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Taking pet aboard can be a hair-raising challenge

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SAN ANTONIO — If you thought traveling with kids was tough, try checking Fido as luggage this summer. You can't. And if you show up at the airport without making prior arrangements for the family pet, you'll be in for a rude awakening.

Most major airlines have changed their policies on flyingpets as checked luggage after a number of incidents involving animal deaths or near deaths on domestic airliners.

Each airline has its own rules. Southwest Airlines accepts no pets, only guide dogs, while TWA has a $75 fee for small pets in the cabin and cargo area (not checked luggage). American, Continental, Delta and United announced they would no longer accept pets as baggage during the hot, busy summer months.

Bottom line: If you must travel with Fluffy, allow extra check-in time, get an approved carrier or crate, and have the animal checked by a veterinarian. Most important — book early. Remember that pets in the cabin must be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you, and all the airlines limit the number per plane (usually two in coach and one in first class).

"Traveling with your pet presents many unique challenges, but because most pet lovers consider their pets as family, they wouldn't dream of leaving them home alone," said Dr. Marty Becker, Petopia.com's chief veterinary correspondent and co-author of "Chicken Soup for the Cat and Dog Lover's Soul."

"With careful planning, traveling with your pet can be a wonderful bonding experience," he said.

Army Staff Sgt. Keith Thompson, who is stationed in San Antonio, has flown several times with Bailey, a Shetland sheepdog.

"I've never had any problems traveling with Bailey, except that most (domestic) airlines make me feel like I'm traveling with a convicted felon that must be caged instead of a member of my family."

Bailey said he got exceptional treatment when he was transferred to Japan and flew on ANA, All Nippon Airways.

"My wife and Bailey got the royal treatment when they arrived in Tokyo," Thompson said. "Someone from the airline personally escorted my wife through customs and ensured that all of Bailey's paperwork was in order and that they made it to their connecting flight."

Minneapolis-based Northwest Airlines gets high marks for its Priority Pet program and continues to accept pets as checked baggage during the summer months, although restrictions apply. Animals are not accepted when temperatures exceed 85 degrees at any point on the itinerary. Northwest charges $75 each way for pet transport — both inside the cabin and checked — for domestic flights, and the international rate varies.

Most airlines are accepting large dogs from professional pet shippers. For more information about shipping pets, contact the Independent Pet and Animal Transportation Association, 903-769-2267or on the Internet at www.ipata.com.

Web sites: www.hsus.org;