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Get pets off planes: Doctors' orders.

The Canadian Medical Association, at its annual meeting in St. John's, called on all commercial airlines to ban animals from cabins because their presence poses too great a risk to people with asthma and allergies. The only exception, the CMA said, should be service dogs that assist people who are visually impaired or have autism.

"It's a patient safety issue," said Mark Schonfeld, chief executive officer of the B.C. Medical Association. He said that takes precedence over the convenience of pet owners.

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Bradley Fritz, a Vancouver physician, agreed, citing a personal example. On a recent flight, there was a small dog under his seat and his wife's asthma flared up so badly she needed treatment in the ER. "Pets should go in the pressurized cargo hold, not the passenger cabin," Dr. Fritz said.

There was not unanimity on the issue, however.

Merrilee Fullerton, a family physician in Kanata, Ont., said that while she has people with severe allergies in her family, she does not think the medical association should take a position on transport issues. "I don't believe it's our place," she said.

Dr. Fullerton also noted that allergens don't merely pose a risk to people on planes, and pets are far from the only issue. "What about trains and cabs? … If milk causes anaphylaxis [life-threatening allergy]what do we do about that?" she said.

Both Air Canada and WestJet, the country's biggest air carriers, allow small pets to travel in the cabin.

André Picard

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