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That's Ridiculous! Pet Travel and Owners' Responsibilities

When it comes to deciding whether or not to take your pet on a trip, don't fall into the trap of thinking that they're people too.

Over the years, my incendiary writings have offended everyone from airline pilots to card-carrying frequent fliers to travel agents. I make no apologies for ticking them off.

But nothing -- nothing! -- comes close to the bite of angry pet owners.

Here's what happened: A few weeks ago, in preparation for a lengthy roadtrip I'm taking with my family, I asked readers to help me after I hit an unexpected snag. Our plans to send our three Bengal cats to live with a relative had fallen through, and now we had to make a difficult choice about the kitties. We could board them in a kennel, find a pet sitter, hire a housesitter, or find a new, temporary home for them.

It was a quiet Sunday in August and I expected a few polite suggestions from my readers. Instead, within seconds of posting the article, someone on Twitter who I'd never heard of said she'd "unfollowed" me because of the "sad" post. Within hours, I had more than a hundred comments -- many from foaming-at-the-mouth pet fans.

My crime? I'm still trying to figure that out, to be honest.

I'll try to summarize the pro-pet side without quoting anyone, since I love all of my readers and don't want to embarrass them. The mainstream critics said I was behaving as if my pets were disposable, and that, if nothing else, I was setting a bad example for my kids by "abandoning" the felines. Others took a more extreme view. They described the bond between animal and human as almost holy, that I was bound to either stay home or take the cats along, and that by leaving, I had broken a sacred trust.

Some of the commenters were downright nasty about it. I decided to keep their rants on the site because, as always, they say more about them than about me. Plus, they're highly entertaining. Oh, you'll find a snarky rebuttal from yours truly here and there, but only because you demand it.

The question this catfight raises is the following one: At a time when many otherwise rational people feel that dogs and cats are equal to people, am I obligated to take my pets on vacation?

If you're as surprised as I am that people exist who hold these views, who would even try to suggest that responsible pet owners must include their animal companions in their travel plans, let me connect a few dots for you.

We'll start with the "enormous brown honking" pig that terrorized passengers on a US Airways flight 11 years ago. Why? Because it was a therapy animal for one of the passengers.

See, the cruelty-free crowd think their animals love them and can't live without them. That may or may not be true. But there is no doubt that the pet owners can't live without their pigs. Or dogs. Or cats. So they bring them along. They feel it is a higher calling, even when it inconveniences other travelers. And even when it's obvious the pet would be far happier wallowing in mud.

Fast-forward to 2004: A gray cat named Gin escapes from his cage on a flight from Vienna to Brussels about 20 miles after takeoff. Although Gin was a show cat, he apparently also had some training as a jihadist. He promptly scurried up to to the flight deck, where he attacked the pilot. The plane had to make an emergency landing.

Another dot to connect is the 2010 incident in which a small dog on a flight from Newark to Phoenix broke loose and bit a flight attendant and another passenger. The flight was diverted to Pittsburgh, where the victims were treated and released.

Although the airline had reportedly asked the dog owner to leave her canine in a cage under her seat, per airline policy, she decided to take it out to play with it. (I'm sure she felt it needed her.) Which is when it took off.

What all of these incidents suggest to me is that these well-meaning but somewhat misguided animal "guardians" are far more common than anyone thought.

Also, they do not tolerate dissent. These anthropomorphizers believe they have the moral high ground, and that by shouting down anyone who disagrees with them, they can win.

Fortunately, my cat problem had a happy ending. One charitable reader, who also happened to be a neighbor, agreed to look after the cats while we were away. (Take a bow, Joyce!)

My views on pet ownership haven't changed as the result of this tussle. I love my cats, but I love my kids even more. I remain a proud carnivore (burgers, mmmmm!). I don't believe cats, dogs or pigs belong on a plane, in a hotel, or a rental car unless maybe you're moving somewhere, and even then, they should be safely confined to a carrier.

Incidentally, I think this represents the view of the average American.

As for the "pets-are-people-too" argument -- I'll believe that when my cats ask to join us on vacation.

Christopher Elliott is the author of the upcoming book "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. And he truly loves animals. You can read more tips on his blog, or e-mail him at