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Dogfight Brewing Over Metra's Ban on Pets

By Patty Wetli | November 26, 2013 9:04am
 Pet owners want Metra's policy to match the CTA's, which allows small animals on board trains and buses.
Petition Challenges Metra's Ban on Pets
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RAVENSWOOD — "Home Alone" will play out across the Chicago area this holiday season, as people relying on rail travel between the city and suburbs are forced to leave their cats and dogs behind thanks to Metra's no-pets policy.

Whereas the CTA permits small animals on trains and buses — cats, dogs, rabbits and even lizards and snakes — Metra bans all pets except for service animals.

Now pet owners who ride Metra are demanding the same privileges and benefits as their CTA counterparts.

An online petition has garnered more than 3,000 signatures with the simple request: "Allow small animals in carriers on Metra trains."

"I feel like it's not asking for something very radical," said Brian Demski, owner of Sid, an 8-year-old pug whose adventures are chronicled on the blog Pug Slope. "We're just asking Metra to mirror CTA, just make it consistent."

Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said the pet ban was intended to ensure the comfort and safety of all passengers.

"Because there are many people who suffer with allergies, and for other safety reasons, Metra as well as most other public transit agencies, does not allow animals on trains," Gillis responded via email.

"Metra's policy prohibiting animals on board our trains, except for trained service animals traveling with disabled passengers, is compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act," he concluded.

Amtrak put the kibosh on pet travelers back in the '70s, though the Pets on Trains Act of 2013 is working its way through the U.S. Congress to restore ridership for pets. The majority of airlines let small pets travel with their owners.

"I've flown with [Sid] in the carrier, and people don't even notice there's a dog," said Demski. "It's essentially like people taking luggage on the train."

When Demski moved to Chicago in January, he chose his Ravenswood apartment largely because of its proximity to dog-friendly Winnemac Park and the nearby Metra station.

"My family all lives off various Metra lines. I thought, 'This'll be great,'" said Demski, who doesn't own a car. "Then I found out they don't allow dogs."

If he wants to spend more than a couple of hours with his sister in Downer's Grove or his parents in LaGrange — say during the holidays — Demski has to either rent a car, hire a dog walker or consider boarding Sid, who suffers from severe allergies ("I call him the 'bubble dog,'" Demski said).

Not all pet owners can afford the expense of a kennel or dog walker, he said, and most don't like being away from their pets.

"He's my buddy," Demski said of his pug.

Searching online, Demski discovered his situation was not unique.

He came across the aforementioned petition, which was created in August by Aurora resident Rena Church, who would like to bring her dog into the city for street fests and other events.

The site has gathered scores of comments.

"The no-pet rule made it difficult for my son and daughter-in-law to visit me before they had a car," posted Nancy from Evergreen Park.

"I travel from Evanston to the city all the time for my dogs' groomer, and the CTA takes an hour longer to travel when the Metra is 10 minutes. I have a carrier for them, and they don't even bark," posted Amanda.

"This would encourage increased ridership, and since CTA sees the value in allowing pets on board, it would be helpful, and logical, and smart to have Metra extend the same option," wrote Liz from Chicago.

Church also presented the issue in transit terms, in the event adorable puppies and kittens weren't enough to sway Metra: "As a longtime commuter cyclist and non-driving type, this issue is important to me because we need as many alternatives as possible for getting around," she posted to the petition's site.

Demski contacted Church and brought renewed energy to her campaign, passing out fliers and launching a Pets on Metra Facebook page.

"We're just trying to get the word out there," said Demski. "I want to get to someone at Metra that matters."