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Sunday, February 25, 2018

New Rules Affecting Emotional Support Animals on Airplanes imposed by States and Delta

On March 1, new rules will be implemented by Delta Airlines that will affect Service, Working and Support Animals.  

Does having a vest that says "Service Animal" enough?

Baxter is a Service Dog with Advanced Training by Patriot Dog Training

With increasing numbers of service or emotional-support animals on flights — dogs, cats and even ducks — have come increasing numbers of problems and complaints.  The rise in emotional support animals has coincided with growing publicity on the mental health benefit of pets.

Daniel the duck, who serves as an emotional support animal, skyrocketed to Internet stardom after author Mark Essig spotted him on a flight from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Asheville in 2016

Soon Delta Air Lines will require additional documentation for passengers taking service animals with them on flights. Citing safety, this comes amid an increase of incidents involving animals, including a dog attack last year.

Starting March 1, Delta customers will have to show proof of health or vaccinations for their animals 48 hours in advance. In addition, owners of emotional-support animals will need to sign a statement confirming their animal can behave.

Since 2016, the company reported an 86-percent increase in 'animal incidents', that include animals urinating, biting or showing acts of aggression. Last June, a 70-pound dog flying as a support animal bit another passenger several times in the face on a Delta plane in Atlanta. The victim was hospitalized.

Other airlines have not released their own figures, and the Department of Transportation says it does not collect data on service and support animals on U.S. flights. However, the agency’s reports on disability-related complaints show that those involving service animals nearly quadrupled between 2012 and 2016, when more than 2,300 were filed. Scrutiny of service animals is also sharpening nationwide and nineteen States now have laws that criminalize fraudulently passing off pets as service animals.

Federal regulators have interpreted a 1986 access-to-travel law to allow support animals in airplane cabins and in apartment buildings that do not allow pets. But some passengers use untrained pets in order to get them on a plane for free, especially since it's easy to go online to buy vests or ID cards with a "service animal" insignia.

According to the National Association of Airline Passengers, some reasons for these problems are:

  • too broad of a Federal law
  • overbooked flights
  • reduced legroom 
  • poorly treated animals that fly in the cargo bay

Airlines have pushed for new Federal rules to reduce fraud, and the transportation agency plans to begin taking comments on proposed regulations in July.

The opposition is not limited to airline corporations. Passengers with allergies to pet dander, who are likewise protected under Federal disability statutes, often think that their concerns are eclipsed by those of passengers with animals, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, who has started collecting stories from its members. LTD advises that allergy sufferers take sensible precautions. Calling the airline before your flight to let it know about your allergy is a good first step, although airlines won’t guarantee a pet-free flight.  Carrying on an EpiPen or allergy medication is a necessity, particularly when you’re in an enclosed cabin.

Those who require the assistance of service animals feel that heightened scrutiny from fakers is not fair to those who take the time to train their service pets appropriately and is dangerous.  LTD friend and Gold Star Mother, Cindy Dietz-Marsh has a service dog, Baxter.  Baxter was trained by Benito Olsen with Patriot Dog Training.

Baxter was trained by Benito Olsen with Patriot Dog Training.

Baxter's first training was puppy obedience, followed by advanced training about how to behave in outdoor environments.  Baxter needed to learn about the different distractions that he would encounter and how to ignore them.  Cindy says Baxter needs to know how to "ignore and pay attention to what he is being trained to fulfill as a service animal."  Baxter helps Cindy with many duties:

  • She is deaf in one ear and Baxter always walks on her right side
  • Baxter alerts help when she Cindy has a seizure and then stays by her side until she is alert again
  • Baxter provides support for Cindy's PTSD, anxiety and depression  

Cindy says Baxter "even once left my side to assist a veteran who was struggling at an event with PTSD.  It was amazing."

"No one has ever treated me unfairly and I've gotten lots of compliments on how well trained Baxter is," Cindy tells LTD.  "I am OK with rules because many service animals have been attacked."  She says, "Getting on a plane with a so-called service animal, who is not one, and misbehaves puts a bad taste for owners like me who have paid and taken time to train our service animals."

Cindy's service dog Baxter received advanced training about how to behave in outdoor environments

In 2016, the Transportation Department convened a panel of disability advocates and airline industry officials to propose new regulations on service animals and minimize abuse. Several participants said they expected the animal topic to be easy to negotiate, but the committee disbanded after it failed to reach consensus after almost seven months.

Published documents show disagreement on many details and many public comments. The airlines were hoping to align with the Americans with Disability Act by limiting permitted species. Some disability advocates suggested defining emotional support animals as only dogs and cats, but others wanted to allow rabbits and household birds. Service-animal representatives wanted the DOT to recognize “psychiatric service animals," typically dogs like Baxter, which can be trained to perform specific tasks, as working animals that don’t require a medical letter.

Delta’s new requirements, which take effect March 1, retain those distinctions. Passengers with trained service animals will need to submit a veterinary health form at least 48 hours before travel to the airline’s new “Service Animal Support Desk.” Customers with emotional-support animals or psychiatric service animals must do the same but also must provide a letter from a doctor or mental health professional and a signed document saying the animal is trained to behave in public.  However, the new requirements don't apply to pets that stay in kennels during flights.

“It’s certainly a difficult situation to navigate,” acknowledged J. Ross Massey, the lawyer hired soon after a passenger was mauled on a 2017 Delta flight. After this event, Massey called the airline’s middle-seat placement of a passenger traveling with a large dog a “recipe for disaster.” The 44-year-old Jackson, a government employee who lives in Alabama, is preparing for plastic surgery to correct some of the damage. The attacked passenger is considering legal action, according to Massey.

“There are competing interests. Obviously, anybody with the need for a service animal should have one,” he said. “But the other 99 percent of people on the plane would also like to rest easy being able to know that … this animal is trained to go into such a stressful situation.”

There is no easy solution to this dilemma, but what is apparent is that a well-trained service animal meets a need for those individuals with a disability.  Cindy Dietz  could not participate in many activities without Baxter.  If you feel a service dog may help you in overcoming some of the obstacles of your disability, contact one of the many organizations, like Patriot Dog Training, who are able to help guide you to a more independent future.

Don't have a service dog and have to leave your pet at home?  Get your pet a FURBO as seen on Ellen, and keep in touch with them while you are away!

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