It has finally happened. An emotional support animal has attacked a passenger on an aircraft.
Last night, a passenger traveling on a Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta was mauled by an emotional support animal. The emotional support animal was identified as weighing “up to 50 pounds” and was seated on the owner’s lap. The victim appeared to be “mauled” with facial injuries and a shirt “covered in blood”.
As we discussed last month, the number of passengers traveling with an emotional support animal has grown significantly in the United States. This continues to be a divisive issue with strong defenders both in favor and opposed to the practice. We are strongly opposed to the abuse of emotional support animal policies. Our opinion on that has not changed and is strengthened by incidents such as this.
We received heavy commentary on the article we wrote last month. Here is a sampling of the types of comments we received:
There should only be service animals for the below reasons:
- Guide animal—to guide the blind
- Hearing animal—to signal the hearing impaired
- Service animal—to do work for persons with disabilities other than blindness or deafness.
That’s it. You need to bring your pet guinea pig, bird, iguana, etc for “emotional support”? Guess what, NO.
If you need emotional support, you have three options:
- Fly with a buddy. (family, friend, a human being)
- Take medication
- Don’t fly and take another mode of transportation or fly in a private plane.
Just because you want to fly with your pet and are willing to lie about it means you are a terrible person, end of story.
I have 20 years of psychiatric bills to document my wife’s extreme anxiety. I support Emotional Support animals. However, we’d gladly pay for the dogs ticket, and avoid having to draw attention to my wife’s condition, if the dog was allowed to remain on her lap during the flight. Many use the ES card to maintain access to the dog, not to save money.
I have an ESA dog that I take with me but unlike a lot of people I have had my dog go through the AKC Canine Good Citizen training. This requires a six-week course and a 10 step test given by an authorized tester. The dog is then registered with AKC. There is no reason that training could not be adjusted for other animals. It should also be required before you are able to get the emotional support designation. You can also be considerate by choosing animals that are hypoallergenic, of which there are several breeds of dogs both small and large, as far as unrestrained animals there are hookups you can add to seatbelts and hook to your animal. It takes an understanding from both sides.
My daughter has a small service animal. She is trained to alert when my daughter is having a seizure. Unfortunately because of the size of her animal, people feel free to question, make snide remarks, and even touch the dog. My daughter is so stressed about the attention that she sometimes goes out without the dog. She justifies it by saying she isn’t alone, but the dog knows they’re a team and she gets anxious without my daughter nearby. What would help the situation is if you would understand that the reason you see more dogs is because they’re being trained to do new things all the time. I know a man whose dog senses when his sugar drops, and the dog sets off an alarm to alert others. The dog is a 5 pound Chihuahua. Stop judging. Try a little kindness.
We also received a number of private emails. Several were from individuals who told us they had taken advantage of the emotional support animal exception to travel with their pets for free. They told us that as long as the airlines allowed this, they would take advantage of the loophole. (Some of these individuals were friends of ours… we were very surprised to find out they were doing this!)
One email we received was also intriguing. The author told us that she travels with an emotional support animal for psychiatric reasons. But she TELLS her colleagues and friends that she is just taking advantage of the loophole the airline creates so that she does not have to reveal her psychiatric condition. “Its easier for me this way. I’d rather people think I’d cheat the system than have them know I have a severe anxiety disorder. I tell my colleagues I can’t bear to leave my pet at home so I bring him with me every week. The reality is that I can’t fly without him.”
We think there are no easy answers to the emotional support animal issue. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victim of last night’s attack. But we hope that perhaps this incident will be a catalyst for airlines to thing about tightening regulations around how emotional support animal policies evolve in the future.