No one thinks it’s a big deal to see a blind person walking with a seeing-eye dog. But dogs can do a lot more than that to help people with disabilities. Some are trained to recognize when their handlers are about to have epileptic seizures. Others can pull wheelchairs, open doors and retrieve items.
These dogs are recognized as “service animals” and people who utilize them are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). That means that as long as they don’t growl, bite or show other inappropriate behavior, their disabled handlers have a legal right to take them most places.
Service animals typically receive extensive training – both to do their jobs and to sit quietly when they must. That is why they usually do not present any problem when they accompany their handlers on airplanes. And airlines are required to allow them to board under the Airline Carrier Accommodation Act (ACAA).
The ADA and the ACAA are similar in many ways, but they differ in at least two respects: Dogs (and sometimes miniature horses) are the only species recognized as service animals under the ADA. The ADA also specifically states that “emotional support animals” (animals that do not provide a specific service but are there just to soothe their handlers) are not covered.
But the ACAA does not have these limitations. Therefore, it’s difficult for airline staff to know what to do when a passenger attempts to board with a peacock, a pig, a duck or a snake (all true stories).
And for whatever reason, there has been a huge upsurge in the number of people who have boarded planes with all manner of animals (as well as the occasional snake and peacock). They claim that these are emotional support animals and that they have a legal right to bring them aboard (which, under those circumstances, they can do for free). And sometimes these animals injure other passengers or are themselves injured, not to mention the havoc that their very presence can create in an aircraft.
In the face of the many complaints and bad publicity that these incidents have spawned, the Department of Transportation has proposed new regulations. The latest version, published on January 22, 2020, would make many changes. Among them are:
• Emotional support animals would no longer be covered (although psychiatric service animals would still be included),
• Only dogs (and sometimes miniature horses) would be recognized as service animals,
• Unlike the ADA, airlines would be able to require passengers to fill out forms attesting to, among other things, the fact that the animal is safe to travel,
• The airlines would not be able to discriminate against certain breeds of dogs (singling out pit bulls, for example),
• Airlines would be able to limit the number of animals per passenger that could board, and could also require that the animal be under the control of the passenger at all times.
Undoubtedly, there are some parts of these changes that people with disabilities and their advocates will not like. Other parts will be welcomed gratefully. The DOT has provided 40 days for public comment on these regulations, so don’t hesitate to make your voice heard.
Below is a link that explains the changes and also describes how to make your comment.