Service dog dilemma: Untrained animals should not be in plane cabins

Service dogs have been denied access to airplanes because of problems caused by untrained emotional support animals


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

FEB 9, 2020 6:15 AM

Trained service dogs help their human companions — those who may be blind or have physical or mental limitations — carry out the tasks of daily life, including traveling via airline.

New regulations proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation would allow individuals with trained service dogs to continue bringing them into plane cabins, while also addressing problems caused by the growing number of people wishing to board with untrained emotional support animals.

The proposed regulations should be adopted to protect true service dogs, their owners and the general public.

The Air Carrier Access Act currently requires that airlines treat emotional support animals the same way they treat service dogs. The proposed rule — supported by service dog providers, the American Kennel Club, veterinarians, the Air Line Pilots Association and veterans groups — would clarify the situation. Airlines would treat emotional support animals using the same rules that apply to people traveling with other pets, rather than giving them the same status as a service dog.

Increasingly, service dogs have been denied access to planes and airport terminals because of problems caused by untrained emotional support animals.

The trouble is that anyone, for a small fee, can buy an emotional support animal certification and a vest on the internet. No training requirements exist.

People have flown or tried to fly with iguanas, peacocks, pigs, turkeys and more, all under the guise of being emotional support animals. That needs to be stopped.

The untrained animals are biting, causing havoc in the cabin and attacking other animals, including service dogs. The untrained animals are also prone to urinating and defecating in the plane.

The DOT memorandum supporting the proposal outlines some of the problems. The number of complaints about service and emotional support dogs by airline passengers grew from 719 in 2013 to 3,065 in 2018.

One man is suing Delta Airlines, alleging he was mauled by an untrained emotional support dog in 2017. The suit claims the man required 28 stitches after the attack.

In another case, an emotional support dog attacked a service dog being used by a veteran at an airport, which caused the service dog to have anxiety around other animals. The veteran lost his service dog because it could no longer carry out its job.

Service dogs are trained to handle themselves in public and assist their owners. It takes at least a year and up to $50,000 to train a service dog.

For an airline, it’s often impossible to determine the validity of an emotional support dog’s certification. It’s also unfair for dogs to be put into situations they aren’t trained to handle. By biting someone, an untrained dog could be put down if declared a dangerous animal.

Disability advocates are concerned that the use of unusual emotional support animals on planes is eroding public trust and understanding of true service animals, according to the proposal.

The proposed rules would protect the ability of people with disabilities to fly with their service dogs and protect the public from untrained animals at 30,000 feet.

The rules should be adopted.