, are covered to avoid any confusion.

We would like to thank the Department for addressing our concerns regarding the implementation of 49 U.SC. § 41721 and appreciate your consideration thus far. We look forward to continuing to work with the Department to give consumers the best information possible on airline animal safety records so that they can make well informed decisions about their pets' transportation options. We hope to see these rules finalized and issued without delay.

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