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‘We Are Coming for Your Phony Service Animals’

Airlines, labor unions, and veterans organizations all want Washington to make a major change in how they define “service animals.” In a co-signed letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, all groups are asking leaders to create concrete rules around which fur-covered flyers are allowed and which need to be left at home.

With the holidays in full swing, travelers will be packing aircraft heading to their holiday destinations around the world. Many of them may be traveling with “service” animals. Some are duly trained and actually provide a medical response for their owners, while others are simply pets dressed in vests that read “service animal” or “emotional support animal.” With multiple documented cases of animal policy abuse documented, airline and travel groups are teaming with veterans organizations to demand change. The New York Times reports over 80 organizations are petitioning the U.S. Department of Transportation to create concrete rules to weed out legitimate service animals from pets.

A United Front Against Illegitimate Service Animals

The problem with service animals is so out of hand that out of an abundance of caution, many airlines are turning away actual service animals. Retired U.S. Marine Corps Captain Jason Haag, founder of Leashes of Valor, told one such story to The New York Times after he was barred from boarding an American Airlines flight with his dog in 2015. The reason: Gate agents did not believe the dog was legitimate.

“My dog is specifically task-trained to help with flashbacks,” Haag told The New York Times. “I do not have any physical injuries that you can see. It does make it more difficult to say what is my dog is for.”

Earlier in Nov. 2019, Leashes for Valor joined over 80 other organizations, including Airlines for America, the American Kennel Club, the Global Business Travel Association, and labor unions Air Line Pilots Association and Association of Flight attendants to call on the U.S. Department of Transportation to make serious changes in service animal regulations. Their goal is to “…protect the legitimate right of passengers with a disability to travel with a service animal and adopt the definition of service animal from the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

Why Everyone Wants to Change Service Animal Regulations

In a constantly divided industry, all stakeholders in the aviation space agree that a unified measure for service animals is not only good for passengers, but for airlines and their employees. From a report written earlier in Nov. 2019, carriers often complain about untrained service animals “frequently urinate, defecate, occupy seats (instead of remaining in the passenger’s foot space), and eat off tray tables.” We’ll certainly never forget the dog who’s in-flight nervous diarrhea caused a flight to divert.

Furthermore, when things get bumpy, an untrained animal can get hostile and attack cabin crew members. In July 2019, a flight attendant required five stitches on their hand after an emotional support dog attacked without warning. As FlyerTalk noted in 2018, the animal support problem is getting out of hand. By creating a national standard for service animals, those who need the support can get it without hinderance, while those who are not can – and should – be left home.

While the U.S. Department of Transportation is expected to hand down rules by the end of this year, the oversight body has not tipped their hand as to when new rules may be introduced.

Comments are Closed.
jimmc66 December 5, 2019

I travel with a service animal. I cheerfully explain the extensive training that I paid for when the dog was a puppy. He's trained to monitor my blood sugar level (high/low) and associated seizure risk. With governments buying up all the beagles (also considered a "smelling" dog and most of the others too large for travel, we paid (along with the Australian health system) for training a Bedlington Terrier. It has been a blessing for my frequent travel. He's been with me on 70+ flights in the last four years including trips to Europe (from Chicago) and Tokyo and Manila (from Hawai'i). They are non-allergenic and don't shed. He sits quietly at my feet the entire flight and on more than one occasion the FA's didn't even realize he was there! He has only NOT made one trip that I knew would be unfair to him and the rest of us. The 16 hour flight from San Francisco to Singapore. The only way he could have made that trip is if I had broken it up into shorter segments. I never would have thought this possible before it was first suggested. For a frequent traveler his presence is important with the changes in time zone, diet, hydration, and other impacts of travel. I can understand the clash that exists between personal privacy and the rights of the majority, that's caught the airlines in the middle. And with no "Standards" governing the animal training business I can't see things changing all that much in the near future. In my experience however passengers can clearly see the difference when exposed to a real, trained service dog vs. the others.

divrdrew December 4, 2019

When did all this 'service' animal stuff begin? When I was growing up, there was no such thing as a 'emotional support' animal...just legitimate service animals that helped the visually impaired. Then we started seeing trained support animals that assisted with things like PTSD. I have no problem with legitimate service animals. I do have a problem with people like the woman who tried (unsuccessfully) to get an emotional support peacock on a plane??? Really? What was she thinking? It's gotten out of control and we need to have a way so that legitimate animals can be differentiated from the ones that have vests bought on eBay.

MRM December 4, 2019

Pets are ANIMALS and cannot be human family members. Non-service ANIMALS belong in the cargo hold or left at home. Period. The self-entitled idiots and their "fur babies" are ruining airline travel, shopping (keep your dang mutts OUT of the grocery stores and restaurants you morons! It's a health safety issue. Let's put it another way: Nobody but other self-entitled idiots think your mutt is "cute", "sweet" or "handsome". Leave your non-service ANIMALS where they belong: at home urinating, defecating and eating off YOUR plates/tables there. If you insist on bringing them, stick them in the hold with the rest of the cargo.

formeraa December 3, 2019

A crowded cabin is NO place for an animal -- EVER. Why, suddenly, does everyone need an "emotional support" animal? Are we all becoming "snowflakes" -- as some would say?

stiphy December 2, 2019

On many of my flights the cost of my 12lb dog who not only doesn't get a seat but also counts as my underseat carry on is more than my seat. I would gladly buy an entire seat for my 12lb dog in these cases. But they won't sell that to me. While I have not abused the service animal thing I understand why people do. Airline policies around legitimately getting your dog from point a to point b are so silly people game the system. Let's crack down on illegitimate service animal designations but let's also get to where we have rational airline policies and costs!