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Hundreds of family pets, protected species killed by little known federal agency

Maggie1[1]

Fox News: It was an August morning two years ago when Maggie, a spry, 7-year-old border collie, slipped through the backyard fence of her family’s suburban Oregon home. Minutes later, she was dead – her neck snapped by a body-gripping trap set by the U.S. government less than 50 feet from the home she shared with the four children who loved her.

"It is an image that will never leave me," Maggie’s owner, Denise McCurtain, of Gresham, Ore., said of her death. "She was still breathing as we tried to remove the trap. Her eyes were open and she was looking at me. All I could say was ‘I’m trying so hard. You didn’t do anything wrong.’"

Maggie’s death at a minimum was one of hundreds of accidental killings of pets over the last decade acknowledged by Wildlife Services, a little-known branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that is tasked with destroying animals seen as threats to people, agriculture and the environment. Critics, including a source within the USDA, told FoxNews.com that the government’s taxpayer-funded Predator Control program and its killing methods are random — and at times, illegal.

Over the years, Wildlife Services has killed thousands of non-target animals in several states – from pet dogs to protected species – caught in body-gripping conibear traps and leg hold snares, or poisoned by lethal M-44 devices that explode sodium cyanide capsules when triggered by a wild animal – or the snout of a curious family pet.

The McCurtains, like many other families, were never informed that such deadly devices were placed so close to their home in grass near the edge of a pond where their young son kicks his soccer ball and their daughter catches turtles.

The traps, set on communal property owned by the neighborhood association, were meant to kill an infestation of nutria, rat-like pests that pose no danger to people but can be harmful to the environment. The only warning sign was a small placard in the grass that identified the device as government property and cautioned against tampering with it. The neighborhood association told the McCurtains it never would have approved such traps had it known they were so deadly.

"It’s unconscionable that anybody with an ounce of common sense would set these traps in an area frequented by the public and their pets," said Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense, a national watchdog group that advocates non-lethal predator control.

"It’s unconscionable that anybody with an ounce of common sense would set these traps in an area frequented by the public and their pets."

– Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense

The M-44’s intended targets are coyotes that kill or harass livestock primarily in the western states, where Wildlife Services is most active and critical to farmers protecting their livestock.

But, like Maggie, there often are unintended victims — like a puppy belonging to J.D. and Angel Walker of Santa Anna, Texas.

In February 2011, the couple’s 18-month-old pit bull was killed when it sniffed and pulled on a meat-scented M-44 placed about 900 feet from its home.

Kyle Traweek, the Wildlife Services employee who set the device, violated at least three M-44 restrictions set by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to Texas officials. In a June 6, 2012, letter reprimanding Traweek, the Texas Department of Agriculture said he broke EPA rules by placing the cyanide in an area where "exposure to the public and family and pets is probable."

Click here to read the letter

Traweek is no longer employed by Wildlife Services, although his departure was not related to the incident in Texas, according to a spokeswoman with the Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS), a division of the USDA that oversees the program.

It is difficult to verify the number of accidental killings of pets each year by Wildlife Services, in part because many go unrecorded, according to multiple sources.

A management source within the USDA claims Wildlife Services employees are told not to document the accidental killings of pets if it can be avoided.

"They are told to get rid of the leash and bury the dog," said the source, who spoke to FoxNews.com on condition of anonymity.

The source also alleged that in some instances in Arizona, California and Minnesota, the killings of pets are intentional – often with the knowledge, approval and encouragement of upper level Wildlife Services management.

"There have been cases of them shooting and killing dogs," the source said. "They’ll just claim it was feral, vicious or rabid. They think they can do anything they want."

In court documents obtained by FoxNews.com, Christopher Brennan, a California-based Wildlife Services employee, told a Mendocino County Superior Court judge that he has shot hundreds of "free-ranging" dogs who he claimed were preying on livestock. During the Sept. 1, 2009, hearing – involving a restraining order between Brennan and a neighbor – the judge asked Brennan how many dogs he has killed as a government trapper over the last 10 years.

"Probably close to 400," Brennan replied, according to the court transcript.

Carol Bannerman, an APHIS spokeswoman, confirmed Tuesday that Brennan is still employed as a "wildlife specialist" for the agency. Bannerman claimed Brennan works in an area where there is a large number of unleashed dogs that harass or kill livestock — and said there is a "significant population" of privately owned guard dogs, mostly pit bulls, that are allegedly left to roam freely so they can protect illegal marijuana crops.

"None of the feral and free-ranging dogs lethally removed in California last year were non-targets," Bannerman said. "Some non-target dogs were trapped and released."

In January, a Wildlife Services employee was arrested in Arizona and charged with felony animal cruelty after allegedly using a government trap to capture a neighbor’s dog he deemed problematic. The employee, identified as Russell Files, set up the leg-hold device during work hours to trap the animal, which was covered in blood from trying to chew its way out of the device when police arrived on the scene. An APHIS official would not comment on whether Files is still working for the government, citing an ongoing investigation.

Wildlife Services described the overall harm to pets and non-target wildlife as “rare.”

"Wildlife Services provides expert federal leadership to responsibly manage one of our nation’s most precious resources — our wildlife," APHIS spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa said in a statement. “We seek to resolve conflict between people and wildlife in the safest and most humane ways possible, with the least negative consequences to wildlife overall.”

The program said that accidental killings account for less than one percent of wildlife removed for damage concerns – and claimed that number is even lower for pets.

Wildlife Services, which has been in place since 1895, touts its mission as critical, priding itself on protecting the country’s agriculture and natural resources from destructive wildlife – damage that can be costly for landowners and businesses.

According to a 2010 report by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), U.S. farmers and ranchers spent $188 million during 2010 on non-lethal ways to protect their land and livestock. That number has declined from 2006, when NASS estimated annual investments in non-lethal methods to be at $199 million.

The USDA says that despite such investments, approximately 647,000 cattle, sheep and goat are killed by predators each year, resulting in an annual loss of more than $137 million. The lost animals do not include chickens and turkeys.

But Carson Barylak, federal policy adviser of the Animal Welfare Institute, is skeptical of the USDA’s statements. She said the danger posed by predatory animals is exaggerated.

"The very reports that Wildlife Services cite for these figures show that [attacks by wild predators have] a relatively small impact on the livestock industry. In the case of cattle, for instance, under a quarter of a percent of the nation’s stock was lost to predators in 2010 according to the program’s records."

The exact number of pet animals and protected species killed over the years by the agency is one that will likely never be known.

A report by the Sacramento Bee, which investigated the program last year, claimed its employees have accidentally killed more than 50,000 non-target animals since 2000, including federally protected golden and bald eagles. The newspaper also reported that more than 1,100 dogs, including family pets, were destroyed by government traps or poison within those same years. Other known cases include serious injuries to pets that result in leg amputations, as well as harm to humans who come in contact with the cyanide.

Doug McKenna, a longtime criminal investigator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – a separate agency that falls under the Department of Interior – said he probed many killings of non-predatory and protected species by Wildlife Services over the years.

"The Bald Eagle is a scavenger bird, so of course if it flies down to investigate a carcass that is placed near a leg hold trap, it will get caught in it," he said. If the trap is not checked in a timely manner, the eagle is left to die. Such deaths are a violation of federal law, like the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, first passed in 1940.

McKenna said that in the case of M-44 cyanide devices, state governments must grant employees permission to place them as well as post warning signs for the public.

"Any access point into the property has to have signs that M-44’s are being used and it has to be in English and Spanish," he said.

For pet owners, seeking legal recourse against the government is a daunting and tedious process – requiring individuals to file a tort claim that typically results in families losing more money even if they win.

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"Most people do not pursue litigation when they realize the financial cost, the time involvement and the limit on recovery for damages being the actual value of their pet," said Oregon-based attorney Daniel Stotter, who handles many of these cases.

"The bottom line is that the federal government has limited liability in all lawsuits involving tort claims, damage to property or persons. You can sue the federal government for certain things, like negligence, but you cannot seek punitive damages," he said, adding that victims are responsible for covering their own legal fees.

“The government knows that when they injure or kill an animal, they’re more likely to not have financial repercussions," he said.

For families like the McCurtains and Walkers, there is no price to be paid for the emotional toll of losing a pet.

"It is losing a member of the family," Angel Walker said. "You can’t really get past it."

March 15, 2013 Posted by | Animal or Pet Related Stories, Animal Rights And Awareness, animals, If Animlas Could Talk..., Just One More Pet, Man's Best Friend, NO KILL NATION, Pets, We Are All God's Creatures, Wild Animals | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Family Facing $4 Million in Fines for Selling Bunnies

Almost nine months after a Missouri dairy was ordered to stop selling cheese made from raw milk, I share details of another hare-raising story from the Show-Me State: John Dollarhite and his wife Judy of tiny Nixa, Mo., have been told by the USDA that, by Monday, they must pay a fine exceeding $90,000. If they don’t pay that fine, they could face additional fines of almost $4 million. Why? Because they sold more than $500 worth of bunnies — $4,600 worth to be exact — in a single calendar year.

About six years ago, the Dollarhites wanted to teach their young teenage son responsibility and the value of the dollar. So they rescued a pair of rabbits — one male and one female — and those rabbits did what rabbits do; they reproduced. Before long, things were literally hopping on the three-acre homestead 30 miles south of Springfield, and Dollarvalue Rabbitry was launched as more of a hobby than a business.

“We’d sell ‘em for 10 or 15 dollars a piece,” John said during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon, comparing the venture to a kid running a lemonade stand. In addition, they set up a web site and posted a “Rabbits for Sale” sign in their front yard. Most customers, however, came via word of mouth.

In the early stages, some of the bunnies were raised and sold for their meat. Much further down the road, John said, they determined it more profitable to sell live bunnies at four weeks old than to feed bunnies for 12 weeks and then sell them as meat.

“We started becoming the go-to people” for rabbits in the Springfield area, John said. “If you wanted a rabbit, you’d go to Dollarvalue Rabbitry.” He added that the family even made the local television news just before Easter in 2008 for a report about the care and feeding of “Easter bunnies.”

Initially, the Dollarhites sold the large, white, pink-eyed variety of rabbits. Eventually, however, they switched to selling a couple of different varieties of miniature rabbits, the mating pairs of which were purchased from breeders across the state. Not only did their “show-quality” miniatures reproduce well, but they ate less and seemed to be more popular with theme park visitors and retail buyers.

During the summer of 2009, the Dollarhites bought the rabbitry from their son who had grown tired of managing it. They paid him what he asked for it, $200. Things kept growing, however, and the Dollarhite’s landed a pair of big accounts in 2009.

A well-known Branson theme park, Silver Dollar City, asked the Dollarhites to have them provide four-week-old bunnies per week to their petting zoo May through September. When the bunnies turned six weeks old, they were sold to park visitors. The Springfield location of a national pet store chain,Petland, purchased rabbits from the Dollarhites as well.

In the fall of 2009, the theme park deliveries ended for the year and the Dollarhites scaled back their operation. At about the same time, the folks at Petland asked the Dollarhites to raise guinea pigs that the store would purchase from them. No big deal.

By the year’s end, the Dollarhites had moved approximately 440 rabbits and grossed about $4,600 for a profit of approximately $200 — enough, John said, to provide the family “pocket money” to do things such as eat out at Red Lobster once in a while. That was better than the loss they experienced in 2008.

Then some unexpected matters began demanding their attention.

It’s an understatement to describe the Dollarhites as being “beyond surprised” when, in the fall of 2009, a female inspector from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed up at the front door of the family home, wanting to do a “spot inspection” of their rabbitry. She said she had come across Dollarhite Rabbitry invoices while inspecting the petting zoo at Silver Dollar City.

“She did not tell us that we were in violation of any laws, rules, anything whatsoever,” John said, explaining that the inspector said she just wanted to see what type of operation they had. Having nothing to hide or any reason to fear they were doing anything wrong, the Dollarhites allowed the inspection to proceed.

John said he had to go to work at the family’s computer store, so Judy took the inspector to the back of their property where the rabbits were raised. There, the inspector began running the width of her finger across the cage and told the Dollarhites they would need to replace the cage, because it was a quarter-inch too small and, therefore, did not meet federal regulations.

Such a requirement came as a shock to the Dollarhites, because they had just invested in new cages to ensure the bunnies had a healthy amount of space to develop, John explained. Though raising dwarf breed varieties of rabbits which require less space, they had opted to purchase cages designed for “large breed rabbits” so the dwarfs would have plenty of room. All for naught.

Not only was the cage too small, according to the inspector, but she noted a small rust spot on a feeder and cited it as being out of compliance. When the Dollarhites told the inspector that rabbit urine causes the cages to rust and that they worked hard to keep the rabbits cages in top shape, she told them it didn’t matter. The rust spot would count as an infraction.

The inspector then asked how the cages were sanitized, John said, and Judy explained how she moved the bunnies to travel carriers and powerwashed the cages, using bleach when necessary. Afterward, she allowed the cages to dry in the sun before putting the bunnies back inside them.

The Dollarhites’ practice was much safer than that used by some breeders who used blow torches to burn hair and manure from the cages — a practice that can lead to rusting metal and produce toxic fumes from burning metal.

During the course of the spot inspection, John said, the inspector asked his wife if she and John would like to have their operation certified by USDA. Judy said she wasn’t sure and asked what certification would entail and if it would help them sell more rabbits. The inspector responded, telling her it would involve monthly inspections and was completely voluntary. The inspection ended with the inspector telling Judy that the Dollarhites rabbits looked healthy and well-cared for.

After the inspection, the Dollarhites didn’t hear from the USDA again until January 2010, John said, when he received a phone call from a Kansas City-based investigator from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

“He called us and said, ‘I need to have a meeting with you and your wife,’” John recalled.

After explaining that he asked the investigator to come after the workday at the computer store had ended, John said he asked the investigator about the purpose of the meeting,

“He said, ‘Well, it’s because you’re selling rabbits and you’ve exceeded more than $500 dollars in a year,’” John said, “and I went, ‘Okay, what does that have to do with anything?’”

John said the investigator refused to discuss details over the phone and made it clear that rejecting his request for a meeting would be a costly error in judgment.

When Judy asked if they should have an attorney present, the investigator responded, saying, “Well, that might be a good thing.”

“At that point, we kind of set back, (wondering) what in the world is going on,” John said. Then he found an attorney who is also a farmer.

“I didn’t want a ‘city slicker,’” said John, a farmer himself until 1996 when he sold his farm to build a home in Nixa. “I wanted someone that had been around the agriculture and farm business.”

John found a guy and they met for the first time a couple of days later — at the same time both met the APHIS investigator in person at John’s home.

“The first thing (the investigator) said was ‘My name is so and so, I’ve been in the USDA for 30-plus years, and I’ve never lost a case,’” John recalled, continuing. “He said, ‘I’m not here to debate the law, interpret the law or discuss the law, I’m here just to do an investigation.’”

John said the investigator went on to explain that he would ask questions, write a report based on the answers and send that report to his superiors at the USDA regional office in Colorado Springs, Colo. The entire process was suppose to take about a month, and John was told to contact the regional office if he had not heard anything in six weeks.

“At this point in time, we were still not knowing anything about the law he was talking about,” John explained, adding that his rabbitry had never had any issues with any animal welfare agencies.

Eight weeks passed, and John decided to call Colorado Springs. Immediately, he was given the number to a USDA office in the nation’s capitol. He called the new number, and the lady he reached there was blunt, John said.

“She said, ‘Well, Mr. Dollarhite, I’ve got the report on my desk, and I’m just gonna tell you that, once I review it, it’s our intent to prosecute you to the maximum that we can’ and that ‘we will make an example out of you.”

When John once again tried to determine which law he and his wife had violated, he said the USDA lady replied, “We’ll forward you everything.”

“Ma’am, what law have we broken,” John said.

“Well, you sold more than $500 worth of rabbits in one calendar year,” she replied, according to John.

“Okay, what does that have to do with anything?” John countered.

The lady replied by saying there is a guideline which prohibits anyone from selling more than $500 worth of rabbits per year, John recalled, but she refused to cite any specific law and, instead, promised to send him the report containing details.

At that point, John said he called his attorney and was told not to worry about it, because he couldn’t find evidence of any law or regulation the Dollarhites had violated.

Soon after the meeting with the APHIS investigator and with the stress of the investigation hanging over their heads, John said he and his wife traded everything associated with the rabbit operation for other agricultural equipment.

At this point, some important facts about the manner in which the Dollarhites conducted their operation are worth reviewing:

The business was carefully conducted on the property of their Missouri home;

The business complied with all applicable state laws;

The bunnies were kept in large, clean and well-maintained cages; and

Not a single bunny was sold across state lines.

Recently, the Dollarhites received a “Certified Mail Return Receipt” letter (dated April 19, 2011) from the USDA informing them that they had broken the law and must pay USDA a fine of $90,643. Their crime? Violating violating 9 C.F.R. § 2.1 (a) (1): Selling more than $500 worth of rabbits in a calendar year.

At this point, Dollarvalue Rabbitry is expected to produced a $90,643 certified check to cover the fine issued by the Department of Agriculture. The USDA was, however, kind enough to provide in the letter the web address for a website — http://www.pay.gov — where they could go to pay their fine by credit card by May 23, 2011. Now, that’s convenient!

Based on an average price per rabbit sold being $10.45, the fine comes out to more than $206 per rabbit. In addition, the letter contains the following statement:

APHIS laws and regulations provide for administrative and criminal penalties to enforce these regulatory requirements, including civil penalties of up to $10,000 for each of the violations documented in our investigation.

If the threat contained in the letter is to be believed, the family could be fined as much as $10,000 per rabbit beyond the first 50 bunnies that netted the family its first $500. Do the math (390 rabbits x $10,000 each) and, if they don’t pay the initial fine, they could face additional fines totaling $3.9 million.

Needless to say, the Dollarhites stopped selling rabbits in January 2010 and are considering setting up a legal defense fund.

To see what the USDA has to say about the matter, read my follow-up post, USDA Stands Behind Hare-Raising Fine.

by Bob McCarty at BigGovernment.com -  Cross-Posted at JustOneMorePet.com

Hat tip: Bungalow Bill’s Conservative Wisdom

May 22, 2011 Posted by | Animal or Pet Related Stories, animals, Just One More Pet, Pets, Unusual Stories | , , , , | 3 Comments

USA: Bring All Commercial Dog Breeders under Federal Oversight!

ASPCA Urgent Alert

Dear Animal Advocates,

There is a giant loophole in U.S. law concerning the federal oversight of large-scale commercial dog breeders (commonly known as puppy mills). Currently, breeders who sell to puppy brokers and pet stores have to be licensed by the USDA, while those who sell puppies directly to the public do not.

However, a new bill before the U.S. House of Representatives, the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety (PUPS) Act, will bring all commercial dog breeders in the United States under federal oversight by requiring any breeder who sells or offers to sell more than 50 dogs annually to the public—including over the Internet—to be licensed and inspected. The bill will also require all licensed breeders to exercise every dog daily.

The PUPS Act has been introduced in past Congressional sessions, but has always timed out. We’ve been given another chance at enacting this extremely important humane legislation, which would improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of dogs nationwide.

What You Can Do

It is vital that members of Congress hear that puppy mill reform is important to their constituents. Please visit the ASPCA Advocacy Center to email your U.S. representative in Washington, D.C., and urge him or her to support and cosponsor the PUPS Act.

Thank you for your continued support of the ASPCA and our nation’s animals!

March 8, 2011 Posted by | Adopt Just One More Pet, animals, Dogs, Fostering and Rescue, Just One More Pet, Man's Best Friend, NO KILL NATION, Outreach for Pets, Pet Friendship and Love, Pets, Political Change, responsible pet ownership, Stop Animal Cruelty, Stop Euthenization | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

With Pets Travel Series: Ten Tips for Traveling with Pets Part III

Although bringing your pet when you travel may seem impossible, in most cases it’s surprisingly easy as long as you plan ahead. Please read these ten tips to help get going. Your dog (or cat) will thank you.

10. Check your destination country’s pet health requirements several months in advance.

Every country has its own requirements regarding required health vaccinations, inspections upon arrival, and, sometimes, quarantine. It’s important that you know exactly what the requirements are several months in advance. For example, certain countries specify that your pet must have a rabies vaccination less than a year old but at but no less than 30 days from date of flight. Don’t get stuck having to change your ticket. Prepare for all of the requirements before you go by calling the consulates of the countries you’ll be visiting and asking about their requirements or checking USDA website here.. If you’re going to be traveling between two or more countries without returning to your home country, you may want to locate a vet in the areas where you’ll be staying so that a new pet health certificate can be completed if necessary.

9. Make sure your pet has a clean bill of health.

Regardless of the destination, most travel into another country will require that you present a pet health certificate to confirm that your pet’s vaccinations are up to date. There are typically strict requirements that establish how far in advance of your trip the certificate needs to be completed—usually no more than 5 to 10 days before your departure.

8. Check your carrier’s regulations.

Almost all airlines, trains, and buses have specific regulations that apply to pets on the go, and those regulations can vary greatly from one carrier to another. Check online or call the carrier to ask about pet regulations. Some of the questions to ask include: How many pets can be on-board at once? What are the boarding requirements? What are the pet carrier or crating requirements? Do you need to show up at the airport earlier if you’re traveling with your pet?


7. Prepare your pet’s carrier.

First, make sure that your pet’s carrier fits the transportation provider’s requirements for size, type (hard side vs. soft side), and interior (lined vs. not lined). If it’s allowed in the cabin, make sure that the pet can fit in the carrier comfortably and still fit under the seat. If you’ll be traveling by air, ask for an aisle seat; middle seats are typically storage sites for electronic equipment, and it’s unlikely a carrier will fit well under that seat. Make sure that your pet’s leash and some plastic bags, paper towels, and handwipes are stored in or near the carrier for quick access if needed.

6. Prepare for security screening.

Most U.S. airports require that you remove your pet (if it is a dog or cat) from its carrier and place it in your arms while passing through the security checkpoint. If your pet is unaccustomed to loud noises, you may want to practice a few times before arriving at the airport by exposing your pet to some high traffic places so he or she won’t be scared or startled.

5. Make sure your pet has ID.

Even if you don’t tag your luggage, make sure you tag your pet’s crate or carrier, whether in the cabin or in cargo, and make sure your pet is wearing a tag on its collar with its name and your contact information.

4. Carry contact information.

Note your pet’s health information and vet contact information among your documents. This seems simple, but lots of people forget to take their vet’s contact information with them. Your home vet can be a great resource while abroad, though, so don’t forget!

3. Check the pets-welcome policy for your lodgings

Increasingly, non-pet friendly lodgings are cracking down on enforcement, some charging a “heavy cleaning” or “convenience fee”—in many cases non-refundable—if they discover that you have a pet. Be sure to ask about the pet policy for the places where you plan to stay. Check out www.petswelcome.com for a list of places around the world that are pet friendly.

2. Get to know your pet’s travel needs.

If you’ve never traveled with your pet before, you may be surprised to see how different he or she is on the road. After your first trip, you’ll begin to get an idea of your pet’s specific needs and plan for them accordingly. If you have a dog, be sure to walk it before arriving at the airport. Keep a few plastic bags in your bag for disposal of waste.

1. Last call checklist:

Check your bags once more before you go: Leash? Meds (if liquids, are they stored appropriately)? Food? Water? Water/Food Bowls? Vet record? Blankets? Toy? and Contact Information?

Julie Schwietert Collazo – Matador & Boston.com

Posted:  Just One More Pet

September 28, 2009 Posted by | animals, Just One More Pet, Pet Friendship and Love, Pet Travel, Pets, responsible pet ownership | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

With Pets Travel Series: Have Dog, Will Travel: Tips For Taking Your Pet On The Road – Part II

In his short life, my dog Norman (a.k.a. “Norm”) has marked his territory in two foreign countries and almost all the states east of the Mississippi.

He recently flew back from Guatemala and looks forward to a bit of a rest before his next journey. Right now, he is sniffing a cat’s butt.

The first question many people ask about Norm is how we manage to travel with him. Certainly his size assists in this process, but many people are curious as to how to prepare to take a pet on the road. There seems to be a self-defeatist attitude about traveling with pets, whether it is the cost of care or the bureaucracy involved with crossing borders.

On the road, I’ve found people seemed more eager to share stories of the furry “baby” they left behind, then of their children or grandchildren. Deep down, I think this proves that the average person would rather take their dog traveling than their kids.

Here are some tips, facts, and myths about getting from point ‘A’, to point ‘B’ with your pet.

Befriend Your Veterinarian

Everything you do with regard to travel and your pet will begin with a licensed veterinarian. Your life will be much easier if you know this person and they know your pet. Get them a Christmas card and include a picture of your animal. The better they know your pet, the faster they’ll be able to find the records.

Trains, Planes or Automobiles

Within the U.S., personal automobile is your best bet. Amtrak and Greyhound have a zero-tolerance policy on non-service animals. New York public transportation – in quite a break from their oft draconian bylaws – allows animals to ride, provided they are muzzled or riding in a carrier. Norm rode the Staten Island Ferry with no problem. Dogfriendly.com has an excellent list of U.S. public transportation systems that are pet-friendly.

Within the U.S., personal automobile is your best bet.

Airlines often accept pets, but vary as to how much they charge and what regulations govern their accommodations. Norm rides in the cabin because he weighs 7 lbs (soaking wet, with his carrier). The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) leaves it up to the airlines as to whether or not to allow pets.

If the airline does allow pets, standard FAA carry-on baggage policies apply. Delta recently upped their pet fee to $75, per itinerary ($150 round trip). United Airlines charges $100. TACA charges nothing, provided the animal is your only carry-on. Spirit Air charges $75 and only allows pets in carry-on. Check with your carrier for price and – if you make your reservation online – call to reserve a slot for your pet.

Health Forms

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Form 7001 is a 30-day, USDA-approved, sextuplicated certificate of health and is the cornerstone of any international and interstate travel for your pet. The form itself costs the vet $15, so keep an eye on how much overhead the vet is adding. It should be accompanied by an actual checkup and certifies that your pet is free of major diseases.

Rabies and/or Vaccination Record

This is something the vet should be maintaining anyway. There is no direct charge for this, but the USDA needs to corroborate this with the Health Certificate. This document is longer lasting, so as long as your pet’s vaccinations are up to date, you don’t need anything more than the original copy.

Microchips

Dog on the RoadAs a computer technician and sci-fi fan, I delight at the thought of turning Norm into a cyborg. Unfortunately, “micro chipping” is not nearly so grand, and is merely a common-sense way of tracking your dog via a chip implanted between their shoulder blades. It does not, in any way, enhance their crime-fighting abilities.

Many countries and states, in fact, require proof that the animal is micro-chipped. Make the one time investment of $35-60 (it varies depending on the vet, chip type, and organization) to avoid any complications.

Crossing Borders

As of 1994, all 7001 forms have to be approved by Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), a division of the USDA. It costs $24 and at least one office is available in every state, but don’t waste your time checking with the USDA to find them. Instead, go straight to the APHIS website to locate the nearest office. Some consulates require their own stamp as well – the Guatemalan Consulate did, and charged $10.

One heavily-armed Guatemalan police officer even peeked in Norm’s cage, smiled, and wished us a good day as we awaited the arrival of our baggage.

One would think the people at the arrival point would be more interested in your (potentially) diseased pet than your country of origin. The reality on Norm’s trip proved quite to the contrary; USDA and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) demanded the above forms for him to leave, while the Guatemala City Airport didn’t even look at him.

One heavily-armed Guatemalan police officer even peeked in his cage, smiled, and wished us a good day as we awaited the arrival of our baggage. When we crossed into Canada, neither the American nor Canadian authorities gave Norm a second look.

Does this mean that these forms are complete bollocks? Not so fast. A nice old American woman told me an anecdote about her dog requiring more analysis to get into Canada than their whole family. Even within the United States, Norm’s flights have had varied results.

Sometimes, the airline itself is more concerned than either country. In the end, simply having a valid health certificate, rabies vaccination record, and the after-hours emergency number for your vet should be enough to get you across any border.

Worst-Case Scenario

Under the worst of circumstances, your pet will be quarantined. This is a particularly serious issue on smaller islands such as Hawaii and Guam, where minimum five-day quarantine is mandatory. When traveling to such locations, its best to check with the consulate or tourism board prior to the trip in order to avoid complications that arise from incomplete information.

Dog on the RoadThe United States Military provides a great checklist for the most extreme circumstances–Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders. I stumbled across this checklist. Each country will have certain concerns – identify those concerns and talk to your vet about how best to address them.

Be sure you have up-to-date information. It is important to note that quarantine is rapidly becoming an antiquated thing, with changes made to the system regularly.

Is My Pet Ready for Travel?

As I write this, Norm is sitting 15 feet away from me. We intermittently feed him beef jerky and cat food, but he’s partial to bread and Doritos. He knows his name, but only views calls of “Norm! Come!” as a general suggestion. Despite our cries, he still enjoys chasing the chickens around the yard. In short, Norm is not exactly a world-class show dog in training.

Traveling with a pet, you will have to address a few things. Lodging will be restricted to only those places that allow pets (a bigger problem in the U.S. than abroad). If you want to occasionally “step out” without said quadruped, you’ll want to mitigate any risk of separation anxiety. Being housebroken is essential, as some instances – such as long bus rides in a cargo hold – will put the pet in positions where their bodily functions may be compromised.

Of course, one of the most valuable things we did to aid Norm’s travels was to crate train him. If your pet is small, like Norm, look for an FAA carry-on approved crate. Contrary to its popular usage, Norm has come to find his crate a safe place – he goes there when he’s scared.

Final Thoughts

There was only one restaurant in Guatemala that refused us entry because of Norm: McDonald’s. At every other restaurant and bar, our polite questions about Norm’s attendance were met with a matter-of-fact attitude. It would seem fitting that the only institutions to reject him would be United States based.

Dog on the RoadWhy are we so afraid, as Americans, to have dogs around us? In my search for the answer, I have found no argument that could not be made the same for children under five. They’re filthy and if not trained properly, can wreak havoc on other patrons and even lose control of key bodily functions.

In fact, children have one extra strike against them–communicable diseases. While dogs could potentially carry bacteria and other pathogens (just the same as children) their viruses do not often translate to our physiologies. In my humble opinion, restaurant’s who ban pets for “Health Reasons” should ban children for the same.

The United States is not going to change any time soon. Its formative years have been spent in a world that knew the realities of penicillin and germs and has been raised–generally speaking–on the belief that we can stave off all illness and other gross miscellany through antibacterial soap. There is, however, a growing underground.

In New Orleans, bars such as Fahy’s Irish Pub embrace the presence of Canines-a typical Friday night will feature as many dogs as patrons. Restaurants like A.W. Schuck’s in Charleston, SC go out of their way to provide pet-friendly outdoor seating. Search hard and you’ll find the modern day rebels in the States, taking a stand against an anti-Dog and -Cat America.

The old western world, meanwhile, has been raised in the generation of existentialism; whatever will be, will be. Bringing your dog or cat into other countries-particularly in Western Europe-can be a rewarding and eye opening experience, one that will have you wondering why “Man’s Best Friend” is a social pariah in his own hometown.

Be careful to check the regulations in India and other eastern lands-while dogs may not be restricted, culture may view them in a way that makes it best to leave your dog, cat, or ferret behind.

In the end, planning your trip with your pet in mind is the key to a smooth journey. If the animal is an afterthought, you’ll run into trouble with document deadlines and airline policies. Be cognizant of who you’re booking tickets with, know the animal policies where you’re going, and keep up with your pets inoculations.

Working your pet into an itinerary will always be harder than developing an itinerary with your pet in mind.

By: Jacob Bielanski – a Technical College dropout from the boonies who drinks too much. His one-eyed cat ‘Spudnick’, travel-sized dog ‘Norm’and sexy photographer wife do most of the work.

Posted:  Just One More Pet – Cross Posted:  Marion’s Place

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September 27, 2009 Posted by | Animal or Pet Related Stories, animals, Just One More Pet, Pet Friendship and Love, pet fun, pet products, Pet Travel, Pets, responsible pet ownership, We Are All God's Creatures | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments