Are Friendly Skies Not So Canine Friendly?


Is United Airlines profiling dog breeds? If so, I’m a logical person to ask for help. I’ve stood up against local governments banning specific breeds (usually municipalities seeking to ban any dog looking like a Pit Bull). Breed bans have never demonstrated success at lowering the number of dog bites.

Recently, over a 24-hour period, I received links to blogs calling for United to be grounded for its new pet policy. Readers have also emailed asking me to jump into the bloggers’ tail wind. However, before joining the debate, I needed to determine the facts.

United Airlines confirmed its adoption of the Continental Airlines Pet Safe program as the merger of the two carriers became official earlier this month. The Pet Safe program, which had been in place for several years, bans nine dog breeds on planes, including the American Pit Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier.

From the perspective of United, the decision was based, in part, on an incident which occurred on a 2002 American Airlines flight from San Diego to New York. A dog identified as a Pit Bull (who knows if the dog was really a Pit Bull, since so many dogs with Pit Bull characteristics are mistakenly identified as Pits) broke out of its kennel and wreaked havoc in the cargo hold. The dog chewed through the plane’s electrical system, causing a potential safety issue, not to mention thousands of dollars in damage.

Luckily, there was no damage to the plane’s vital flying systems, and the flight landed safely. The dog was not dangerous, per se, but apparently panicked. Had this happened with a Standard Poodle, I’m not sure if the response would have been so extreme. As a result of this one incident, American banned several breeds, including Rottweilers and Dobermans (even though these breeds were not involved in the 2002 incident).

According to sources at United Airlines and elsewhere, similar events have occurred in recent years on other airlines, in which dogs identified as Pits have escaped from their kennels in flight and chewed wiring on the planes.

So the airlines responded as they do these days, as does our government. The mantra is to assume everyone is guilty because of a handful. Because one Pit bull caused problems aboard a plane, therefore all Pits are suspect.

Here’s what I mean. Because one sick dude attempts to board a plane with an explosive on his shoe, we now all have to remove our shoes. Instead of logically targeting the bad people, the assumption is that we are all bad. I’m not sure this is a constitutional approach or even all that effective, but it seems to be the most expedient

So, if someone tried to board a plane with an explosive in his toupee, I believe the response would be to ban all hair pieces from airplanes. Or maybe guys would have to remove them so the hair pieces would be go along with laptops on the conveyer to be imaged in security.

Of course, a panicked dog of any breed can escape from a kennel. What’s more, do we know if the dog’s owners properly secured the kennel? Maybe there’s a way to insure that all kennels are more secure — an idea that I believe makes more sense than banning breeds.

Since the other seven banned breeds are all large, powerful mastiff-types, I wonder if the truth is that they were banned because United perceives them as dangerous. Others on the list include the Pressa Canario and Pero de Pressa Canario (by all accounts two names for one breed); Dogo Argentino, Cane Corso, Fila Brasileiro, Tosa and Ca de Bou (a breed new to me, also known as the Mallorquin Bulldog.)

I concede these dogs may not have marshmallow dispositions. Besides, unlike the American Pit Bull Terrier and American Staffordshire Terrier, these seven are quite rare in the U.S.

Still, all airlines currently have a rule in place allowing them to refuse any dog perceived as aggressive at point of entry. I support this perfectly reasonable rule if any dog of any breed or mix is truly aggressive. Why not just use this rule?

The good news is, the United Airlines ban doesn’t include other “bully” breeds such as the White Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier or American Bulldog.

Also, according to a UA spokesperson, officials are directed to follow exactly what’s on the veterinary papers that must accompany each animal. So if a veterinarian describes a dog — which may clearly resemble a Pit Bull — as a “Poodle,” then for all practical purposes, that dog is a Poodle and will be allowed on the plane.

I do believe that over time, UA will rethink its policy. With decent breeding and appropriate socialization, American Pit Bull Terriers and American Staffordshire Terriers are wonderful family dogs. For proof of that, check out this story.

©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services