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Reader letters: Fighting like cats and dogs over emotional support animals on planes

Lack of guidelines for emotional support animals put therapists and psychologists in a bind.
What animals should be allowed on a plane? Emotional support birds, monkeys, pigs, cats or dog? Readers speak out.
(Michael Glenwood / For The Times)

An On the Spot column by Catharine Hamm (Feb. 19, “Should Emotional Support Animals Be Allowed on a Plane? Make Your Voice Heard”) elicited response in the form of letters to the editor and comments, which were opened on the story. Here is some of the reaction:

I am a person who has a service animal. She is a therapy dog in training to serve the elderly and sick children. She is still a puppy and not “in service” yet, but she has already been certified, as I am held accountable to prepare her for her “job.” She is very small and will travel with me on flights. I likely will not have a problem with bringing her on board because we have all the necessary paperwork, etc.

I do have a significant problem with so many animals on any given flight. The last flight I was on, I counted at least 15 animals in the cabin. My concern is twofold.

• What if there are passengers on a flight with severe animal allergies and they have a dangerous reaction on a flight? Doesn’t the airline consider this? Can they not put a cap on how many can be in the cabin on each flight?

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• What if two animals get into a scuffle and bite passengers? What if one animal kills another? This seems overlooked.

Seems like the Department of Transportation and the airlines should create some legislation to better regulate this issue.

Gina Stickley
Lawndale

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I do not now or ever had a problem with service dogs. They are trained for a certain job.

Emotional support animals are a joke. People will try anything. The government has given them an opening and they are taking advantage of it.

Everyone knows that you can get a doctor or a therapist to sign anything.

These people who need a support animal maybe should not leave home if they are that insecure. You do not need an animal to go everywhere with you.

I hope the laws get stricter and are enforced.

James Tyner
Venice

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It’s about time this abused policy comes to an end. Snakes, birds, ponies and other odd creatures don’t belong in passenger cabins on airplanes. There are enough persons to go around on any given flight who make flying unpleasant.

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As for “emotional support,” suppose I wanted to take my brother or a friend for support — would that pass the mandate? For those who find flying challenging, there’s always Valium, which is far less bothersome to fellow passengers.

Tom DeSimone
Palm Springs

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In carrying out my duties as a security manager for a human services public agency, I often had to negotiate with clients who brought prohibited non-service dogs into the facility. The agency wanted to be especially accommodating to veterans seeking services, which often resulted in pit bull dogs — the clients insisted were “trained” to provide “calming” service for PTSD sufferers — mixing with other clients with small children in a crowded lobby.

In one instance, I assessed a particular pit bull and determined it was docile and nonthreatening. Minutes later, a small child, upon seeing the dog, let out an ear-splitting scream, which triggered the dog to immediately attack the child.

Fortunately, the attack didn’t result in broken skin or bones but only in some distinct teeth-marked bruises on the child’s thigh. I was amazed that the agency did not get sued.

Barbara Jackson
Cerritos

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I’ll start by saying I love dogs and I have had several dogs in the last 30 years.

However, a couple of years ago I was faced with a tricky situation, not on a plane but in a classroom. I’m an art instructor at a local community college. I was told, not asked, that one of the students would be bringing an emotional support dog to class each week. The dog showed up with no leash or service jacket; it was just a very sweet midsize mixed-breed dog.

At the first class I asked, “Is anyone afraid of dogs or is anyone allergic?” At first, I thought great, no problem, but after a couple of semesters one of the students complained to the administrators. They had to reimburse her fee for the class and mine as well.

What about our rights as people, my right as a teacher in a classroom? The school should have been more vigilant about the situation. They were afraid of being sued.

It is not an easy problem to solve, but where do we draw the line? Hopefully with a few good rules to follow and a couple of tasty treats.

Sherry Davis
Playa Vista

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In 2019 I went to JFK from LAX twice (premium-plus seats). On my second flight back to LAX, I noticed as soon as sat down that I started sneezing/wheezing. I could not stop for at least 10 minutes. I have asthma so I took out my inhaler, used it a couple of times, took my medication, even took my jacket and covered my head and upper body so my sneezing and wheezing would not alarm those around me.

After about 15 minutes my sneezing stopped. I said a silent “Thank you, God.” We landed at LAX, and when we all stood up to disembark the plane, the guy sitting directly in front of my seat exited with a pit bull on a leash. I was floored.

This man did not have the decency to let me know that he had a dog sitting 2 feet from me while the flight attendant did not pay any attention to my fit of sneezing/wheezing.

I got sick for two weeks with bronchitis and finally was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia and spent three days being pumped with antibiotics before I was well enough to return home. It took another week to fully recover.

Since then, when I am at the boarding gate, I ask the flight attendant to please check my seat and let me know if I am sitting near a passenger with an emotional support animal and request that my seat be reassigned because my health is at risk.

I actually carry my medication and nebulizer machine with me in case of an asthma attack on the plane. I don’t want to die because I am sitting near someone who needs an emotional support animal while traveling on a plane.

I am curious to know how many of us with severe respiratory health issues board a plane not knowing that for several hours our health will be in serious jeopardy because of this.

Marie Hammer
Chatsworth

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For years I’ve been suggesting one possible simple solution: designated flights. It could be done two ways:

• Special flights where animals are welcomed and are marked as such on all information available to the public.

• Special flights where animals may not be aboard, for people who are allergic, fearful of animals or prefer not to fly with them.

If airlines find this onerous, think of asthmatics who are violently allergic to cats, dogs and/or all animal fur, like me, who never know if we will arrive without having an anaphylactic (suffocating) attack.

Hedwin Naimark
Marina del Rey

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I am in full support of the proposed ESA rules. Bringing an untrained and unrestrained pet on a plane is unsafe for the pet and fellow passengers. In an emergency situation, an untrained and unrestrained ESA might bring harm to itself, its owner and other passengers.

Scott Jessup
Santa Clarita

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I think that the bigger issue needs to be addressed. As an owner of two large dogs living in Miami with most of my family living in Los Angeles, it would be helpful if airlines allowed more accommodating service for animals, not just dogs.

Animals, though in my particular case dogs, are my family. And increasingly families are choosing to consist of four-legged creatures. Now, I know people will say dogs bark and get unruly, but they won’t consider what human children do. It’s inappropriate to point out aggressions of a child but not so much an animal. These things are so often overlooked that countless “families” with members who are pets (particularly dogs) that require care are cheating a system that really should be better at acknowledging the types of families that large segments of our society are choosing to have.

In my case I’d pay for the ticket, especially because all my time off needs to be minimal because of boarding costs of $90 a night for each dog. But everywhere you look, especially in urban settings, people are choosing dogs over children. Our policy and attitudes should start to reflect that.

José Avalos
Miami

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I have severe anxiety and mental health issues. If I have to fly somewhere, my nerves break down and I freak out. Having my dog on my lap is the only thing short of narcotics that eases that emotional distress. Discontinuing this law, removing my dog from me (who knows her duty is to protect and calm me), would only cause both of us undue anxiety, stress and fear. I would likely become agitated and panicked. I would speak louder and probably become argumentative.

Taking away my dog would equate to taking a bottle from an infant.

I strongly advise that this law remain in effect. I would rather walk across the country with my dog than have her separated from me.

Kim Laube
Renton, Wash.

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I am not in agreement with pets traveling on a standard flight. I am allergic to several (chihuahuas, poodles and cats so far) and the last thing I need is to have an animal sitting next to me that is going to cause me to start itching, have my voice go raspy/hoarse, begin to cough in earnest and have my face/eyes swelling.

Furthermore, at a very young age, I witnessed a bulldog attack my brother, which resulted in a chunk of buttock being bitten off and required skin grafts. This resulted in a fear of not only bulldogs but other similar types of dogs.

My response to whether ESAs should be allowed? A resounding no.

Now, if airlines want to designate a few flights per week/month that allow them to be filled with passengers and their pets (and others who don’t mind traveling with animals) and keep these only for those traveling with animals, that’s fine. But again, they could not be used for any other travel since their dander will spark the allergic reaction for me.

Rachel Yanez
Montebello

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And from the comments on the article:

Legitimate service animals, yes. The rest, no. This should also apply to small animals in carriers under seats. After all, the airline will not allow me to bring my emotional support rum on board.

—bluewaterm

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I was on a plane with two members of the military with a dog. Hope that continues.

J­_Jensen

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My elderly mom has what I would categorize as an emotional support dog. If we ever had to travel, there would be great benefit to having Sweetie Pie (Mom’s little Yorkie) along and considerable distress if he wasn’t there.

I would like to see a training and certification made available for this category. Those with serious needs will make the effort. Those trying to scam won’t bother, especially if time and money are required. And dogs only. No snakes or peacocks!

—sorrentino

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Airlines banned peanuts on some flights because of allergies but not animals that can cause allergic reactions?

—nmjinia

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The basic principle is: People have primacy over pets. There are far too many dog owners who think their pet is equal to a human. There are even ones who say cringeworthy things like, “My dog is my child.”

So, dog owners, let us be clear here: Your pet is your pet. It’s not as important as a person, and when an airline or grocery store or theater must choose between catering to regular people or to a person with a pet and an overwhelming sense of entitlement, the regular people should triumph.

—Baxte_Brockman

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There used to be a smoking section toward the back of planes until smoking was banned. Maybe as a compromise to the pet-passionate travelers, the airlines can designate a row or two at the rear for animals traveling with humans. These combos would board first so allergy suffers (I include myself in this) would not have to endure the animals on parade.

They would exit last (regardless of claims of impending connecting flights). Simple solution. Everyone is happy.

Finally, if I were an airline executive I’d have a simple rule: If it breathes, it pays. No exceptions.

—garyabq

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Airlines need to establish better systems to welcome animals onto airplanes, period. The ESA system is clearly currently being abused, but it’s no wonder, given how few safe and compassionate alternatives exist.

I know people who truly need their ESAs with them in order to fly, so instead of penalizing that population, airlines ought to create a viable alternative so that passengers don’t feel the need to skirt the system in the first place. It’s the airlines’ failing, as is so often the case.

—supcy1


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