More Pets Abandoned at U.S. Airports


A plane boards passengers | Image by Tanathip Rattanatum/Pexels

Within the past month, three airports across the country have reported four dogs and a tortoise deserted by their owners on airport premises.

Someone left a dog tied up outside of a Des Moines airport; a tortoise was found in a restroom at the Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas; another puppy was abandoned at a departure gate at Harry Reid; and a dog was handed over to airline employees at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina.

The Animal Rescue League of Iowa took care of the pit bull that was abandoned in Des Moines. The director of the league’s animal services, Joe Stafford, said, “This is the wrong thing to do, morally and criminally. … [T]here are a lot of resources that can help owners in any given situation.”

Holly Sizemore, the chief mission officer at Best Friends Animal Society, does not believe we are in an “epidemic of people abandoning their pets at the airport.” Instead, she thinks the media attention surrounding these incidents is primarily due to the fact that airlines have been in the news for other reasons lately.

While pet abandonment is a common occurrence across the U.S., the number of pet owners citing economic difficulties when surrendering their pets has risen sharply and caused alarm among shelter officials.

“When the economy is struggling, families are struggling. … That shows up as surrenders,” said Lindsay Hamrick, director of shelter outreach and engagement at the Humane Society of the United States.

Anyone considering flying with a pet is encouraged to check the airline’s website for carrier requirements, such as crate specs, breed restrictions, age minimums, country-specific regulations, and cost details.

It is important to figure out arrangements for a pet at the same time a passenger books a ticket, as airlines will limit the number of animals permitted onboard.

Flying with a pet may also require some paperwork, such as proof of a vet visit and hand-signed documents.

At least two of the pets were abandoned because their owners had issues complying with the airlines’ pet standards.

The owner of one dog wrongly thought that the airline would provide a carrier and arrived at the Des Moines airport equipped with only a leash and harness.

Another dog was left in Charlotte when her owner could not fit the carrier under the airplane seat and then could not afford the cargo fees.

In all four of the cases, the owner should have contacted a shelter instead of just leaving their pet behind.

Despite the unfortunate circumstances, all the pets have found new homes — either permanent or temporary, but certainly better than at an airport. The tortoise and dog abandoned at Harry Reid International Airport have found homes in Las Vegas; a United Airlines pilot took in one of the other abandoned dogs; another was adopted by a couple who had seen her at the airport; and the final dog is in foster care receiving medical attention.

A warrant has been issued for the previous owner of one dog by the Des Moines Police Department. Pet abandonment is a criminal offense in most states, including Texas.

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