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Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The Little Engine That Could Carry Pets

The first animal protection bill of the 114th Congress is on track and leaving the station.

wrote last month about the introduction of the Pets on Trains Act, H.R. 674, by Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and the practical impact this reasonable legislation would have on the lives of many pets and their families, especially in regions of the country where train travel is the most affordable or most convenient option. Today I’m pleased to report that the House of Representatives took up and passed a larger bill to reauthorize passenger rail programs and appropriate funds for Amtrak for the next four years, and included in that package is the provision directing Amtrak to allow pets on trains.

There would be reasonable requirements for pet owners, such as keeping the pet in a kennel or carrier. Photo: iStockphoto
In a time of partisan rancor and gridlock in Congress, it’s especially encouraging to see a broadly supported reform that all sides can agree deserves to get out of the gate. When you can take your dog or cat on an airplane, and stay with your pet in many hotels, it makes little sense that you still can’t have a companion animal travel with your family on a passenger train.

Under the legislation, Amtrak would be required to develop a policy for people to travel with their pets, and to designate, where feasible, at least one car of each passenger train in which a ticketed passenger may transport a dog or cat. There would be reasonable requirements for pet owners who want to take advantage of this policy, such as keeping the pet in a kennel or carrier, traveling less than 750 miles, and paying a fee that covers the cost of administering the policy. The bill gives Amtrak the flexibility to develop the details of the policy to best fit the service and their customers. Just as you don’t have to sit in the quiet car if you’d rather  talk on your cell phone, you won’t have to sit in the car that allows pets if you have allergies or other concerns.

As Congressman Denham—who often travels with his 15-pound French bulldog, Lily—argued on the House floor, this legislation could attract new customers who previously wanted to ride Amtrak but opted for other travel arrangements because they couldn’t bring their pets with them. And it could be a profit generator for the train operator, as Americans are spending more every year on their pets and may want to take their best friend along on vacation or business travel.

Last year, in response to the awareness created by the bill, Amtrak launched a pilot program in Illinois to test the idea of allowing pets on passenger trains. As Congressman Denham said, “This legislation builds on the success of that pilot program and would help families nationwide save money and time in traveling with their pets while bringing in much-needed revenue for Amtrak.”

Now that it’s passed the House, we hope the Senate will get all aboard and pass this common-sense legislation, which won’t cost the federal government or Amtrak any additional funds, but will help millions of American pet owners and strengthen the human-animal bond.



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