Service dog advocates react to Delta dog bite


Recent reports indicate a passenger on a Delta flight was badly bitten by a 50-pound emotional support dog. We are not in a position to comment on the particulars of this incident, but we have decided to issue a statement that may be relevant.

Currently, individuals with mental health disabilities are allowed to fly with a psychiatric service dog or an emotional support dog. Psychiatric service dogs are trained to help with a disability and to behave in all sorts of public situations. Emotional support dogs are pets that tend not to be trained for either, and so they are generally not used to being in no-pets places. This lack of training and psychological shock absorbers means emotional support dogs are more susceptible to nervous reactions when in a stressful new environment—especially a crowded airplane full of anxious people.

The training and experience expected of service dogs, including psychiatric service dogs, provides some assurance of safety to the public. Although individual emotional support dogs may happen to be safe, their background does not give the same assurance as a service dog’s.

This is the primary reason we have advocated that if emotional support animals have access, then people with disabilities should only have access with emotional support animals that can be contained in a small crate under the seat. This is a common-sense balance of public safety and the disability rights we honor.

For more information, see our resources on the pending update to the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) regulations, especially including the documents drafted under the heading of “United Service Animal Users, Supporters, and Advocates” (USAUSA).