Terry McAteer: Miniature horses, peacocks your seat mate on next flight? | TheUnion.com

Terry McAteer: Miniature horses, peacocks your seat mate on next flight?

I recently flew back from Los Angeles on a Southwest flight in which I had my first unique encounter with an emotional-support pet.

I grabbed a window seat as I had an “A” number and the middle seat later became occupied by a 20-something and her small “comfort” dog which sat in her lap, panting its Alpo-smelling breath in my direction. For the next hour, my forearm was under constant licking.

Now, I love dogs and have had many throughout the years, but I have a real problem with this new concept of emotional-support pets on airlines, especially when their slobber drips on the armrest and onto my pants.

I thought this whole pet issue would go away due to its absurdity and pets would again be relegated to the aircraft baggage section where they have resided for the past 50 years. Wrong again, as the U.S. Department of Transportation has recently adopted airline standards for emotional-support animals in which all airlines must now comply.

In fact, the DOT notes that airlines cannot forbid other species outright — snakes, rodents, spiders, etc. all have the right to board.

Last year, Delta Airlines barred all “pit-bull-type dogs” after a couple of staff members were bitten. I can certainly understand Delta’s policy since many of us have had an awkward encounter with a pit bull. I would be a bit hesitant to pass out pretzels to passengers and worry that Seat 12B’s pit bull might enjoy my fingers, too.

The DOT’s new ruling states that airlines can’t ban specific breeds outright. Instead, they can only deny an animal which appears to pose a direct threat to the health and safety of passengers or crew members.

Dogs and cats are obviously the most common emotional support animals that are brought onto flights. The third most common animal is not a snake, peacock or ferret, which have all been brought on-board, but is in fact a miniature horse! Yes, miniature horses are very popular emotional-support animals according to Travel and Leisure Magazine.

Instead of doggie treats, does that mean that on a transcontinental flight you now can bring carrots, sugar cubes or hay to keep “Trigger” at bay?

In fact, the DOT notes that airlines cannot forbid other species outright — snakes, rodents, spiders, etc. all have the right to board. How would you like to sit next to a pet tarantula? The DOT has rules for that, too! If you, as the passenger, feel uncomfortable sitting next to the pet tarantula then you can request a new seat if one is available.

The emotional-support pet and its owner are not forced to move from their seat — you are.

Speaking of long-haul travel, the DOT does allow airlines to prevent emotional-support animals from boarding flights over eight hours in duration due to sanitary issues surrounding the animal’s need to defecate. I don’t know about you but asking a dog or cat to hold it for eight hours is definitely animal cruelty. In fact, the DOT, in its brilliance, does allow a letter from a veterinarian stating that the animal will either not need to relieve itself on board or will be able to do so in a sanitary way.

The DOT rules provide that a letter from a veterinarian certifying the animal is fully vaccinated, well-behaved and has been trained for the owner’s “condition” is welcome to board any flight including the new 19-hour New York to Sydney flight.

The new DOT rules do not specify what to do though when the passenger seated next to a miniature horse or tarantula on that flight goes stark raving mad!

Terry McAteer is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His views are his own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members. Contact him at editboard@theunion.com.

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