Earlier this month a squirrel was denied a flight from Orlando to Cleveland. The owner boarded the airplane with the squirrel in its cage after declaring an emotional support animal on her reservation. The squirrel cleared the x-ray machine. Her mistake was that she hadn’t informed them that her emotional support animal was a squirrel. Once onboard, she was told that squirrels are rodents and are not welcome by Frontier Airlines. The owner refused to get off the plane and everyone was deplaned while police entered. The owner then got off and no further action was necessary. The other passengers made their displeasure known after a two-hour delay. Problems with animals on board have caused many airlines to tighten regulations.
As a psychotherapist, I am called upon to soothe emotions and decrease anxiety. Sometimes a pet can perform the same function. I’ve recently had two people ask me to write a letter stating that their dogs are emotional support animals. More and more emotional support animals are boarding planes. Pigs, peacocks, miniature horses, kangaroos, possums, parrots, ducks, turkeys, lizards, and turtles are boarding planes in addition to cats and dogs. The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits commercial airlines from discriminating against passengers with disabilities. Individual airlines have policies that bar some of these creatures from boarding.
Emotional support animals are companion pets who provide benefit for an individual with a psychological disorder. They differ from service animals, who provide an actual service such as guiding someone who is blind. To fly with an emotional support animal, a passenger needs a letter from a doctor or mental health professional describing the emotional benefit the animal provides for their particular disability.
Our pets become friends and family members. It is with great reluctance that people relocate to a home that won’t allow their fuzzy friend. The Fair Housing Act allows reasonable accommodations be made for people with disabilities. Some people misrepresent themselves as having a disability that only their pet can improve. This behavior makes it more difficult for people with verifiable disabilities to get the accommodations they need.
We all love our pets and find comfort in their presence. In fact, the act of petting can lower blood pressure, help your body release a relaxation hormone, and cut down levels of a stress hormone. Walking a dog is good for the heart. Pets can help you connect with other people. It is easier to strike up a conversation when with a pet. People with pets are generally happier than those without.
I highly recommend that everyone get a pet. Your life will be greatly rewarded. But please follow housing and airline regulations for the comfort of all.