We were wondering the same thing. So, we consulted with our friends at the Animal Legal Center at Michigan State University. www.animallaw.info Our first question was, “What is an emotional support animal, anyway?” Everyone gets emotional support from their pets, but does that mean that everyone can take their pets on planes with them?
The short answer is, “No.” But it turns out that this is a more complicated question than we thought and it’s no wonder that there is a lot of confusion about it. It’s so complicated that we are going to divide this up into two columns. Today we are going to tell you about service animals—they are completely different than emotional support animals. You need to know the difference.
Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) service animals are dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities, things like pulling a wheelchair, guiding a person who is visually impaired, alerting a person who is having a seizure, or calming a person who suffers from PTSD.
Service dogs may accompany persons with disabilities into most public places. This includes state and local government buildings, businesses open to the public, public transportation, and non-profit organizations open to the public. Under the ADA, a service dog can be required to be leashed or harnessed unless that would interfere with its job.
Once the service dog boards a plane, then it is under the auspices of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). That statute defines service animal to include more than just dogs and requires that airlines permit a trained service animal to accompany a disabled person on the plane at their feet or in their lap. It is not required to be leashed or harnessed.
Some animals are specifically excluded under the regulations of the Department of Transportation, including snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents, spiders, and, in fact, sugar gliders. Animals that are not excluded and that airlines may have to accommodate, include pigs, miniature horses, and monkeys, assuming that they fit and don’t pose a direct threat to the health or safety of other passengers. Animals can also be excluded if they exhibit disruptive behavior such as barking or snarling, running around, or jumping onto other passengers,
Although these service animals on planes are supposed to have been trained for their specific job, the airlines are limited in what they can do to verify the animal’s “credentials.” They can accept a service dog vest or tag or just the passenger’s word that it is a service animal. They can observe the animal’s behavior and can ask what task the animal performs, but they can’t inquire about the passenger’s disability.
As you can see, the airlines must walk a fine line between general passenger safety and the requirements of the ADA and other federal laws. We have no issue with these important protections for people with disabilities—but we do think that people should understand them so that animals don’t get blamed for problems that happen because of confusing and sometimes contradictory laws and regulations.
Next week, how to do emotional support animals fit into all of this?
P.S. Yes, we had to look it up. A sugar glider is a small marsupial mammal originally from Australia. They resemble flying squirrels but are not related. They are cute but problematic pets, and many are abandoned or surrendered to shelters. That’s a whole different column.
### About Oswego County Humane Society
We provide services to promote and strengthen the human-animal bond through fostering-to-adoption programs, spay/neuter clinics, and humane education... Because people and pets are good for each other. The Oswego County Humane Society is designated under IRS code 501(c)3 as a charitable organization: 161586001 and registered with the New York State Charities Bureau: 06-70-81. Our registration number with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets is RR239.