Under the Department of Transportation's new, proposed change to the definition of a service animal, only dogs could fly as service animals

By Kelli Bender
January 23, 2020 02:17 PM

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is contemplating amendments to their rules regarding service animals and emotional support animals on flights, and is turning to the public for help.

According to a release from the DOT, the department “is seeking public comment on proposed amendments to its Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) regulation on the transportation of service animals by air.”

The public has 60 days to provide comment on the DOT’s proposed changes to the act, which includes amendments to “the definition of a service animal in air transportation and includes safeguards to ensure safety and reduce the likelihood that passengers wishing to travel with their pets on aircraft will be able to falsely claim that their pets are service animals,” per the DOT’s website.

As part of these proposed changes, the DOT is looking to “define a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.” This suggested definition leaves out other creatures that can be trained as service animals, such as miniature ponies.

Additionally, psychiatric service animals, such as dogs trained to assist those with post-traumatic stress disorder, would be consider service animals under this proposed definition and the DOT would “require the same training and treatment of psychiatric service animals as other service animals.”

According to the DOT’s release on the proposed changes, under this new definition of a service animal, emotional support animals would no longer be considered service animals and would not have the same rights are certified service animals. This proposed change comes after years of plane pet drama connected to emotional support animals, and, if approved, the change could force those with an emotional support animal to pay to bring the animal on as a in-cabin pet, which comes with its own restrictions, or, if the emotional support animal is a dog, go through the in-depth process of getting their animal certified as a service animal.

The Jet Set TV/Facebook

RELATED: PEOPLE Explains: What Is the Difference Between Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals?

Along with looking to change the definition of a service animal, the DOT is seeking to place more requirements on those traveling with a service animal. Among the proposed changes that the DOT has shared is a rule allowing airlines to require forms from those traveling with service animals attesting to the animal’s good behavior and health, and another rule allowing airlines to require a passenger with a disability that is traveling with a service animal to “check-in at the airport one hour prior to the travel time required for the general public to ensure sufficient time to process the service animal documentation and observe the animal.”

Other proposed rules affecting those traveling with a service animal include, a rule allowing airlines to  limit the number of service animals a single passenger can travel with to two, and another allowing airlines to require that a service animal fit within the handler’s foot space on the aircraft.

While the new proposed rules appear to set more restrictions on those traveling with service animals, the DOT is also being celebrated for proposing a rule the would “prohibit airlines from refusing to transport a service animal solely on the basis of breed.” This rule would directly effect airlines like Delta, which has banned pit bulls, even if those that are service animals, from their aircrafts.

RELATED: Delta Airlines Doubles Down on Ban of Pit Bulls as Service Animals Despite Pushback

“For too long, pit bull-type dogs have been maligned in sensationalized media reports, in poorly constructed laws and now in airline policies affecting the millions of people nationwide who live with disabilities,” Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE. “A growing number of municipalities and states are rejecting these policies because they are costly to taxpayers, a waste of public resources, and have no impact on public safety. The DOT’s notice of proposed rulemaking sends a clear message to airlines that their discriminatory practices are not only unsound, but against the law.”

America’s VetDogs and Guide Dog Foundation/Rebecca Eden

The DOT said in their release that the proposed rules were created after addressing “concerns raised by individuals with disabilities, airlines, flight attendants, airports, other aviation transportation stakeholders, and other members of the public, regarding service animals on aircraft.”

“The Department recognizes the integral role that service animals play in the lives of many individuals with disabilities and wants to ensure that individuals with disabilities can continue using their service animals while also reducing the likelihood that passengers wishing to travel with their pets on aircraft will be able to falsely claim their pets are service animals,” the DOT added in their release.

To read the full list of DOT’s proposed changes to the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), and to submit your response to the suggested rules, visit the department’s website.

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