There are lots of monumental problems in the world, but for the moment let’s ignore them. Let’s instead focus on the latest unpleasantness to occur on airlines: dogs. It seems that while we’ve been losing legroom, meals, snacks, magazines, and dignity, pups have taken to the friendly skies. The rise of the cabin canine (versus the baggage hold hound) is due to the (relatively) new loophole of “emotional support” animal. If your dog (or pig, monkey, or cat) is designated as giving you emotional support he/she must be treated like an assistance animal. Passengers and crew are not pleased by this trend and for good reason.
Allergies to animals are far more prevalent than peanut allergies. Being trapped in the sealed can with a dog is the worst nightmare for many people. Uncontrollable itching, hives and difficulty breathing are now part of the trip for many. There is no limit on the size of the animal when its owner has a prescription. It is conceivable that Marmaduke would be sprawled on top of the passenger next to you (riding for free!) These animals pose a threat to trained service animals. Unlike a Seeing Eye dog, an emotional support animal’s only qualification is that the owner likes having him/her around. Seeing Eye dogs can be trapped in a small space with butt smelling, barking, peeing and perhaps biting dogs. An airplane can quickly and unexpectedly become a place from which people need to flee. It’s horrifying to consider what would happen in an emergency with a pet and a trained assistant dog on board.
There is no doubt that people feel better with their animals. There are people with robust mental health who benefit greatly from the demands and love of an animal. There are also very few people who aabsolutely must travel on an airplane; save for the crew who it must be said are legally entitled to carry a dog on the beverage cart. If we are a bit too timid to impose restrictions upon where people may bring their comfort pets perhaps we could at least take the issue a little more seriously.
Currently all one needs is a letter from a health care professional and WHAM, the entire terrain changes. With one letter, from someone who may or may not be treating me for an actual disorder, I can force my landlord to allow Fido in, I can walk into any bar, restaurant or hospital with Fluffy and I can sit next to you at the opera with my potbelly pig. None of these animals have been screened, trained or licensed. The first step is to legitimize the “prescription” writing process. More than one mental health provider must sign-off and at least one of them must be treating the patient. Having your cousin the dermatologist sign the form should not be sufficient. Comfort animals must be certified to obtain the same privileges as assistance animals. They need to have a clean bill of health, be trained in how to act around people and other animals and be certified.
It’s hard to imagine that anyone who legitimately needs to be holding their pet at all times would actually balk (or should we say; bark) at such guidelines.