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June 5 2013

Dogs, Cats, and Amtrak

Charlotte Hays

This is IWF and we don’t do posts on pets.

So this is not a post about pets. It’s about the free market. But it was inspired by Kathleen Parker’s sweet piece this morning on her blind poodle, Ollie.  

Ollie takes comfort from Kathleen's presence but there are times when Ollie's "seeing eye human" must go to New York and leave Ollie in the care of a (very expensive) setter.

Ollie would be more than willing to go to New York. What poodle wouldn't like to put on the dog in the Big Apple? But there is a problem: Amtrak doesn’t allow pets on its trains. Kathleen writes:

For reasons that remain mysterious, Amtrak allows only service dogs. This, despite the fact that domestic pets are more than welcome on airplanes for a fee. If small enough, they can be tucked under a seat. Yet Amtrak, with trains naturally noisy and not exactly luxurious, is utterly snooty when it comes to pets. I once spotted a woman with a cuddly canine next to her in the Amtrak “Quiet Car” and asked her secret. Proudly, she whipped out a letter from her psychiatrist. Well, that’s one way.

One of the most awful travel experiences I’ve ever endured was an airplane trip from New York with my cat Bede (don’t ask why I was traveling with a cat). Taking off your shoes is nothing compared to removing a frightened kitten from his kennel and walking through the electronic screening device with a wriggling little ball of fur in your arms. Traveling by train would have been so much more comfortable.I had planned to use Amtrak and was surprised and dismayed when I learned that this would not be possible. The policy made no sense.  

Kathleen’s column set me thinking about the sheer stupidity of Amtrak's pets policy. Why do airplanes welcome paying cats and dogs while Amtrak refuses them? It hit me. This is a free-market issue. Amtrak gets subsidies. Amtrak therefore really didn't care a bit that Bede was a paying gentleman traveler. The airline, by contrast, was glad to have his business. In spurning these dogs and cats with owners with credit cards, Amtrak is displaying the same  subsidized mentality that often means that the café car on the Washington to New York run often doesn't open before Baltimore.

Kathleen notes that the Pets on Trains Act of 2013, which would allow people who are going fewer than 750 miles to bring a pet in a kennel aboard, is now befor ethe House. That’s a start.

But I have a better idea: stop the subsidies and force Amtrak into the free market.

I bet then they’d be begging Ollie and Bede to give them their business.

PS. The bill Kathleen mentioned would require Amtrak to devote one car per train to people traveling with pets.

That’s typical government meddling.

Wouldn’t it be simpler for a pet-laden passenger to just ask, “Do you mind if Zsa Zsa and I sit here?”

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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