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Fly the Furry Skies

Last Christmas, Boris, a dog from Florida, escaped from his cargo crate while in the custody of Delta Air Lines and roamed Queens, New York, for a whole month. The incident raised serious questions about travel and animal safety. Some airlines are more pet-friendly than others, but in the past few years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has prosecuted cases against most major airlines. Here are some pointers on flying with your pet.

  • Consult your vet. An exam could reveal a medical reason for grounding the animal. The required health certificate is valid only if signed by the vet within 10 days of departure.
  • Contact the appropriate consulates or authorities regarding quarantine and public-safety regulations. England's six-month quarantine is infamous, but Hawaii is not far behind (120 days).
  • Book off-peak, nonstop flights. And even though most cargo holds are climate-controlled, it's best not to risk exposing your pet to extremes in temperature. If you must travel when it's hot, choose an after-dark flight; when it's cold, fly in the middle of the day.
  • To travel with you in the cabin, the pet must stay in a carrier that can fit under the seat ahead of you. Many airlines welcome small animals in the Sherpa Bag, a flexible, soft-sided carrier (800/743-7723).
  • Animals too large for an under-seat carrier have to fly cargo in a shipping crate that meets all USDA requirements. Make sure your pet is wearing a collar (no leash!) with two ID tags; consider purchasing additional tags in a foreign language.
  • Condition your pet to its crate-frantic, cage-shy animals are capable of Houdini-esque maneuvers. Start by putting its favorite toys in there. "Then," says Bash Dibra of Fieldston Pets in Riverdale, N.Y., "make it a flight simulator-turn out the lights and let the pet rest for eight hours at a time. If it can do that, it'll be fine for an eight-hour flight."
  • Never, ever tranquilize. "More animals die as a result of overtranquilizing than of airline negligence," says Kathi Travers of the ASPCA.
  • For a free brochure on traveling with animals, write USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Legislative and Public Affairs, 4700 River Rd., Unit 51, Riverdale, MD 20737 (or check out the Web site at www.aphis.usda.gov). To report incidents of animal mishandling, call 301/734-7833.

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