The Public Safety Committee of the Los Angeles City Council has given its stamp of approval to an ordinance that would make it mandatory for pet owners to keep their animals inside cages while traveling at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

The committee unanimously approved the measure Monday, April 21st, sending it on to the City Council Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee.

The proposed ordinance arose from a concern about several confrontations at the airport, the nation’s fourth busiest, between police dogs and travelers’ pets.

The Daily Breeze reported that a document submitted by Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton indicated that police dogs from various law enforcement agencies have experienced “close calls” with other dogs at the airport.

“This often causes the owner to reach out for their pet and risk being bitten by the working canine who is reacting instinctively to a perceived attack,” Bratton wrote. “This occurs on a routine, possibly weekly basis.”

As LAX is one of the nation’s largest international airports, law enforcement canines patrol on a regular basis. Bomb and drug- sniffing dogs are constantly on the lookout for illegal drugs and devices, and police say that they sometimes become aggressive when they meet their nonprofessional canine counterparts in crowded airports.

The Board of Airport Commissioners and LAX officials were asked for their input regarding the ordinance. The committee also requested that LAPD officials submit reports detailing similar existing policies at other airports. If the full City Council eventually passes the ordinance, airport officials will be required to outline how they will warn passengers about the new regulations.

LAX representatives were cautious when discussing the proposed ordinance. They believe that more research is needed before endorsing the council’s plan and will be asking for more details as the matter moves through the various council committees.

“LAWA [Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that operates LAX and three other airports], staff provided testimony [at the hearing] of the Los Angeles City Council’s Public Safety Committee that there are significant and unanswered questions regarding the implementation and enforcement of the proposal,” LAX spokeswoman Treva Miller told The Argonaut. “Committee members agreed and forwarded the proposal to the Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee for further discussion.”

Melya Kaplan, founder and executive director of Voice for the Animals, says she is concerned with how pets will react after spending a long flight in a cage.

“What if a flight is delayed for several hours and the pet is hungry? What then?” asked Kaplan, whose Santa Monica-based foundation advocates on the behalf of animals. “That is my concern.”

Kaplan feels that the care of the animals being transported is just as important as the problems the ordinance addresses.

“As long as they have a large enough cage where they can move around, plenty of food and water and a place where they can relieve themselves, that’s the most important thing,” she said.

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes LAX and who is the vice chair of the Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee, said he would keep an open mind when the proposed ordinance arrived before his committee. He also indicated that he would seek input from organizations such as Kaplan’s that advocate on the behalf of animals.

“Animals should be treated with the utmost respect and dignity,” Rosendahl said. “I will ask all animal-rights groups that chose to come before our committee and share their strategy with us on this issue.”

Rosendahl said he would also seek more in-depth information from law enforcement agencies on how they can craft an ordinance that all parties can agree upon.

“Our dogs are working diligently to protect LAX, but animals belonging to passengers are often a distraction to their primary mission,” said LAPD Commander Joan McNamara, assistant commanding officer of the department’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau.

The ordinance would not apply to service dogs, such as canines that assist the blind, the physically challenged and senior citizens.

Kaplan thinks that having a “mini-dog park” in a secluded part of the airport would be good for pets and would prevent them from interacting with service dogs and law enforcement canines.

“You have to consider the worst-case scenario when an animal can be in a cage for a prolonged period of time,” she said. “Having them in an area away from other dogs and passengers to relieve themselves and stretch their legs would be good for everybody.”

Asked his opinion on Kaplan’s idea, Rosendahl replied, “That is something that is worth considering. Animals need respect and caring, and they deserve to be treated with dignity.”

“LAWA looks forward to working with the city attorney and the council in an attempt to answer these questions,” said Miller.

City officials are considering a $25 dollar fine for a first offense, $45 for a second and $65 for a third conviction within a year.

Valeria Velasco, vice president of the Board of Airport Commissioners and a resident of Playa del Rey had not returned phone calls at Argonaut press time seeking comment for this story.

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