Republican Congressman Jeff Denham of California, who takes his bulldog Lily when he flies across the country, was perturbed when he found he couldn’t take the dog on Amtrak unless she was a service dog. He was determined to do something about that.
Denham, the chairman of a House subcommittee overseeing the agencies that regulate railroads, successfully urged Amtrak to “conduct a test run for pets along two routes in Illinois.” Last year, roughly 145 passengers took their pets on those routes.
Thrilled with his success, Denham has decided his project should go national, filing a bill that would force Amtrak to figure out how to accommodate travelers going less than 750 miles with their pets. Bipartisan support has erupted, from conservative Republican Tom McClintock to liberal Democrat Mike Honda.
Denham boasted, “It’s been wildly bipartisan. Members that have pets have a particular interest, but certainly we’ve picked up more and more support across the country.”
Amtrak could conceivably change its own policy without being forced to, but Congress seems determined to see a change whether Amtrak likes it or not. Marc Magliari, a spokesman for Amtrak, said, “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.”
The routes in Illinois require travelers to make advanced reservations and pay $25 for every leg of the trip, and only take animals weighing up to 20 pounds. The travelers must stay in a certain car and arrive 30 minutes before the train leaves in order to sign a release. If a pet smells or cannot behave, Amtrak can remove it.
The Humane Society has applauded the prospective change for Amtrak, avowing that some travelers with pets can only use the train.