We need to get emotional support dogs out of the airplane cabin. Recent incidents of biting, here and here, are evidence that the dogs need our protection, not the other way around. Those bites only happened after the dogs had been pushed beyond their endurance. The New York Times Op-Ed page rails against the scam. A Yale researcher has pointed out evidence that reliance on pets for emotional support may be harmful. I speak for the dogs.
Until recently, I was reluctant to speak up because I did not want to hurt the emotionally fragile people who strenuously argue their need to have pets with them. I was cautiously willing to trust the owners to use good judgment and compassion before deciding to fly with their best friends. I was wrong. It’s clear that they are forcing their terrified dogs into a something less than a torture chamber, but right up there with the way we feel before the dentist starts drilling. How selfish must a person be to do this to a dog?
The public discussion focuses on the people involved. Are pet owners scamming? Do animals provide a therapeutic benefit? What about the rights of allergic or phobic passengers? We should be talking about the fact that air travel involves conditions well understood to send an unprepared dog over the edge. His emotional meltdown is apparent to everyone but the owner: tucked tail, panting, drooling, shivering, vocalizing, housebreaking accidents. Once on the plane, the dog is crammed in a small space, with no possibility of escape, forced into close proximity with strangers. When the dog reaches his limit and bites, it should surprise no one. It may be his first bite, but that’s not relevant– the owner never put him through this horror show before.
I know what it means to fly with a dog, and I don’t do it unless there’s a business reason. Service dogs are bred and trained to ensure their fitness for airplane duty, but even so, careful preparations must be made. The dog skips breakfast and has no water within 4 hours of his last opportunity to pee. He is thoroughly exercised before the flight and given ice cubes and a small snack once in the air. He has been trained to ignore people in his space and to curl himself small for long periods of time. He’s not scared of the sights and sounds; he’s been socialized to them since he was weaned. And when flight delays occur, his needs come before mine, even if it means flying the next day.
If you know someone who flies with an emotional support dog, please encourage them to think about the dog’s emotional needs. If you care more about your comfort than his misery, then god help you.