The airport — while relatively streamlined and navigable in today’s world of easy travel — can be a stressful place, especially if your travel companion is a four-legged friend. The guidelines for pet travel vary slightly from airline to airline, and the species and size of your pet can often determine how they get from point A to point B.
While the Transportation Security Administration has some general rules for air travel for pets, the waters can easily become muddied when trying to determine how your furry friend will get through security, and where they’ll be spending time during the flight.
Though illegal in most states, animal abandonment is, unfortunately, fairly common. Pets get dumped in various places throughout the country every day, and the consequences can be devastating. But in recent weeks, stories of pets being abandoned at airports have made national headlines. The Washington Post reported that in the past few weeks alone, four pets — three dogs and a tortoise — arrived at the airport with their humans, only to be abandoned at some point between arrival and departure.
According to the Animal Rescue League of Iowa’s Twitter page, a dog was found tied to a pole outside of Iowa’s Des Moines airport last month. The rescue’s Twitter post detailed how airport “workers said the dog was unable to board the cross-country flight because the owner had no kennel.”
DOG LEFT AT AIRPORT: ARL Animal Services officers responded to a call about a dog tied up outside the airport. Workers said the dog was unable to board the cross-country flight because the owner had no kennel. The dog was later found outside the airport: https://t.co/3g2AnzF949. pic.twitter.com/r88YsSt5qM— Animal Rescue League (@ARLIowa) December 30, 2022
This particular dog, an American pit bull terrier now named Allie, was allegedly abandoned at the Des Moines airport by a New Jersey man, local news outlet NJ.com reported. Per NJ.com, the man is facing animal cruelty charges — “Polk County, Iowa, court records show the man is charged with abandonment of animals and failure to care for animals, both misdemeanor offenses.”
Luckily, Allie had a happy ending to the ordeal: she was adopted “by a family who saw her at the airport the day she was abandoned,” Animal Rescue League of Iowa tweeted.
We're happy to say that Allie, the dog left at the DSM airport, was adopted yesterday by a family who saw her at the airport the day she was abandoned. They say Allie is settling in very well.— Animal Rescue League (@ARLIowa) January 12, 2023
Original story: https://t.co/CRKGhZoKPK.
Pictured: Allie saying goodbye to ARL staff pic.twitter.com/9Cj6mQrGQA
Another dog that was abandoned in late 2022, this time at the San Francisco airport, was accompanying a traveler that had arrived from an international destination. The Guardian reported that the traveler “didn’t have the correct paperwork” for the dog.
“The dog arrived with a traveler at SFO from an international destination where the customer chose to continue traveling on without his animal,” the San Francisco SPCA said in a press release. The dog, named Polaris, fortunately landed in a good spot as well, when United Airlines Capt. William Dale and his family adopted the pooch.
While it’s heartwarming to hear that Allie and Polaris got the happy endings they deserve, their stories pose an important question — why are animals being abandoned at airports? Furthermore, do airlines and airports have an opportunity to remove unnecessary obstacles that pet owners may face during their travels? Or were these instances simply the result of poor planning on the pet owners’ part?
It’s hard to say, as every situation is likely to be different. It is, however, worth noting that “a report by Pets4Homes has found that nearly a fifth of pet owners are falling into debt to pay for their pet’s care, and nearly 1 in 10 is considering giving up a pet,” per The Guardian.
Perhaps these instances of animal abandonment at the Des Moines and San Francisco airports — though there have been additional instances across the U.S., including at Charlotte Douglas and Harry Reid international airports — are due to a lack of funds as well as failure to prepare? Again, hard to say. But some important lessons can certainly be gleaned from these pets’ stories.
When traveling, read your airline’s pet policy beforehand
As with seating arrangements or cancellations, every airline’s policies are different. It’s important to know your airline’s pet policy well in advance of your travels — including requirements for paperwork and types of carriers — so that you can be prepared for any roadblocks. It is also important to keep in mind that travel requirements for your pet may vary depending on where you are traveling from and to.
Prepare your pet for the journey
Depending on the type and size of your pet, you may need to bring a large crate or a smaller, carry-on enclosure. Familiarizing your pet with their carrier — and getting them to spend time in it in a positive environment — prior to the journey may help lower stress levels for both of you. If allowed, bringing your pet’s favorite toy or treats could be a good strategy to keep them comfortable and distract them from the hustle and bustle of airports.
If in need of assistance, reach out to your local animal network for resources
If you find yourself in a position where you can no longer care for your pet, reach out to local rescue organizations or your city’s animal welfare department. Many of these places offer assistance with which you may be able to keep your furry friend by your side, or can advise you on how to best surrender your animal responsibly and humanely.
Animal abandonment “is the wrong thing to do, morally and criminally,” Joe Stafford, director of animal services with the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, told The Washington Post. “There are a lot of resources that can help owners in any given situation.”
What to do when you witness a pet being abandoned
According to The Humane Society of the United States, “if you find or know of abandoned animals, contact your local animal control agency immediately.” Their site provides a how-to guide on reporting animal cruelty, whether that is abuse or neglect.