Confession by Pet Owner: “Emotional Support Dogs” are “B.S.”
“S o who am I ruining this for? The passengers to whom Delilah brings joy? The flight attendants who take photos of my pet and seem more gleeful when they walk down the aisles? Myself, saving thousands of dollars a year for a fee that makes no sense for an airline to charge? Or the airlines that nickel and dime you for everything you bring onboard?” asked an anonymous person who confessed that “‘emotional support’ dogs are B.S. — I know because I have one” in this article, which ends by answering those questions with “I thought so.”
After spending hundreds of dollars in fees to travel with a small dog via commercial airplane, the mother of the confessor suggested the idea of passing the pet as an “emotional support dog.” One note from a doctor and a phony certification is all it took for the dog to travel for free under the guise of an emotional support animal.
“I’ve seen faux honeymooners get upgraded to business class; I’ve witnessed passengers sneak several pieces of luggage onto a plane to avoid fees, and I’ve seen people flirt with the flight attendants for free drinks. And besides, who, other than the doctor, can prove I don’t have emotional disabilities? (As a matter of fact, I am still reeling from a bad breakup). And no one’s getting hurt.”
Sure. Let’s rationalize the exacerbation of this controversial issue of emotional support dogs and other animals by comparing one dishonest act to others; but for people who can put their heads on their pillows and sleep at night traveling with their pets coming along for the ride, can you blame them?
Unfortunately, airline personnel must abide by federal law in the United States, as I wrote in this article pertaining to a disruptive pig and its owner who were banned from being passengers on a flight recently:
In order to prevent discrimination by commercial airlines — based both within and outside of the United States — against passengers on the basis of physical or mental disability, the Air Carrier Access Act was passed by the Congress of the United States in 1986; and here are where complaints may be registered against an airline via the official Internet web site of the Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforcement division of the Department of Transportation of the United States.
…and only two questions may be asked by employees of an airline — or of any other company, for that matter:
- Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
- What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, an employee of an airline or other company cannot do the following actions without violating federal law:
- Ask about the nature of the disability of the person
- Require medical documentation
- Require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog; or
- Ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task
…but the two permitted questions may be more than enough in some cases to have determined whether or not a dog is a legitimate service animal.
Even if a dog is considered a legitimate service animal, an employee of an airline or other company could still have it removed from the premises if the dog is considered:
- Out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it; or
- Not housebroken
It appears that the only way the controversial “emotional support animal” issue will ever be resolved is if there is a change to the federal law which would render exploiting it by dishonest people who choose to cheat the system significantly more difficult.
Which is more egregious, in your opinion: the airlines charging the ancillary fees for animals who travel with their owners — or the owners of the supposed “emotional support animals” who exploit the system by using a federal law of the United States in their favor to transport their pets free of charge? Is this a problem which should be fixed? If so, how — other than a change in the Air Carrier Access Act pertaining to emotional support animals?
Photograph ©2006 by B. Cohen.