Delta deserves praise for its recent decision to impose tighter restrictions on service animals. Here’s hoping the other airlines will follow suit.
The epidemic that has led to animals showing up in places where they don’t belong has been going on for a while now. It’s been abetted by loopholes in well-meaning legislation, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Air Carrier Access Act, that were intended to make sure that people who have disabilities and their trained service animals would be able to get around without hassles. But many pet owners, not to mention a bunch of online registration companies, have taken advantage of the law.
The New Yorker took a droll look at the abuses a few years ago. Among the many anecdotes of animal excess the magazine reported was one about how Ivana Trump let her miniature Yorkie romp at a fancy Italian restaurant in New York. Ivana, too, claimed the pup was a service animal, the New Yorker says.
The writer, Patricia Marx, drew a proper distinction between bona fide service animals — which are trained to perform certain tasks for their owners, such as guide dogs for the blind, or dogs that respond to their owners’ seizures — and loosely certified emotional support animals, which she said were essentially “blankies.”
Best of all, Marx went undercover for her story, taking various emotional support animals on jaunts around town, including a trip to some art galleries with an alpaca. She took a pig on an airplane. No one forcibly dragged the pig off the flight, by the way, even when it was acting like one.
It was all a great con, and one that thousands of other people pull off everyday with differing amounts of insincere sincerity. Over at Animalia, my colleague Karin Brulliard says the Department of Transportation’s regular reports on disability-related complaints show that those involving service animals nearly quadrupled between 2012 and 2016. She also notes that 19 states have passed laws that criminalize passing off pets as service animals.
What’s going on here is selfishness dressed up to look like a love for animals. Besides, what does it say about the American psyche that in a nation that has endured the Great Depression, two world wars, a Cold War and many other crises, so many people can’t board an airplane without their pet at their side? Isn’t that why they make stuffed animals?
Delta’s move, announced Friday, suggests we may yet return to sanity. The airline said that as of March 1, it will start requiring advance documentation before boarding animals to certify the owner’s need and the animal’s training. The airline said it adopted the new policy to ensure the safety of its staff, other passengers, and trained service animals.
“Customers have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders and more,” Delta said in its announcement. The airline said it took steps after an 84-percent increase in unpleasant, unsanitary or dangerous incidents with animals on planes since 2016, including a 70-pound dog’s attack on a passenger.
People with real service animals have long expressed support for stricter policies, because it’s the fakes that make others view their trained animals with suspicion. And that’s because, as usual, it’s not the animals that have run wild, it’s the people who own them.
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