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January 13, 2012

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Risks of air transport for pets

JOANNA Huang will never forget the frightened eyes of her pet dog, a three-year-old Yorkshire terrier, when she claimed it at Pudong International Airport after it was transported from the United States early last month.

"It looked tired and hungry, it trembled in my arms and refused to walk on its own," Huang said.

Huang, who works for a local museum, and her parents went to the United States for a vacation on December 5 and took the dog along because they could not find a local dogsitter. She worried about the cargo hold and the flight lasting more than 10 hours each way.

She felt she had no choice.

She said she felt lucky after learning that a small poodle that was shot dead at Meilan International Airport in Hainan Province after it had escaped its cage and reached an access road around 100 meters away. It was shot for security reasons, authorities said. The dog had traveled from Beijing as checked baggage on Hainan Airlines.

The explanation of the airport can not be accepted by the owner, surnamed Ni, who is a Beijing retired worker and is now a volunteer in a charity foundation aims at helping children with congenital heart disease and blood diseases.

Ni's daughter, "Miaoqinglang" (weibo name) posted a report on weibo microblog, stirring heated debate online about the responsibility of airline carriers, passengers responsibilities and property and animal welfare.

According to the weibo of the owner's daughter, Hainan Airlines later gave the family a public letter of apology (without company letterhead or seal) and promised to take responsibility and pay for the loss of the animal.

But can a "life" be paid for?

The owner of the dog was still awaiting what she called a proper explanation of why her pet was shot dead.

Seven days after the shooting, the Beijing Chaoyang People's Court accepted the case and started legal proceedings, according to Miaoqinglang writing on her weibo.

After the shooting death of the animal, owners are fearful to transport their pets by air, said Huang.

Animals are usually placed in a darkened cargo hold with other cargo and luggage under the passenger cabin, said Zhu Minhua, deputy director of cargo transport for Shanghai-based Spring Airlines.

Pets must be secured in a cage provided by owners with sufficient food and water for the flight, she said. Spring Airlines has stopped providing pet transport because of the cost of providing oxygen in the cargo hold, Zhu said.

She said airline staff could only ensure that other cargo would not topple onto the pet container but could not further protect the animal crate.

"Airlines normally ask owners to sign a disclaimer that the carrier will not accept responsibility for injury, illness or death of a transported animal," Zhu said. The animal transport price is 1.5 percent of the economy-class ticket price per kilogram, including the weight of the crate and food, according to the International Cargo Transportation Rule issued by the Civil Aviation Administration of China, the industry regulator.

By regulation, all animals must be transported as checked luggage and only guide dogs can enter the passenger cabin with the agreement of airline carriers. Any guide dog must wear a mask and owners should prevent it from walking in the cabin.

Air travel tips for pet owners

Before transporting a pet by air, owners must provide health and immunization certificates for quarantine inspection. They must be provided by authorized animal clinics.

The owners must provide other materials required by countries where the animal is going.

Make sure there's oxygen in the cargo hold.

Air China, China Eastern and China Southern airlines require owners to advise of animal transport at least three days before departure.

The owner must take the animal to the airport at least three hours before departure and turn it over to the airline along with checked luggage.

Find out exactly what kind of animal carrier is required by the airline for transport.

Be prepared to sign a disclaimer that the airline will not be held responsible for injury, illness or death of an animal. Prepare well and make sure the container is secure.

Do not feed the animal for at least 10 hours before take off. Water is okay. Make sure the animal crate contains a water bottle.

Last but not least, avoid air transport whenever possible. Find an animal sitter.

There is more detailed advice on pet forums.


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