Let's Talk: Should Dogs Get to Ride on Amtrak?
First, let's agree that we all love dogs. There's little reason to be reading a dog online magazine (or, for that matter, writing for one) unless you enjoy the company of canines. With that settled, we can move on to the important question: If you happen to be taking a long train ride, do you really want to be in a car with other passengers who are accompanied by their own dogs and cats? Do pets add something to the travel experience?
There are definitely those who think so. Last week, U.S. Reps. Jeff Denham, R - Calif., and Michael Grimm, R - N.Y., held a press conference outside Union Station in Washington, D.C., to drum up support for the Pets on Trains Act of 2013. The legislation would allow pet owners to buy tickets on Amtrak for their companions and take them on board "pet-friendly" cars. The pets would have to be in carriers, and no pet could travel more than 750 miles per trip.
The appeal of being able to take your dog or cat on the train with you is easy to understand. At the press conference, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D - Tenn., reminded the audience of one of Harry S. Truman's most well-known sayings: "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog, " Cohen said. "But you have to get your dog to Washington. And Amtrak's the best way to do it."
Cohen seems an odd choice to be advocating to allow dogs onto Amtrak. Just last week, his office issued a press release in opposition to the Federal Aviation Administration lifting the ban on cell phones in flight. If cell phones are allowed to be used on airplanes, Cohen says, "the flying experience would be not only markedly less pleasant, but less safe as well."
And that's the first place my brain goes when I think about putting dogs and cats in a train car. I love my iPhone, but some people just don't know the proper etiquette of how to use them. No matter how much I love my phone, I do not want to sit next to someone for 750 miles while they use theirs to chatter about the kids' soccer game or how to get venture capital for their startup.
The same for dogs. Some travel well, and others -- don't. The ones who don't can blow the experience for everyone. Even if the dogs are neatly crated and aren't whimpering, barking, or growling (and those of us who regularly take public transit get quite enough of that from fellow passengers, thank you), there are other problems to consider. For instance, on a long train trip, dogs and cats, especially if they're nervous, confined, and in a strange environment, are going to relieve themselves. The aroma from one urine-soaked blanket can be very pungent. If you have several? It's hard to imagine what kind of routines Amtrak would need to prevent that aroma becoming a regular feature of the cars. The legislation as introduced says specifically that "Nothing in this section may be interpreted to require Amtrak to add additional train cars or modify existing train cars."
There is a lot more to making this kind of policy work than just printing tickets for kitties and doggies and sticking them in their own car. There are logistics to be considered, and they don't seem to have been actually considered.
Ultimately, I think my skepticism about this proposed law comes more from my feelings about human beings than my feelings about dogs. Dogs can be great companions, and are cute and adorable and all that, but people? People are a problem. To be blunt, there are a lot of stupid dog owners out there. We've all met them at one time or another, and I write about a lot of them. Traveling with dogs is tricky, even for attentive and experienced owners. The law as proposed encourages dog owners and the railway to treat dogs as one more piece of luggage. In that scenario, no one wins.
What do you think? Are dogs and cats on long train trips a good idea? What considerations should go into this bill?