• Dr. Rhesa Houston

The Airline Industry is Cracking Down on Passenger’s Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals


The airlines industry has cracked down on passenger’s emotional support animals, as they should! As a veterinarian, and owner of Assistance Animals Consulting, I am both amazed and alarmed at the animals I see in the airports being endorsed as a service dog or emotional support dog.


As a veterinarian who specializes in evaluating dogs and cats being used as assistance animals; specifically, those being used as emotional support dogs. It is especially disheartening to witness what appears to be a significant amount of fraudulent representation of assistance animals at the airport.


Veterinarians are trained to recognize basic animal behavior. Therefore, dogs being represented as support animals that don’t have basic training stick out like a sore thumb! Many of these dogs wear fancy harnesses most likely purchased off the Internet. They are the ones barking, jumping up and down, growling at passengers, eating off the seat-back tray, or pulling their handlers through the airport.


In my opinion, some people are knowingly practicing fraudulent behavior to avoid the animal transport fees. For Delta, it cost $125.00 one-way and $250.00 round-trip! These fees could create a financial burden to some and cause them to engage in fraudulent behavior to avoid this airline pet travel expense.


Some people may be unaware they are committing fraudulent behavior. These people are the ones misrepresenting the type of support dog they are using due to a lack of education. For example, expressing their dog is a service dog versus an emotional support dog. It is important to differentiate between the two not only for the rights of access determined by the law, but also because of the amount of specialized training that separates the two.


Some people are following the rules and have all of the appropriate documentation but fail to create a successful dog partner because of improper behavior training or no training at all.


Lastly, some people are following all the rules and have the appropriate documentation and training. This article is not for you! Quite frankly, I’m offering you an apology. I’m sorry we have failed you and your animal partner. I promise as a veterinarian, and owner of Assistance Animals Consulting, I will do my part to support and advocate for those of you with disabilities who truly benefit from the use of a properly trained animal partner.


This is my call to action! What do we need to do to reduce or stop these fraudulent behaviors? We need to do the following:

  1. Decrease the pet travel fees to allow travelers appropriate access without additional financial constraints

  2. Companies need to create policies which help establish a safe space for their customers, employees and well trained animals supporting a disabled person

  3. Train employees to recognize improper animal behavior and take immediate action

  4. Create more effective partnerships with veterinarians and human health professionals who are prescribing animals for therapeutic support. The veterinarian needs to provide guidance and an evaluation on animal behavior and temperament prior to the animal having full public access as a support animal

  5. Create additional legislation to help regulate an unregulated field

It is frustrating as a veterinarian to witness the abuse of the policies developed for persons with disabilities who use support animals. I am not advocating for us to be judgmental of people with visible or non-visible disabilities using support animals. I am asking you to educate yourself on this effective therapy modality. I am also asking you to be responsible handlers. If you are using an emotional support dog, enroll it in a reputable training program. Help your dog be successful in its role as an emotional support animal.


Kudos and congratulations to the airline industry for cracking down on their emotional support animal policy. For the health and safety of customers, employees, true service dogs and well behaved emotional support animals it is about time!


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