Last week’s announcement from Delta Air Lines that passengers soon must provide documentation to bring a “service” or “support” animal on board is an important first step to combat increasing fur-baby fraud.
By documentation, the Atlanta-based carrier doesn’t mean the fake service-dog vest and badge that “mommy” and “daddy” purchase so they don’t have to transport Fido by car or in the cargo hold. When the requirements kick in, Delta will require customers traveling with a trained service or emotional support animal to submit “a signed Veterinary Health Form and/or an immunization record.”
Additionally, passengers wishing to travel with an emotional support or psychiatric service animal will need to provide “a letter prepared and signed by a doctor or licensed mental health professional, and a signed Confirmation of Animal Training form”—the latter form attesting to the animal’s ability to behave appropriately on the flight.
This Is a Response to Terrible Pet Behavior
Delta didn’t have much choice but to add some bureaucratic hurdles to the use of “service” and “support” dogs. Under federal law, the airline “must permit the service animals to accompany the passenger with a disability at any seat in which the passenger sits,” other than emergency exit rows. The animals, though, should either sit at the passengers’ feet or on their laps.
However, as Delta detailed in its press release, “untrained animals that have been misidentified as service and support animals are regularly reported to occupy seats, stretch across aisles and move throughout the cabin during flight, often without restriction.” And “[c]ustomers have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders and more.”
Of course, to the human parents, junior isn’t the problem—he’s a good boy. But the numbers don’t lie. According to Delta, it “has seen an 84 percent increase in reported animal incidents since 2016, including urination/defecation, biting and even a widely reported attack by a 70-pound dog.” WebMD has highlighted similarly shocking statistics: “Statistics kept by the U.S. Department of Transportation show that complaints related to animals for people with ‘unspecified’ disabilities have surged by 500% in the last 5 years—increasing from 411 in 2012 to 2,041 in 2016.”
Frankly, though, even if Fido were a good dog, I don’t care: I don’t want your pet on the flight next to me. Animals belong outdoors or in barns, not in my face or space, especially when that space dwindles each year as airlines attempt to offer competitive fares and endure increasing costs and complications from government regulation.
Bringing an animal on board is a violation of the social compact we all tacitly agree to in an effort to reduce the stress and discomfort of air travel. Don’t destroy the last semblance of civilized air travel by subjecting your fellow passengers to the noise, smell, and annoyance of pets you’re pretending are people. You wouldn’t want to sit next to someone who smelled like an animal, so why is it okay for you to bring aboard an actual animal, especially given that some folks have pet allergies?
Now, I’ve seen “Marley and Me” and cried at “My Dog Skip.” I get that you love Fido and wouldn’t dare risk transporting him in cargo. Fair enough. Don’t. Make other arrangements. Drive. Share dog-watching with neighbors when you must travel by plane. Push for a DogAir to enter the market. But don’t lie that you have medical needs that necessitate inflicting your pets on other people simply because you want your own desires and convenience to trump those of others.
Your Selfishness Hurts Disabled People
Working service dogs are different, which is exactly what the law recognizes. People making excuses for their phony support dogs put those with genuine needs, and with properly trained service dogs, at risk. Laci Gillotti, the director of canine operations at the leading non-profit provider of service dogs—the National Education Assistance Dog Services, better known as NEADS—explained the devastating consequences of what seems to some a simple deception.
“Fake and under trained service dogs are detrimental to our clients that legitimately need the use of a Service Dog to be fully independent, and the increasing occurrence is becoming an epidemic within the industry,” she said. “We liken passing off a fake or under-trained service dog as a worse offense than parking in a handicap spot. When someone with an under-trained dog gains public access and the dog is disruptive, acts in an aggressive manner, eliminates inappropriately, or displays any number of unacceptable behaviors, it is our clients—and those of other reputable organizations—that suffer. The establishment’s management and the public’s perception is tarnished on what a service dog should, or does, look like.”
Sharon Giovinazzo, the CEO of World Services for the Blind, put it even more starkly in her interview for the WebMD article, saying of pets posing as service dogs: “They’re just little terrorists, is what they are.”
Once when traveling with her service dog, Watson, Giovinazzo was walking through an airport when “a small dog came running out of a gate waiting area and lunged at them, biting Watson under the chin.” The dog’s owner apologized, but when Giovinazzo said that the other women’s dog should have been secured, the owner gasped, “But this is my service dog.” “No, no, no,” Giovinazzo corrected. “That’s your dog that you don’t want to put in a kennel and you went out and bought the equipment you need off Amazon, and you’re getting away with it.”
Delta’s new policy is the first step to try to change that. It’s a change I’ll raise my mini bottle to.