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Updated Response to West Jet’s Travel Policy

On February 7, 2020, we issued a press release supporting West Jet’s travel policy requiring rescue dogs to be flown as cargo, as opposed to coming attached to a passenger, otherwise known as a “flight angel”. In our statement, we indicated that this was a good policy because it would require the CBSA to do a proper inspection. The assumption was also made by us and others, that this meant dogs who were able to fly in-cabin now would have to fly in the cargo area. Since we published the release we have had conversations with our rescue partners who bring dogs in from LA from time to time and they have provided clarity on the issue and the impact of this policy.

It is important to keep in mind that these organizations have import licenses, and all dogs are registered on flight logs with the necessary paperwork.

If a dog comes in attached to someone’s itinerary (flight angel), the cost is around $100, is considered commercial goods and they are delivered to international special cargo. They go to a secondary inspection where an agent sees the dog and paperwork and the organization pays duties on the dog. Travelling this way, the dog arrives two hours before the flight, and the process after the flight will take around an hour. Travelling from LA, this is about six hours for the dog in cargo.

If the dog is not attached to someone’s itinerary and is shipped via cargo, it costs $600 and he has to arrive three hours before the flight and the process after the flight will take around two hours. Now the dog is in crate and cargo holding for over eight hours. When the dog is delivered to a cargo area it is not delivered to a CBSA agent, but rather airport cargo staff. There is no inspection and the dog is released when the fees are paid. In one situation shared with us, the dog was lost.

There is also a lot of confusion regarding the role of the Canadian Borders Services Agency and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have in inspecting the dog’s health. It is our understanding that the CBSA does an initial inspection and can refer any animal presented at the border for a secondary inspection by the CFIA. What does seem to be clear, however, given the experience shared by our colleagues, is that dogs flying attached to someone’s itinerary spend less time in crate and cargo and are more carefully inspected upon arrival into the country. However, the inspection is likely only done when the dog is registered with a rescue organization with an import license. It is our belief that very few of the groups currently importing dogs have an import license and therefore, these dogs are being transported as personal dogs and are receiving no inspection either by the CBSA or CFIA.

It is unfortunate that our current environment does not have a set of consistent regulations and policies for rescue organizations to operate. The result has been a massive increase in the number of “organizations” popping up to flip dogs from other countries into Canada for a profit. Additionally, it is unfortunate that there does not seem consistent practice by the CBCSA or CFIA for the inspection of animals crossing the border. The reality is, there are a small number of rescue organizations with responsible rescue import practices. Unfortunately, the overwhelming number of groups with questionable practices have made it very difficult for them to continue to do their good work.

We stand by our position, that British Columbia has an overpopulation crisis of its own that many people are not paying attention to because many of these cats and dogs are in remote and underserved communities, where you cannot just fly in and remove the animals. Nor can you post about their suffering on social media. These communities do not have kill shelters, because they have no shelters. But these animals still suffer and die. Relationships need to be made to help support communities to build sustainable animal welfare practices. Similarly, this same work needs to be done in the communities these dogs are being pulled from internationally, or else nothing will change. Without work to address the social issues that result in pet overpopulation, every dog and cat removed from a community or shelter in crisis, another one will take its place.

We care very much about animals across the globe. We need to ensure our work is not causing more harm than good, that it can be sustained and that it is making a difference in the communities we are working with. We apologize for our hasty response. It is our responsibility to ensure we have all the facts before we make a public statement. It does not serve animal welfare to be quick to take a position and serves us all better when we are well informed.

Kathy Powelson
Executive Director

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