Military Seeks Exemption to United's New Pet-Shipment Restrictions

The owner of a 221-pound English mastiff is hoping to avoid a hefty price tag for shipping her dog back to the United States from Japan. (Allen Onstott/Stars and Stripes)
The owner of a 221-pound English mastiff is hoping to avoid a hefty price tag for shipping her dog back to the United States from Japan. (Allen Onstott/Stars and Stripes)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- U.S. Forces Japan is seeking an exemption for military pet owners affected by changes to United Airlines' "PetSafe" pet shipment program.

Twenty-one breeds of dogs and four breeds of cats are banned under a new United policy announced last week. The airline is also barring carriers taller than 30 inches required for most Labradors, golden retrievers and German shepherds.

"USFJ is gathering information about service members and their pets who are affected by recent changes in pet travel policy on commercial airlines," Maj. John Severns, a USFJ spokesman, told Stars and Stripes Monday in an email. "We understand that pets are part of our military families, and we are committed to working with others across the Department of Defense to identify potential solutions to this problem."

United spokesman Charles Hobart said last week that the new rules are aimed at improving the safety of pets while traveling.

The ban includes breeds with short and snub noses -- such as bulldogs, boxers and pugs, as well as Himalayan and Persian cats, because research shows they have trouble breathing on planes.

It also targets "strong-jawed" dogs, such as mastiffs, Malinois, and pit bulls.

The change will be "catastrophic for pet owners," especially military families overseas who already have few options, Leo Mendoza, owner of a pet shipment company in South Korea, told Stars and Stripes last week.

It could be a death sentence for animals when it's time for a mandatory move, he said.

Airlines such as Lufthansa and Korean Air will ship large-breed dogs, but they don't offer nonstop flights to many destinations and charge more than twice as much as United, he said.

The changes have also provided opportunities for some to prey on service members unsure how their pets will get to the next duty station.

Patrick Yarlett, an airman at Yokota, said he was scammed out of nearly $3,000 by a pet shipment broker that never provided booking information after he paid for his two dogs to fly to Guam.

Yarlett has since contracted with another agency to move his dogs, but warns service members to do their homework before trying to ship a pet.

"The changes to United's "PetSafe" program could expose many other service members to scams," he said.

An online petition started at Change.org by Mendoza last week asks United to make an exception for overseas service members whose pets already traveled using the service -- a similar arrangement to what USFJ hopes to reach. The petition had nearly 72,000 signatures as of Monday evening in Japan.

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