New proposals from the U.S. Department of Transport (DOT) are likely to negatively affect anyone who travels with an emotional support animal (ESA). The recommendations change various aspects of the existing regulations that currently do not limit the kind of ESAs you can travel with. Let’s explore each of the multiple elements of the new proposal, and evaluate how they will affect you if you travel with ESAs.
Before delving into the nitty-gritty of the issue, it’s crucial to understand the definition of an emotional support animal. ESAs offer emotional support to various people, including the elderly, the disabled, and those who have specific mental conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression.
Currently, ESAs include typical support animals such as dogs and cats, but also pets like birds, hedgehogs, and more. The support animals help alleviate emotional pain when they’re around, and are not required to undertake any training to offer emotional support.
The new proposals redefine ESAs
According to the new recommendations, the definition of ESA will be revised to one that is limited to specific breeds of dogs only. This definition is unfavorable to people who are dependant on the emotional support of other animals, apart from dogs.
Some people may not be comfortable with dogs or could be allergic to them. As a result, they may require the support of different animals, like cats, rabbits, or ferrets. This new definition will injure the rights of such people, as they would be forced to travel with dogs or without an ESA.
Airline agencies given discretion over recognizing ESAs
The new DOT proposals give airline agencies the freedom not to accept animals labeled as ESAs, which hurts passengers who require emotional support from their animal. Airlines may charge the passenger for bringing their ESA, or reject them altogether. Because of the rejection of their animals, some passengers may be unable to travel, while others may be forced to travel without the support of their ESAs.
By enacting these proposals, the improvements made toward the support of people with psychological conditions will significantly erode. The DOT indicates that part of the reason for crafting these proposals is to control the mushrooming of different animals that passengers claim to be ESAs. However, many people requiring emotional support think this restriction will help resolve unnecessary overcrowding, as the number of travelers with ESAs has increased. Because of this increase, many airlines cramp passengers together and lack space to carry animals.
Increasing documentation helps nobody
Some airlines claim that there are increased cases of fraudulent documentation presented to allow traveling with ESAs. According to these airlines, many of the travelers may not actually require the services of ESAs, but are in fact just capitalizing on the loopholes in the current regulations.
If the proposals sail through, each airline will have the freedom to distinguish between ESA and service animals. Furthermore, the airlines might demand more documentation, which will make it far more difficult for individuals to travel with their ESAs.
The current regulations require that a traveler is only required to provide proof of vaccinations and an ESA letter provided by a mental health professional. These documents are enough. The proposal that an additional veterinarians behavior report should be presented is deemed to be unnecessary by many, primarily because most vets are not specialists in behavior science.
Overreaction to a perceived problem
The new DOT regulations are overreacting to a perceived problem that troubles the passenger flight industry. Many believe the problem to be overblown, and see these regulations as far-reaching proposals that will hurt the travel of people suffering from emotional conditions that require the support of animals.
Although some people may offer false information about their emotional states and use it as an excuse to carry various ESAs, these cases are rare. As a result, they shouldn’t attract the attention of the DOT in crafting new regulations.
Different arrival times may be a cause of disruption
According to DOT proposals, passengers traveling with ESAs will have to check in an hour earlier than the other travelers. The rule is entirely unfair to this group of people, as it disrupts their schedules for no justifiable reason.
On top of that, the rule itself serves no actual purpose. Providing the needed documentation that the animal is indeed an emotional support animal takes no more than a minute. Why should there be a one-hour wait?
Specific species of dogs allowed
In the new DOT proposal, only specific species of dogs may receive recognition as service animals. Other species, like pit bulls and many others, may not be recognized as service animals. This move may injure travelers who have invested a lot of resources for dogs that aren’t eligible to be support dogs. These regulations are ignorant of the fact that certain restricted breeds may be the best in offering services to people suffering from specific conditions, like post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD).
People may be unable to utilize their service animals
In the wake of DOT proposals, many people may opt not to use the service animals because of the restrictions. The decision may further injure their emotional well-being, as these animals offer them the support that they require. This rule clearly shows that the DOT proposals will promote the concerns of airlines over those of passengers.
A testament to this is that many airlines responded positively to the proposed regulations. The DOJ plans mainly favor these businesses, rather than the passengers that rely on ESAs. The recommendations will allow these airlines to get space for more passengers, and in turn earn more money from passengers. But, in doing so, they’ll be putting the health and happiness of people with debilitating mental health problems in jeopardy.
What the DOT and these airlines don’t understand is the fact that ESAs have a central role to play in supporting the healing of their owners. The support of an ESA has a substantial impact on the psychological well-being of the person, which could be significantly disrupted if these regulations are passed.
Most support animals don’t cause problems
The ban on animals such as snakes, squirrels, and spiders may be a good move, as they rarely offer actual emotional support. However, some animals are almost always calm, friendly, and genuinely helpful, and as the DOT should not delist them from ESAs. For instance, most cats spend most of their time asleep or calmly sitting close to their owner. They provide actual emotional support, take up little space, and are very rarely bothersome to others.
When the DOT proposes that the cat (among others) should not be one of the allowed ESAs, it needlessly harms the rights of passengers. Admittedly, it’s not clear why the proposals aim to delist the cat from ESAs.
The DOT is trampling down the rights of such people without good reason by failing to allow them an adequate ESA option while traveling. This move may result in many people refusing to travel, which could, in turn, hurt the airline’s business.
Where and how to file your Comment
Now that we’ve discussed some issues with the new proposed regulations, it’s time to act. By writing and filing a comment to the Department of Transportation, you may be able to influence the government’s decision. Here’s how:
First, you must identify your comment with a docket number. In this case, it lists as DOT-OST-2018-0068. There are many ways to file your comment:
- Via the eRulemaking portal. You need to have a user account to do it this way. If you don’t have one, sign up, and follow the site’s instructions on how to submit your comment.
- Via mail, courier, or hand delivery of a written copy of your comment to the Docket Management Facility located at 1200 New Jersey Avenue S.E., Washington, D.C., ground floor, Room W12-140, 20590.
- Via fax to (202) 493-2251.
All filled opinions will be viewed for consideration, but you may need a well-crafted comment to influence the federal decision-making. Before making a decision, make sure to consider the following:
- Read and understand the policy document that you are about to comment on.
- Reach out to the agency in case you have a question or need clarification.
- Do not comment just for the sake of commenting, make sure to base your opinions on facts.
- Talk about how the new regulations impact you and others.
There is no limitation on the minimum or maximum length of comments, so don’t cut your argument short for the sake of brevity. The DOT appreciates comments from people of certain professions, such as doctors, business people, attorneys, and those with a strong connection to the issue, so if you fall into any of these categories, identify your credentials when submitting your comment.
Additionally, if you disagree with particular points of the proposal, don’t just point out what’s wrong with them. Provide reasonable alternatives that attempt to satisfy everyone involved.
Keep in mind that you need to submit your comments before April 6, 2020 for them to be considered. Don’t keep quiet about this issue, and don’t let the DOT endanger anyone’s rights to an emotional support animal.