Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Pets on Planes

Aisle seat or window?

        "You may be impressed to know that there was a Great Dane on our flight from
         Paris to Detroit.  Apparently it originated in Venice. . . . I am not making this up."

I received this email recently from a friend who is tired of seeing dogs on airplanes.  She and her husband, who travel frequently, have a very nice dog, but the dog does not accompany them when they travel by air.

I just looked up Great Danes and found that males are 32 inches or higher at the shoulder and typically weigh more than 120 pounds.  These are very big dogs, not the sort to fit in pet carriers under their owners' seats, even in first class.

Think about it.  A Paris-Detroit flight takes about 10 hours.  Tack on a hop from Venice to Paris and sitting around two airports, and you've got a long, long day for a dog that probably would prefer to spend its time galloping through the countryside.

And, during that time, a Great Dane is probably like a human in that it would need some restroom breaks.  Can you potty-train a Great Dane?   Are there diapers for such an animal?  What if the dog becomes airsick?  What items from the plane's service cart could be offered to nourish such a passenger?

These are the sorts of questions that keep me up at night.

Another Example

My friend is getting particularly exasperated by the flying dogs known as "emotional support animals."  I have noticed these as well.  They typically are little dogs in carrier bags, almost always toted by young women.

A couple months ago my friend told me that she watched a young, college-age woman board an airplane with her mommy AND daddy AND an emotional support animal.

As in the previous case, this set me wondering.  What a delicate specimen that girl must be!

Is she able to go to school without her parents and her puppy?  Can she gather, unaccompanied, with friends for coffee dates?  When she goes shopping at the mall, does she require that stores accommodate her need for a small animal to prevent her suffering attacks of the vapors?  Does she take her dog on dates?  Will she ever grow up?

The Law

There are two kinds of dogs on planes.

I.  Therapy pets.  The most common example of these is seeing-eye dogs for the blind, but dogs can help people with many other disabilities.  Such animals have traveled with their owners for many years without controversy.  They are trained individually to be helpful with specific challenges and to behave well around other people.

II,  "Emotional support animals." These fall into a much looser category under the Americans with  Disabilities Act.  Since 2003 (or perhaps 2011 -- accounts vary), people with psychological or psychiatric problems have been allowed to bring such animals aboard airplanes.  All these pet owners need to do is get a certification from a psychologist or other professional affirming the need for the support animal.

In the last few years, the number of troubled people taking advantage of this has exploded.  There are now hundreds of online mental health professionals who offer to evaluate people and issue the necessary certification for $100 or so.

This provision makes it much cheaper for a person needing emotional support to fly with a pet.  Airlines typically charge $75 to $125 to bring a pet along on a flight, but emotional support animals travel at no cost.   More than a few people, including my friend and, sometimes, I, believe that people are faking disabilities to get free rides for their pets.

Other Animals

In fact, emotional support animals can come from many species.  I have read of cats, marmots, hamsters, pigs, monkeys, miniature horses, parakeets and ducks.

I also have read that the Department of Transportation has decreed that "inconvenience of other passengers is not sufficient grounds to deny a service animal carriage in the cabin."

Not surprisingly, this has led to some friction among the flying public.

More about that tomorrow.

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