by Noni Mausa
Dear Journalists — You can Smarten Up Now
Oh snap. Once again the papers demonstrate that when it comes to
dogs, the First Law of Journalism goes right out the window without
regret or even apparently noticing it.
That law? “First, Do Your Homework.”
What annoyed me today was an editorial in the NYT, here: Here
When Dogs Fly
Published: July 16, 2009
The only objection we have to Pet Airways, the new airline devoted
just to pets, is the fact that we can’t book space on it ourselves.
Think of it: separate compartments — dog crates, that is — with plenty
of room to stretch out, flight attendants, a pet lounge, escort from
check-in to the plane and preboarding walks. We wouldn’t recommend it
for business travelers. The trip from New York to Los Angeles — $250
one way — does take about 24 hours. But that includes dinner, play
time and a sleepover in Chicago. No security hassles, no in-flight
movies, just the luxury of one’s doggie dreams in one’s private cabin.
Yes, Pet Airways is yet another stage in the humanizing of our pets, a
process that has resulted in, among other things, Rachael Ray pet food
and animal health care and lifestyles beyond the means of most of the
humans on this planet.
The immediate overbooked success of Pet Airways suggests a growing
intolerance for the sometimes haphazard care of pets on the national
airlines. If Pet Airways succeeds, there may be an economic lesson as
well for the foundering human airlines. If we had less stress at the
airport and dinner on board, we, too, would feel a lot happier about
My opinion below the fold
“Another stage in the humanizing of our pets.” Oh, gimme a break.
That’s not what this is about.
Anyone who has tried to ship a pet by air has met a nightmare network
of local and federal laws. But much worse are internal airline
policies and price structures which can change overnight.
For pet owners this is bad enough. For breeders it’s a constant
source of stress and expense.
By “breeders” I mean the dedicated people who spend decades or more in
the difficult task of maintaining their chosen breed. Unlike a
species, a breed is separated from other animals of its species only
by careful choice of breeding stock and monitoring and exclusion of
unwanted qualities. Breeding dogs is like maintaining topiary
hedges. It doesn’t happen all by itself.
A lot of this maintenance has to do with travel. People travel with
their dogs to dog shows, which are essentially conventions where
breeders can learn from each other and see (and touch) the
up-and-coming breeding stock. (The breeding element trumps the beauty
pageant element — neutered dogs may not be exhibited.)
But also, dogs travel on their own. Again, this is tied to breeding.
Purebred puppies go to their new homes. These homes may be hundreds
of miles away, because not all breeds are common in all areas. Some
are so uncommon that the good breeders may be overseas or clear across
the country. People wait months or years for one of these puppies and
may pay $1000 to $3000 for one of them at eight weeks of age. Should
these toddlers be sent as freight? (Hint – airline insurance for lost
or damaged freight isn’t sufficient either.)
Grownup dogs are also shipped. Part of responsible breeding is to
outcross (or else line-breed) to good bloodlines whose examples might
be, again, clear across the country. Breeders send their females to
exemplary males (otherwise the hapless males would never be home.)
Either she might travel for a one night stand, or she might be placed
for a year or more with the receiving breeder. (AND be just as
pampered there as she is at home — the calculations of pedigrees do
not prevent breeders from spoiling the objects of their
It is not too much to say that for all practical purposes, breeds
exist because they can travel. If you love wide-eyed Cocker Spaniels,
or clownish Pugs, or big white Maremmas, then dog travel concerns you
even if you’re just a pet owner.
Why is this new airline sold out? I looked at the price and did a
cartwheel. Safety in a pressurized compartment, continuous care by
experienced people, feeding, watering and exercise — at $250 this
service is a big fat bargain in dollars and in peace of mind. And 24
hours to make the trip is nothing — nothing — compared to the
Byzantine scheduling sometimes required for freight shipping of dogs.
One final note — to all you journalists out there, you can skip the
puns, the jokey headlines, and the stories which either paint dogs as
precious toddlers or else as frothing monsters. Part of knowing a
beat is knowing the field from the inside, and you won’f find either
stereotype to be especially true. Don’t let rules of evidence and
worries about slander go out the window just because the target
happens to be a dog. Make sure what you’re writing isn’t just
someone’s ignorant or malicious opinion. Do your homework.
by Noni Mausa