Should pets be allowed to travel on trains?
Should pets be allowed to travel on trains? Rep. Jeff Denham poses with Lily, his 15-pound French bulldog in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington (AP photos)
Should pets be allowed to travel on trains?
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It all began with Lily, a 15-pound snowball of a French bulldog with the face of a tough guy and the personality of a princess.

She and her owner, Rep. Jeff Denham of California, take the occasional coast-to-coast plane ride together. But when he tried to take her on Amtrak a couple years back, he learned that only service dogs were allowed aboard. It's a policy he's been trying to change ever since, and he appears to be gaining momentum.

Denham, a Republican who chairs a House subcommittee overseeing the agencies that regulate the nation's railroad industry, said allowing people to bring small dogs and cats with them in pet carriers would encourage more people to travel by train instead of on congested roads. It might also bring much needed revenue to a business that relies on taxpayer support to survive.

So far, Denham has succeeded in persuading Amtrak to conduct a test run for pets along two routes in Illinois. About 145 passengers took advantage of the new service last year, with participation gradually increasing each month as more passengers learned they could bring a pet.

Now, Denham wants to expand the service nationally. He has filed a bill that would require Amtrak to come up with a pet policy for passengers traveling less than 750 miles. Twenty-three lawmakers have signed onto the legislation, from conservative Republicans like Tom McClintock to liberal Democrats like Mike Honda. Both are from California.

Denham said his pet proposal could also find its way into legislation being considered this year that authorizes how much money the federal government provides Amtrak.

"It's been wildly bipartisan," Denham said of his proposal. "Members that have pets have a particular interest, but certainly we've picked up more and more support across the country."

Amtrak could change the policy on its own. Officials have made clear they support the concept, but they're also still in the monitoring phase. For example, one of the questions that will have to be resolved is the limit on distance that passengers with pets can travel. After all, dogs and cats need potty breaks too.

But Congress weighing in reinforces that at least some of the folks paying much of Amtrak's tab wants a nationwide policy sooner rather than later.

"We're going at this carefully, because there are people who very much want this, and there are people who are concerned about how it could affect them," said Marc Magliari, a spokesman for Amtrak.

In Illinois, those wishing to take pets must make advanced reservations and pay a $25 surcharge. Only animals weighing 20 pounds or less can board and they must be in their carriers at all times. The pets and their owners also are relegated to a particular train car and customers have to arrive at least 30 minutes before departure so they can sign a release agreement. Amtrak reserves the right to remove from the train any pet that smells bad or is disruptive.

"The experiment has gone well and the lack of any negative feedback from customers or crewmembers is heartening," Magliari said.

At one point, Amtrak did allow small pets on its trains, but they were going into dated baggage cars with poor ventilation and poor protection from the elements. The practice was halted in the 1970s after some pets died.

Various lobbying groups affiliated with pet owners and pet businesses are also weighing in.

"Millions of American families have beloved pets, and allowing them to travel by train will support the human-animal bond," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States.

At Union Station in Washington, which is Amtrak's second-busiest hub, Tracy and Samm McMillan of Fairfield, Connecticut, said they would definitely take their cockapoo, Bailey, on trips with them if they could.

"We miss her. It's tough. We work. We're gone during the week, and on the weekend, we don't necessarily like leaving her, so to be able to bring her would be awesome," Samm McMillan said. "That would be a huge benefit to us and we would take advantage of it."

Diane Mileson of New York City agreed. She said her family only goes to restaurants that will also allow her rescue dog, Bode, to come along.

Critical thinking challenge: Pet owners will benefit if they are allowed to bring their pets on trains. But how would Amtrak benefit?

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Assigned 16 times

  • nicholas.jones07
    2/24/2015 - 12:44 p.m.

    I think that dogs on a train is very interesting. My dog would be to big to get on but if I had a small dog and liked to travel o trains I would think that this is a great idea.

  • TaylorHartman-Ste
    2/24/2015 - 12:58 p.m.

    As long as the pets are well-behaved and have very good owners who can take care of them, I don't see the problem with pets being able to ride on trains.

  • ReginaldW5
    2/24/2015 - 01:00 p.m.

    i think they should be able to ride on a train . Because many people love their animals and love taking them places as well

  • dilan.76
    2/24/2015 - 01:01 p.m.

    I think it is great that they are starting to let dogs on the train because if you don't have a car you can use the train to get to the vet or anywhere. I think if the dogs make a lot of noise or has to go to the bathroom they would have to stop and it would make the ride longer for other people and most likely make them mad. I don't think you should be on the train unless you have a small dog or you don't have a car.

  • rm00pennie
    2/24/2015 - 01:04 p.m.

    amtrak would benefit because people who want to trvel quicker then by car but not by plane can easily use the train and now they can bring small animals so thatas handy if they wanted to travel with them but like i said not by car.

  • TF000Music
    2/24/2015 - 01:04 p.m.

    Amtrack would benefit by having people having to pay for an extra fee. Also people who need to bring their pets with them to places, that could mean Amtrack gets more buisness from thoes people.

  • cc2000ProEra
    2/24/2015 - 01:08 p.m.

    Pets shouldnt be aloud to travel on trains. the customer is most important and in a job where pleasing people is important you shouldnt have pets for sound and allergies and sanitary purposes.

  • ShawnaWeiser-Ste
    2/24/2015 - 01:16 p.m.

    I believe you shouldn't be allowed to bring your pets on a train. My reasoning is because some people may be allergic to certain types of pets or have fears of them, too.

  • Laith12345
    2/24/2015 - 02:04 p.m.

    they should because some people are deeply in love with there pets. People just really cant let go of there pets, I think they should be aloud but be kept on a cage if they want to bring pets to the train.

  • KevinR6
    2/24/2015 - 02:08 p.m.

    I think they should allow pets travel with their owners in any type of transportation. Pets are a human best friend like it or not. They are the only creature that wont back stab you. It would be wonderful if they let pets have more mobility .

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