Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Pet Travel Agents Book Any Beast

Cheryl Winnenaur, AP, April 25, 2000


KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)  Potbellied pig breeder Nancy Shepherd has a checklist of must-haves before shipping a litter of 8-week-old pigs to adoptive homes.

She gives them a homeopathic regimen for preflight jitters: ignatia for grief and separation anxiety, Rescue Remedy for stress and aconite for fright.

For her own peace of mind, Shepherd relies on a pet travel agency, having suffered through years of arranging the travel herself.

"I'd say, 'Where have you been all my life?'" Shepherd said of her pet travel agent, John McGee, who founded Pet Air three years ago. "John takes care of everything. I've never had a problem."

McGee's Kansas City-based firm is one of 65 domestic and 35 foreign members of the Independent Pet and Animal Transportation Association International, an industry group known as IPATA. The association's members handle the arrangements for shipping not only cats, dogs and other family pets, but all kinds of animals within the United States and around the world.

Pet Air grew out of McGee's 23-year business selling animals wholesale to pet stores. As air shipping became more difficult, McGee dissolved the wholesale business to apply his expertise exclusively to pet travel.

For a fee, Pet Air books flights, picks up and delivers pets to the airport, provides temporary boarding, gets them on planes, and arranges for them to be picked up and boarded at their destinations until their owners can retrieve them. McGee, who says he ships roughly 1,000 animals a week, tracks shipments and handles paperwork for medical requirements.

Pet travel agents actually have been around for at least two decades, but it's still a relatively unknown industry.

Jeffrey Dabbs, an airline industry analyst with Kerchville and Associates in San Antonio, said he hadn't heard of pet travel agencies but wasn't surprised that they have grown in popularity.

"There's a lot of money flowing into pet niches, including lodging for animals and couches for kennels," he said.

Millie Woolf, who co-founded IPATA in 1979, said pet travel has become a multi-million-dollar industry. In 1977, she and her husband opened Air Animal after their Tampa, Fla., veterinary clinic received frequent requests to pick up and board animals that had flown into the nearby airport.

"Noah was the first shipper," she said. "We have mushroomed as part of the moving industry."

The services and types of animals handled vary among IPATA members. One specializes in horse shipments. Others, like IPATA president Janice Cipparrone of Pet Express in San Francisco, deal only in dogs, cats and birds.

"I do not do reptiles,'" she said. "If I can't recognize stress in animals, I won't do them. I wouldn't know an unwell snake from a well one."

Pet Air does a lot of corporate relocations, as well as individual moves. McGee's clients include dogs, cats, and laboratory mice and hamsters. But he also has shipped tropical fish, parakeets, rescue dogs, and trained chickens and other animal actors from Hollywood. He's working on a contract to ship wallabies from Los Angeles.

McGee has shipped hundreds of wild turkeys trapped by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for release and repopulating in other states; two gazelles from the San Diego Zoo to the one in Philadelphia; even an injured pelican plucked from the Missouri River whose rehabbers found him a new home on the Gulf Coast.

"Doing it through (Pet Air) was 100 percent easier than our doing it," said Carla Bascom, rehabilitation naturalist with the Lakeside Nature Center in Kansas City. The pelican is a wild animal that is terrified around people and can die of stress and fright in an unfamiliar environment, she said.

Air shipment of animals has come under scrutiny following several well-publicized cases of pet injury or death on flights in recent years. Pets have died from stress, temperature extremes or lack of oxygen in the cargo hold. Others have escaped from their crates.

A new federal law requires airlines to report monthly the number of animal injuries or fatalities that occur while the animals are in their custody. Supporters of the law said the lack of a tracking system left consumers unable to gauge the safety of air travel for their pets.

The new law also requires more training for airline staff and doubles compensation if there is injury or death. It doesn't include a controversial provision to retrofit planes for better oxygen flow and temperature control.

McGee said the retrofitting requirement may have ended shipping by air because airlines would have found it too costly.

The Air Transport Association of America, representing the airlines, said the new requirements are "somewhat onerous" and unnecessary because the U.S. Department of Agriculture does a good job of regulating animal transport.

"From a business standpoint, if you want to lose a customer for life, injure or kill their pet," spokesman David Fuscus said. "Aside from all the humanitarian reasons, it's also good business to ship them safely."

But Wayne Pacele, senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, said he "absolutely would not" put a pet on a plane and warned the public not to trust the airlines to safely transport their pets. While he said he had not been aware of pet travel agents' existence, Pacele said "taking advantage of people who are well informed in the process can be a lifesaving step."

For Cipparrone, the pet travel agent in San Francisco, the test is simple.

"I have my own personal dog," she said. "My test is, 'Is this OK for my dog?' If the answer is no, I won't do it for anyone else's pet."

Animal Travel-Related Sites

The Independent Pet and Animal Transportation Association International

U.S. Department of Agriculture

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