It all started with one passenger's social media campaign, complete with photos, passion, and a concerted effort to get the story to pick up steam.

Now, the entire world knows about Kikito, the 10-month-old French bulldog that died after a United Airlines flight attendant forced her owner to place the dog's pet carrier in an overhead bin during a flight from Houston to New York.

It's a tragic story. To its credit, the airline took full responsibility----even as the outrage continued to build. Now, some elected representatives are rushing to introduce pet-safety bills as a result.

Which leads to a simple question: Wait, isn't already illegal to endanger or hurt a dog? 

Answer: Yes, it is. As it absolutely, 100 percent should be.

In fact, that's why prosecutors on each end of this flight, in both Houston and New York, are apparently conducting their own investigations: criminal investigations, which go far beyond what lawmakers at the federal level and in New York state have proposed in the wake of this tragic incident.

In the U.S. Senate, we now have the Welfare Of Our Furry Friends (WOOFF) Act, which was introduced jointly by both a Democratic and Republican senator last week. Setting aside the cutesy name, the law would "prohibit putting animals in overhead compartments on flights," according to a summary.

"I don't particularly enjoy having to legislate, or trying to legislate, common decency. But by God, I'm going to do it until they take this seriously," said cosponsor U.S. Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana.

Then, news broke over the weekend that a state senator in New York is introducing Kokito's Law, which is described as a "pet passenger's bill of rights." 

I certainly understand the emotional reaction to all of this. I grew up with dogs, and I was heartbroken when I lost my rescue dog, Lily, a few years back. I feel terrible for Kikito's owners, Catelina Robledo and her 11-year-old daughter Sophia Ceballos.

But I also know that hard cases often wind up making bad laws. I worry that if the response is to legislate first and ask questions later, then in the rush to get out in front of the people, lawmakers will accidentally create more problems aboard planes.

In the wake of Kikito's distressing death, we're collectively forgetting other incidents in which extreme deference to pets aboard airplanes might well have actually made things worse.

I'm thinking for example of the little girl who reportedly suffered a dog bite on Southwest Airlines earlier this year, or the man who was viciously attacked by a dog on Delta in 2017, and the widely reported airline moves to restrict support animals from airplane cabins.

Capitol Hill is gridlocked, so there are long odds against the federal bill becoming law, anyway. Charitably, you might call it an attempt to draw more attention to the issue--to make sure the next time a flight attendant is tempted to put a dog in an overhead bin, they know better.

As for the state law, who knows? Even if it falls short in New York, activists say they're going to work to replicate it in 49 other states.

But they also say they want the flight attendant who instructed the passenger to put Kokito in the overhead bin, who United says did not hear or understand the passenger's protest that that there was a dog inside, to identify herself and apologize.

I hope and pray it truly was a mistake--that the airline is right and she never realized there was a dog inside the bag. Because if her name ever does become public, I shudder to think what the Internet would do to her.

Published on: Mar 19, 2018
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