Question of the Week
Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation essentially eliminated loopholes for "emotional support" animals being brought onto airplanes.
No matter what your pup's official-looking vest says, the newly established federal rules no longer permit "emotional-support animals" to be treated as service animals during air transport. Instead, they will be treated as pets.
The revisions were prompted by increases in poorly trained dogs and an ever-expanding galaxy of species -- from turkeys to baby kangaroos -- being brought aboard flights to help quell their owners' anxiety.
Individually trained psychiatric service dogs, however, will be treated the same as other service animals.
Airlines will be allowed to require DOT-issued forms that attest to the service animal's health, behavior and training, but they cannot refuse to transport a service dog solely based on breed.
The new federal rule takes effect next month, which means all those emotionally supportive show dogs headed this week to Orlando have a free ride -- for now.
Dog News readers had strong opinions on this change of policy:
Grants Pass, Oregon
I agree with NOT allowing any and all “support” animals to travel on board for air travel. I know too many people who abuse this loophole by claiming their show dog is a “support” animal so it can fly for free. I saw a “support goat” in a shopping cart, and I was appalled. You have to set limits what is acceptable for the good of the public.
Fran Smith, DVM, PhD, DACT
I think this ruling is way overdue. Like it or not, declaring a show dog as an emotional-support dog is literally theft from the airline, as it deprives the airline from the entitled fee for service. While most of these show dogs are well behaved, the same is not true for much of the public who travel with their fake “emotional-support dogs.” Far too many dog bites and incidents of soiling in the plane have occurred with the loophole. I personally am very pleased that it will be more difficult to cheat the system.
St Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec
Regretfully, I am fully in favor of this restriction. As always, those with a real need will be paying for all of those who have been selfish and inconsiderate and have abused the current system (including, I may say, bringing your dog to a dog show).
Years ago, before I’d even heard of emotional-support dogs, I had a customer ask me to groom their Bichon Frise straight through. The customer explained that "Snowy" was her 5-year-old daughter’s "emotional support dog" (with a medical doctor’s paperwork stating so). As our discussion continued, I found out that the dog helped center her mentally challenged child so she became easier to control. OK, now with that understanding, I'll groom "Snowy" ASAP.
Mom and child left to wait in the car, and almost immediately the child broke away from her mother, running toward a major road. For the first couple of grooms, the child had to watch Snowy being groomed. It’s rare, but "emotional-support dogs" are needed.
Broadway, New Jersey
This privilege has been abused by many for years, and those individuals who truly need it will now suffer.
Islip, New York
I am very glad to see this clamping down on these emotional-support animals. Too many people trying to pass off their pets and poorly trained animals ruin it for the truly needed and trained service dogs like CCI or Seeing Eye dogs.
Ft. Pierce, Florida
As a retired health-care professional who worked in geriatrics and psychiatry, I am strongly in favor of emotional-support animals, as I have seen firsthand how beneficial the relationships are and the positive effect with both elderly and psychotic patients. HOWEVER, in the past five years while traveling as a judge, I have had numerous experiences with “emotional-support vests” being worn by unruly animals of all kinds (parrots, cats, dogs and a skunk!), NONE of which had any training or manners whatsoever (including animals that howled, cackled, pooped and meowed the entire trip!). Sadly, the ability to obtain a “certified vest and card” is only a click away, making the decision of the airlines inevitable.
I totally agree with the Department of Transportation ruling. The problem was absolutely getting out of hand.
I am a 58-year-old woman who has suffered, greatly, from aerophobia (fear of flying) my entire life. I've tried all of the traditional "therapies" – Valium, talk therapy, essential oils, alcohol, Captain Bunn's Fear of Flying course, and even British Airways Fear of Flying seminar at Heathrow Airport, which involved classroom training, a psychiatrist, two British Airways pilots and a plane ride around southern England as "graduation."
At the time I took this course, my husband and I were living in England, and I had hopes it would allow me to travel comfortably home to visit my family in Massachusetts. It didn't, and eventually we moved back to the States, as each trip "across the Pond" was filled with massive anxiety, even terror, for me.
None of these approaches did a thing to dull, let alone alleviate, my terror. I finally accepted the fact that the only therapy that worked was "avoidance therapy," and after moving back home, I flew only a couple more times, out of necessity, and then stopped. Sixteen years went by, and during that time, my fear of flying grew to the point that I couldn't even sit in my office chair and watch a take-off video on YouTube, shot by a passenger, without getting the shakes. I figured I would never fly again.
As a longtime exhibitor and occasional breeder of German Shorthaired Pointers, I had a puppy buyer who told me of her own anxiety and how the puppy I sold to her had become her trained and certified service dog. She told me of the emotional-support-dog program and I decided to give my paralyzing fear a last go, this time with the help of our foundation bitch, Tansy.
Of our four dogs, Tansy had the best temperament for the job as well as the best size. As a precaution, I took her on the train down to Boston and back to see how she would handle the cramped setting, noise, hordes of people and stress. She took it like a champ, and I booked a flight from Boston to Newark with her, thinking that if either of us had a problem on that short flight, we could take the train back home and call it a day.
On a hot August day, my husband brought us to Logan Airport, and I got on that United flight – my first time on an airplane in 16 years. I was shaking. Sweating. Nauseated. I took my seat by the window, my friend who was with me took the middle seat, and Tansy settled herself happily at my feet, cozied up against the carpeted wall beneath the window. I kicked off my shoes, and as the plane took off, prayed hard and buried my feet in her fur, grounding myself. In moments we were above the clouds, Tansy was quietly watching me to make sure I was okay, and I got to enjoy – really enjoy – the beauty of God's earth from a vantage point I'd denied myself for nearly two decades.
We landed, turned right around, and flew home. Later that week, I boarded a Delta flight piloted by a close friend that took us – and Tansy – from Boston to Los Angeles. I had never been farther west than Buffalo, New York, so seeing southern California, meeting friends for the first time, and visiting two puppies I'd sold there was both liberating and memorable. Without prayer and Tansy, I would never have seen California, because I would never have gotten on a plane again.
As a longtime sufferer of paralyzing flight anxiety, I owe my dog (and God!) my unrelenting gratitude for allowing me to fly once again, and to do, somewhat comfortably (if still nervously), what so much of the population takes for granted: the ability to get on an airplane and go somewhere.
For years I've read the angry complaints about emotional-support dogs, heard the dismissive and unsympathetic dictates by those who think all of us are gaming the system to "just stay home" or "take a pill" instead of bringing a dog onto the plane to "inconvenience" them.
Mental illness, including anxiety and depression, are already given short shrift in this country and treated "less than" more visible handicaps. While I am not blind to the fact that there are "fake" emotional-support dogs, the reality is that some of us desperately need to have the comforting, quiet reassurance of our dog with us, and I am one of them. Without her, I cannot and will not fly, and to have my crippling anxiety treated with disrespect and scorn simply because others abuse the system is frustrating, hurtful and untenable to me.
Needless to say, I am deeply saddened and disappointed by these new rules, and it looks like I'll be "grounded" once again. And to those of you who used fake emotional-support dogs and ruined it for legitimate sufferers like myself, I hope you'll remember that actions have consequences – and that those consequences can cause great and lasting harm to others.
Eva Marie Mitchell
No to emotional-support animals in airplanes. This has led to so much abuse. Reserve the use of service animals to true service animals. I cringe when I go into a store and there is an unruly "service" animal. No true service dogs are unruly or cause problems. They are beyond well trained.
Old Lyme, Connecticut
For all the times over the last 40 years I have never experienced or seen any issues with bad performance from a dog of mine or others flying in the cabin. If people pay the fare for that dog to fly and it is able to fit under their seat, it is less anxiety for that person to have their dog with them. Why not? Who is pushing for them not to? People who do not like dogs?
I can understand the restriction against animals that are not "traditional" service animals – squirrels, ponies, etc. However, it is discriminatory to refuse to recognize traditional animals – i.e., dogs or cats. The next elimination for emotional-support animals will be in housing, I’m sure.
What do we expect after all the abuse of the whole “emotional pet” exception. Many show-dog people have faked this to fly their dogs over the years. We did it many times to get a dog to a show. I don’t blame the airlines at all. The craziest example was about 12 years ago when the mother and daughter were able to get a 300-pound pig into first class – and the havoc began!
Las Vegas, Nevada
I am in complete agreement with the federal government and the airlines. I have seen so much abuse of this in my travels. The most severe cases I have seen are with some dog people who travel to Orlando. Let's see how it works for them this time. I believe in service and emotional-support dogs, but there needs to be documentation from a reliable source. I am glad that no more goats, etc., will be able to go on the plane. Those can take a car or maybe the train.
East Haddam, Connecticut
I am in favor of the USDOT closing the loopholes regarding emotional-support dogs. I have been on flights across the country with a number of dogs traveling with their special support vests. These were not dogs being exhibited at a show but the traveler’s pet. It was obvious by the dogs’ lack of training and manners. A couple of times I held my breath because I just knew the two growling and lunging dogs would get in a fight if their seats were close.
There are some people who may really need the support of a dog, but too many people were taking advantage of the situation. In a minor way, I blame the airlines. I have shipped dogs, and if the personnel or airline would treat the animal as more than just baggage and not charge more than the cost of a first-class seat, maybe people would not have taken advantage of the rules. Maybe some changes need to be made in that area.
It is about time something was done about this problem. Sadly, abusers of the system cheated and lied their way through the loopholes created by the previous rules.
Like most of us, I see it all the time in random public places as well. This will eventually create a public problem for the rest of us with trained animals taught impulse control and manners.
A month ago I was in line in a food store and watched a woman with an out-of-control toy dog wearing a harness lift his leg and urinate on a glass display counter of food. The woman watched it happen, did nothing, and tried to hastily pay and rush out of the store before anyone else noticed.
Of course, I noticed – I saw it coming. In my most subtle fashion, I shouted my accusation at her, pointing out her behavior to all in hearing distance, including the attending employees. She bolted out the door, dragging her little dog behind her.
As with most things, it is a human problem. One bad apple …