This episode of “The Service Dog Show” originally aired on DV Radio on December 8, 2019.
Joaquin: Hello welcome to The Service Dog Show. I am your host, Joaquin Juatai also know as PTSDog and we have Scav too.
Tonight is fourth in our series of discussions about reasonable accommodation and we are going to discuss reasonable accommodation for air travel and the Air Carrier Access Act. With us are special guests Dr. Veronica Morris and her husband Brad who are with the Psychological Service Dog Partners and are working closely with the Department of Transportation and other branches of the government to update the Air Carrier Access Act. Veronica and Brad thank you very much for joining us.
Veronica: Thank you for having us! And it’s Psychiatric Service Dog Partners, sorry.
Joaquin: I apologize, you’ve got to love all the things that PTSD does to your brain.
Veronica: Oh yeah.[laughter]
Joaquin: So real quick, just a rundown of kind of what Psychiatric Service Dog Partners is about, and then of course we’re going to discuss air carriers access and traveling and some of the issues that are going on today. But tell us a little bit about what PS…is all about.
Brad: Well Brad here. Psychiatric Service Dog Partners, or PSDP, is different from your usual service dog organization. So instead of being a service dog program, where your lobbying interests might be around providing dogs and having everything regulated according to some sort of corporatization, we’re actually an all-volunteer nonprofit and we’re totally run by people with disabilities, and we provide a lot of peer support and advocacy centered around the user. We try to take everyone into account, but since there are so few user organizations out there in the service dog world, we try to fill that niche most of all.
Joaquin: Excellent. I think that is kinda funny, we parallel in a lot of ways. PTSDogs is the same thing. Like I look at the industry from the user standpoint, the clientele. And I’ve received a little disdain from some of the industry people because I do look at it from the point of view of the people who end up with the leash in their hands. And they don’t like that when they hear that what they’re providing isn’t what we need.[laughter]
Joaquin: So air travel, I see that you guys have been very involved in discussions with the Department of Transportation in regards to updates to the Air Carrier Access Act. And one of the reasons we’re doing this series of programs is to get people who are experts in the area, people who are experienced, who can speak with authority about it to tell us what the law actually says. Because there is a plethora of misinformation out there. But what we don’t have a lot of is accurate information. So, as briefly as you can, explain what the ACAA protects, what rights it protects, for who, and how that…If I wanted to get on a plane with my service dog, how does that affect me?
Brad: Wow, well those are two different questions, and I’ll try to take them as briefly as I can, but I’ll give you some important history that will help us understand the whole context.
So, back in 1986, that’s when the Air Carrier Access Act was passed. And understanding that, paired with knowing that the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, was passed in 1990 helps us understand how the Air Carrier Access Act covers air travel, whereas the ADA doesn’t really apply to air travel.
So with that in mind, the Air Carrier Access Act is a very simple piece of legislation on it’s own, the thing that legislators passed back in ’86. And it’s just a couple of paragraphs, and the main thing is it says “Hey air carriers, or airlines, don’t discriminate on the basis of disability.” Very simple. OK, and when it gets complicated, when an act is passed it’s sent up to the executive branch, the regulators, like the Department of Transportation or the Department of Justice, that then say “OK, well they said don’t discriminate based on disability, but how does that play out in this context? What do we need to tell airlines they can or can’t do so that they won’t discriminate against people with disabilities?” And that’s where we get development in service animal law and where it changes over the years.
So nowadays, where we are…
Veronica: Talk about 2003 first.
Brad: Yeah, if you don’t mind I’ll cover some history. It’ll help us to understand…
Joaquin: I think perspective is very important, especially on this subject.
Brad: Alright, then let’s fast forward from 1986 to 2003. We had regulations in place, but DOT is updating those regulations, especially when it comes to service animals. And someone, and I won’t name names, had an idea that emotional support animals would be the next new thing in flying, and this would be great to recognize this and have people be able to bring emotional support animals. And they didn’t really understand what emotional support animals would be, and how that contracted with housing.
Veronica: They weren’t a service animal user or an emotional support animal user themselves.
Brad: Yeah, I’m trying to be as polite as possible. So we got basically access for people’s pets that helped with their disability. It is a disability rights law, first and foremost. So it only applies to people with disabilities. ESAs, people often think that “Oh anyone can have an ESA because all pets provide emotional support.” Well no, it’s a person with a disability who is helped by the presence of that animal.
Joaquin: Thank you for making sure that that clarification is out there and upfront. I think that’s one of the biggest abuses of all three of the laws, is people assuming the rights that are protected for disabled people, especially in regards to emotional support animals.
Scav: Correct, because if you talk to anybody out there, back when the zoo was flying, they were just getting out there—just the sarcasm and the jokes that were going around, you know the peacocks and the snakes and just anybody was going to try to take anything on the plane at that time.
Brad: Yeah, that was definitely the perception that was put out there, and it’s a really challenging issue how to think about this, and how to consider disability rights along with how to deal with this potential fraud, and especially when the media loves to play up all the most sensational stories. Because it puts our focus on being the service dog police, being the disability police, and going after people, and sometimes it’s easy for us to forget where this all started, which is trying to protect access for people with disabilities, some of whom may be confused about these things themselves because the general public is.
Joaquin: Absolutely agree, and that’s one of the challenges we have, is that these laws are specifically designed to protect equal access for disabled people. But even disabled people themselves who are protected by these laws don’t necessarily understand them. Or only understand as much as benefits them. If you know what I mean, you know people have a tendency to do what is easiest, follow the easiest path, and if they can get away with x y and z by simply demanding “Well it’s protected by the law, you can’t say no.” Rather than understanding that responsibility rides with that protection. That’s a challenge.
Brad: Absolutely, and the compassionate part in me says, “Well, I know what it’s like to have a disability, it makes things harder, and not everyone is equipped to understand everything perfectly.” So then the advocate in me says, “OK, well then the onus is on us to figure out how to increase education in the public.” Because it’s always going to be an ongoing process, to get people to understand whatever the law is. So how to simplify things, and make sure that the people are getting those rights that need them, and are aware of the responsibilities that come with those rights when they get them.
Joaquin: I think the public education campaign is desperately needed. The problem is all of these organizations who are the ones talking about it are all comprised of disabled people, who by definition, most of us live on fixed incomes. And it’s really hard to find the funding to do this big PSA campaign. I personally feel that education about all of this would change so many of the difficulties we have when we’re faced with public access issues, whether it’s on a plane, going shopping at the mall, or trying to rent an apartment.
If people knew more, it would help more. But who’s gonna foot the bill?
Brad: This is perfect! So that’s why we are trying to leverage the most pressure where it can do…have the biggest impact. And that’s why we’ve been trying to meet with DOT, the Department of Transportation, as much as possible, to get them to build into the system itself that very education, so that people cannot avoid the education when they go through the process of getting their accommodations.
We can get into that later on, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. If we go back to the history, so 2003 ESAs are creating in flying. And it’s a little bit different than in housing, but that’s a bit of a detail, too. But 2009, that’s when DOT revisited this, because they said, “Oh wow, we created this new category, and now we don’t know what to do with it. We’re afraid of fraud! We’re afraid people are faking all these animals as ESAs/psychiatric service dogs.” And they didn’t really distinguish between the two…
Veronica: And they didn’t consult any psychiatric service dog groups.
Brad: Yup! So we ended up with these, you’ve got service dogs, which are dogs that are…Or service animals, animals that are trained to do work or tasks to mitigate someone’s disability, and generally they have to behave in public. And that includes psychiatric service dogs, but then we also have the ESA category, and because they were confusing ESAs with PSDs, what you have is even though you have psychiatric service dogs being considered service dogs…
Veronica: Everywhere else.
Brad: Well, no, even in flying they are considered service dogs. The treatment that they’re given is different than the treatment of other kinds of service dogs. And they’re treated the same as ESAs, which means if you think about it, that someone who has a service dog for a psychiatric disability is treated worse than someone who has a service dog for any other kind of disability. Which is just flat out discrimination based on disability type, baked into the regulations, and that’s contrary to the ACAA itself.
Joaquin: Well and, this is not you know just a problem with air travel. During that time, that kind of era of confusion, I like to call it, before the ADA came out with the clarification and final definition in 2010, a lot of veterans were convinced that if a dog helped with PTSD, it’s an emotional support animal. And so there is a contingent in the veteran community that says, “Oh there’s no such thing as a PTSD service dog,” even though the ADA actually names PTSD service dogs as one of the three types, I think, that it actually names in the actual explanation of the law from the Department of Justice.
So it was a very frustrating period of time, because at that point in time, because of the confusion, there was a certain, large group of people, that said, “Well, it’s just an emotional support animal.” And they’re taking it from the distinction that was made by the ACAA, not realizing that laws did change, were updated, and that the ACAA is the one that is still trying to catch up.
Brad: Right, and I think that a lot of this comes from the stigma as well, because it’s so much easier to dismiss people who have more stigmatized disabilities, like psychiatric disabilities, and to just pooh-pooh them and say, “Well, that’s all the same junk, and that’s not the real disabilities, and the real service dogs.”
And what we’ve been trying to do in recent years is build a lot more coalitions and solidarity among different types of disability related groups, and service dog related groups, so that we can humanize each other. Because once guide dog users and mobility dog users get to know people who have psychiatric service dogs, they get to see, “Oh, they’re just like me, they just have a disability and are trying to get around in the world. They’re not trying to game the system like I read about in the newspaper. Most people are just trying to get along in life, and they’re not trying to take away my rights. We’re actually in the same boat!”
Veronica: Yeah, we have attended a couple of guide dog conventions and given talks about service dog solidarity. And I have my little…My psychiatric service dog is an 8 pound Japanese Chin. And so you’ve got this sea of Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers, and a few German Shepherds, and this little 8 pound dog with a smushed nose going around together. And once people meet us, their minds are changed, and they say, “Oh I didn’t realize that a psychiatric service dog behaved just as well as my guide dog.” And I find that to be the truth in a lot of different service dog communities who haven’t been exposed to psychiatric service dogs.
Joaquin: Well, I mean, the same law with the same requirements protects us too. But you know, I think another part of that is from the organization side. Corporate organizations have an agenda and want to impress on the public that the way that they think service dogs should behave is the only way. And some of them try to make it seem like their standards are what the law requires. And we won’t name any particular organizations! [laughter] ADI, ahem!
Veronica: All I have to say about that is if you go back to the comments I believe from the 2010 update are still on regulations.gov, and if you go back and read a lot of peoples’ comments, you’ll see a lot of that sentiment expressed by a lot of organizations and then copied word for word by a lot of people who have been, agree with those organizations. And it was very upsetting for me to see that, and I think I wrote back to each and every one of those comments during that comment period.
Joaquin: It’s very challenging when there’s a large lobby of people with a lot of money, being the corporate side of the service dog world, who because they can lobby, they can afford it, get their way a lot. Because the other end, with the people holding the leash, don’t have as much income, don’t have the ability to get presence in front of congress and in front of the Department of Justice—the people who you’re getting in front of. So I really want to commend you for being able to pull this together and get out there and talk to the DOT about a lot of these issues. Especially when it comes to air travel, one of the biggest things I see in handler groups is, “I need to fly. How do I fly. I don’t know what to do. What are my rights? How does this work?”
Brad: Yeah, and I’m not trying to do this as a plug, but this is exactly why our fundraising efforts are focused on our advocacy travel. Because we don’t live in DC. We have to take the train up there for every trip. And it does take money, and we don’t have a large donor base supporting us. Which means that this often comes from friends and family, and whatever we can scrape together. Because the people that you mentioned are the people that we are rubbing elbows with when we get there.
But the really great thing is because we were involved in the Negotiated Rulemaking in 2016, which I can get into in a bit, the Department of Transportation, the people there, they know us very well. And they’re familiar with our work, and we’ve become the people that they look to as sort of the academics of this world, that represents a user perspective. And I don’t want to say that we represent all users. We do our best to do what’s in the best interest of all users, but the only way that we’ve been successful is from the very beginning of this kind of advocacy, we’ve reached out to several organizations—no matter if they are the big monied programs, or the littlest programs, or the other user groups, or just groups on Facebook. We try to get everyone’s perspective involved, and we try to get sing-ons for our efforts.
Veronica: Do you want to talk about 2016?
Brad: If you’re ready, I’m ready to jump forward!
Joaquin: Yeah. Let’s catch up a bit more. Because I think the history is absolutely vital to…I mean, you could explain, “Well, when you go to the airlines, they can ask you this and this and this. And you have to provide this and this and this” But I think what’s important is that people understand the why. And that’s the history that you’re giving us, and that’s really really important.
Brad: Well, so what happened back in 2009 was they were coming out with this rule…What DOT usually does for this kind of thing is they have a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, an NPRM, and all that is is DOT is saying, “Hey we think the rules should be like this. What do you think members of the public? What do you think stakeholders?” And then you and I and organizations can write in and say what we think about it, and they are obligated to read each of our comments. And they’re supposed to take them into account, and they provide their reasoning. Sometimes they do a better job than others, but that’s where we get to have part of our say.
So back in 2009 we were with a group that is no longer in operation called Psychiatric Service Dog Society, and we were a little behind the curve for the advocacy. You know, you’ve got to find your feet somewhere. You’ve got to start somewhere. So what our organization did then was the leader got together a bunch of comments from our community and said, “Hey these rules where it’s going to treat us really badly are bad. Here’s why it’s going to impact us and how it’s going to impact us and why you shouldn’t do it.”
Unfortunately that got in a little late so it became a separate petition, and what DOT did is they said, “OK well that was late, we’re going ahead with our rules, but we’re going to have to come back and revisit that. So we’ll revisit that in not too long.” Well, this is the government, so, moving at the speed of government, not too long was many years later. About 2016 they decided to say, “OK let’s have this big thing where we’re going to get stakeholder representatives together and talk about different issues, one of which is service animals.” And for DOT service animals sort of means assistance animals if you think that means service animals plus ESAs. So in case you’re confused by DOT speak, sometimes when they say service animals, it means service animals and ESAs.
So they set up this thing to happen in 2016 called a negotiated rulemaking. And that was a federal charter where they had a bunch of funding to bring people like me in. You had to apply to be on it, but it was public hearings. And we did a lot of work over the span of about half a year, and we got together with the airlines, and flight attendants, service dog programs, disability rights groups, and service dog user groups, among others. And we spent a long time trying to come up with proposals for how we would work new rules that would be fair to everyone, considering everyone’s needs and interests.
And that was actually…Some people say…It technically failed because we couldn’t come to a full consensus about everything. So some people say it was a failure, but in my view it was actually very successful. And here’s why: We got to know about everyone else’s interests, we got to take them into account and update what we thought would actually work well with the practical considerations, and we formed coalitions and came up with compromise solutions that we got airline support, flight attendant support, program support, and all sorts of support for. We had so many sign-ons for this that happened just after this Reg Neg process, these compromise positions. So in my view, that is the best guide for DOT going forward, even though it failed.
We’re going to have another NPRM. They did an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and we’re going to have another rulemaking where everyone’s going to get their say, but we’re hoping they’re going to use our compromise positions as the basis for that.
Joaquin: That’s outstanding. We are going to take a quick break. When we come back, we’ll
get into requesting reasonable accommodation for flight. And we’re going to discuss airline’s breed discrimination policies. We’ll be right back after this. You are listening to The Service Dog Show right here on DV radio WDVR.
Joaquin: Welcome back to The Service Dog Show. I’m your host Joaquin Juatai, and Scav’s around here somewhere.
Scav: Yeah, I’m here.
Joaquin: Once again we are with Dr. Veronica Morris and her husband Brad with Psychiatric Service Dog Partners, is that correct?
Veronica: You got it!
Joaquin: I got it! OK good. Glad I didn’t mess it up this time. We’re discussing the Air Carrier Access Act and access with a service dog for flight. We’ve gone over the history. Now we’re to the point where there’s a second Reg Neg, or a…
Veronica: NPRM. Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
Joaquin: There we go. So the Department of Transportation wants to look at the Air Carrier Access Act and specifically service dog issues amongst others. Because the ACAA, it’s not just…Just like the ADA and FHA, it’s not just a law about people with service dogs. But it’s a law about access, equal access, for all disabilities. And I think it’s important that we remember that, yes, service dogs are a big part of it, and it’s a very visible and public part of it, but it’s not just service dog handlers that these laws protect.
Let’s talk about this renegotiation and what we’re looking at hoping to achieve here with the upcoming rule.
Brad: Well, right now, I’m going to shoot straight with you, it’s kinda the Wild West and here’s how that happened, and I’ll say what that means, too. So in 2016 we had that negotiated rulemaking, the Reg Neg process, and so we didn’t reach a resolution. And at that point, here’s what access was like. If you had a non-psychiatric service dog, then you basically give credible verbal assurance when you show up there—if they even ask you anything—and then you just walk on and you fly. Easy peasy. OK.
But if you had a psychiatric service dog, or an emotional support animal, then airlines were allowed to require you to provide a letter from a medical professional, and it had to be on their letterhead, have their license number, all this information, saying that you had a diagnosis in the DSM IV, a mental health diagnosis or disability, and they were allowed to require you to do that up to 48 hours in advance of flying. Which our research has shown that kind of burden has made three out of four people who are subject to those regulations either not fly or fly less. So clearly that’s contrary to the spirit of the ACAA, the act itself, that is supposed to provide more access for people with disabilities, because it’s doing the opposite.
Joaquin: I’m one of those in the not flying category. Too much of a pain in the butt, I just don’t do it.
Brad: Well I’m a wheelchair user and I won’t get into all the specifics there, but yes, solidarity brother.
Joaquin: Yeah. Sometimes it’s just easier to take the long way.
Brad: So that’s what was going on with access around 2016, and while it was a big hassle, it was kinda straightforward what was happening. But then when the Reg Neg ended, towards the end of 2016 going into 2017, airlines were hoping for more. Some of them got frustrated and what they did was they started to make up their own additional requirements. For instance, some of them said, “Well hey, we think that if some paperwork hasn’t done a good job at fixing everything, maybe more paperwork will be even better. So let’s force people to get paperwork from their vets saying all sorts of things that aren’t even relevant to any of the problems we’ve been having.” Now they didn’t say this, I’m going to joke around, but, “If we make things harder on people with disabilities then that’s doing to solve all the problems.”
To be fair, the actual individuals behind this, that work with the airlines, some of them are fantastic people, and I count some of them as great friends, truly.
Veronica: I agree. Yes.
Brad: But that doesn’t mean they understand all of the disability rights perspective, and some of them are so gung-ho about going after all of the perceived fakers, that we don’t even have statistics on, that they aren’t really seeing that they’re catching everyone else up in the meantime. By making more burdensome paperwork requirements, they’re making it so even fewer people are flying, including people with non-psychiatric service dogs, who are now being subject to more of these requirements.
Joaquin: Well again that goes back to what we were discussing about education. I think…I’m having trouble getting this thought to connect. But what we said earlier about education and about people having the funding to provide the education, I think it’s important to understand that really these airline policies are based on and focused on the wrong thing. Everyone is worried about the dog. And it’s a fake dog, and it’s a fake service dog, and it’s a fake this, and nobody’s remembering that the dog isn’t the one who makes the decision to misrepresent itself, it’s the person holding the leash.
And we’ve gotta take our focus away from the animal and focus on the person. And I don’t know necessarily how we get there. But honestly, and maybe I’m wrong in this, but as I perceive it, as I see a lot of this, most of the people who are really causing problems by bringing their emotional support peacock to the airport, are not even disabled. They just think they can get one over because people don’t understand the law. Am I wrong in that?
Scav: I agree with you.
Veronica: Yeah, so one of the things that was in our compromise position that many groups were able to agree on is a solution for this problem, and that is a decision tree. And so a decision tree is something where, for example you have one question pops up on your screen and you have based on how you answer that question, it gives you another question. For example Amtrak has a decision tree when you make reservations through their website.
So what would happen is the decision tree would start and say, “Are you traveling with an animal?” Yes. And then the next question is, “Do you have a disability?” And if the person says no, then they would automatically be routed either out of the system or to the airline’s pet rules, depending on what the airline’s pet policy is. And so that is the first question on there, “Do you have a disability?” So it’s no longer “Do you have a service dog?”, it’s “Do you have a disability?” And then from there you ask the question, if they said yes I have a disability, “Is your dog trained to do work or tasks to mitigate your disability?” Yes or No? If it’s “Yes”, then it’s, “Is your dog well behaved in public?”
Going through these one by one instead of allowing someone to just think that any mental health problem is going to allow them to take their dog on the plane, it’s a step-by-step process where people who have disabilities are going to be able to fill this out, answer the questions very easily and have no problem with their reservation and having a service animal with them on their flight. Whereas people who don’t have disabilities are going to be routed to the appropriate pet policy.
Joaquin: I want to make sure to point out that all three laws, Fair Housing Act, Air Carrier Access Act, and ADA, none of them say you cannot ask “Do you have a disability?” They all say you cannot ask “What is your disability?” But “Do you have a disability?” is a reasonable question.
Joaquin: I like that. I think that might help weed out a lot of the issues, especially when it comes to air travel.
Brad: Right. And one of the big things is the assumption with knee-jerk reactions to the most sensational stories are “Everyone and their brother are out to do evil. They’re doing the wrong thing. They’re trying to commit fraud.” When in my experience, and when people call in to PSDP, there’s so much confusion out there. Like we’ve been saying, there’s such a great need for education. And that’s why I came up with this, as a way to both educate and then as much as you can weed out fraud.
Because you’re never going to get rid of all the fraud and the more…the only way you’re going to do that is disallow travel with all service animals, and then no one is going to be able to have the accommodation. So if you accept first, “Yes, there’s going to be some fraud, how do we minimize that while respecting the need for access,” then it becomes a lot easier to see solutions where you clear up peoples’ confusion. Because you don’t say, “Hey are you traveling with a service animal?” Because people don’t even know what that means sometimes, and they’ll just say “Yes” if they think it means “Yeah I need access and that seems like the right answer.” So you don’t use these special terms, you use the parts that define them like “Is it trained to do work or tasks?”
Joaquin: Yeah. And that’s…I like that, because again, if you just ask the question boldly, “Do you have a disability?” from there you know which direction you need to go. Rather than forcing all these extra steps and like you said when the airlines in 2016 made these extra regulations for psychiatric service dogs and emotional support animals, and lumped them all together, it started bleeding over to other handlers who don’t use psychiatric service dogs, and it’s confused and muddied the issue with terminology when we say “assistance animal” vs “service dog”. I don’t like the term “assistance animal” because again getting back to the political agenda of certain large three letter organizations…[laughter]
Joaquin: The whole reason the term “assistance animal” is in the American culture is because of that organization’s attempts to try to force themselves to become the sole source of “legitimate service animals” in the world. As stated by people high up in their organization in the past, that they want to take over the world.
Veronica: Interestingly during the 2016 Reg Neg, DOT proposed using the term “assistance animal” to lump together service animals and ESAs and that was not well received.
Joaquin: I would hope not. It muddies the water, it makes things more confusing.
Brad: Well I’m not actually as opposed to that, what I’m opposed to is the inconsistency. Like I’m not as into which arbitrary term you want you use, if we pick, you know, “smorgalsboard dog”, and every Federal agency in the US uses that term consistently, and people understand it means the same thing, then that’s useful. But here’s the trick. You’ve got in housing the term “assistance animal” is used, and that actually does mean by their definition service animals and ESAs. So that’s a convenient short hand for that. So then we go to the flying laws, and like I was saying earlier in the segment, DOT uses the term “service animal” to mean ADA service animal plus ESA. And so they’ve got a different term for what HUD is using to mean, in the housing context, “assistance animal”, and so there isn’t Federal inter-agency consistency. And that’s what I’d like to see more than anything else.
Joaquin: I could not agree with you more. If everyone used the same terminology a lot of the confusion would disappear. Definitely.
Joaquin: So let’s talk about the state of flying right now. If I needed to buy a plane ticket to fly from North Carolina to Oregon, and I contact the airline, what does the law expect of me, what can the airlines ask of me, and what can they not.
Veronica: Well like Brad said earlier, it’s a bit of a Wild West out there. So after the 2016 Reg Neg, DOT has issues a number of what they call enforcement priorities. And enforcement priorities aren’t laws or rules or anything like that. Basically they’re just saying what DOT is going to be getting airlines in trouble for and what they don’t care about airlines doing. So DOT has kind of loosened it up, I guess, allowed airlines to take quite a bit of liberty. And so every airline pretty much is different nowadays.
And I’ll just give you one example. In the latest enforcement priority, which I think might give some clues to what is going to come out in the new NPRM that’s expected any day now, in the latest enforcement priority they seem to be not so much against requiring paperwork for all types of service dogs. So I don’t know what’s going to be in the NPRM that’s coming out soon, but you know that is a clue.
Brad: Right. It’s a cause for concern and we don’t know whether DOT has done that because they’re overwhelmed due to lack of resources, or whether that’s because they actually plan to go in the direction of letting airlines have as much burdensome non-transferable paperwork as they want.
Veronica: So I would like to finish further, Brad. So there are some airlines—Southwest and Alaska—treat psychiatric service dogs the same as all other service dogs. So when I fly, those are the two airlines that I preferably go to because I know that all I have to do for Alaska and Southwest is show up the day of, say “service dog” and get on the plane.
Joaquin: As it should be.
Veronica: Yeah, I agree. And there are other airlines that have the old pre-2016 rule where people with psychiatric service dogs need to provide a letter from their doctor. And then there are other airlines that have now requirements of not only a letter from your doctor, but also a letter from your veterinarian that asserts that your dog is not aggressive which how is a veterinarian gonna know that. And so basically if you want to fly nowadays, you have to take into account not only the cost of the ticket but you have to do your research about the airline that you’re flying and find out how many doctors and vets appointments you’re going to make to get the required paperwork to fly that airline.
So it’s a huge mess and it’s a big Wild Wild West out there. And I think Brad wanted to say something else about that.
Joaquin: So let me interject real quick, though. For the airlines where you have to make more doctors appointments and veterinary appointments, it ends up costing, again, a disabled person who is most likely on a fixed income more money to have the same level of access as someone who is not disabled and can walk right on board the plane. It’s discriminatory.
Veronica: Oh I totally agree.
Brad: Yes. I’m definitely on board with that. We’ve been telling them. That’s the kind of argument that makes a difference for them. When you can tell them numbers and you can give them surveys like we’ve done of people in the community who say, “Well on average it costs me this much for this appointment. I have to wait this many days to get in to see my doctor or my vet. And it takes this many hours out of my day.” That sort of thing makes a big impact on them. So that’s why we…
Joaquin: I would like to see surveyed specifically veterans. You say it takes this may days to see my doctor for this single purpose, it takes us months.
Scav: Oh, um-hum.
Joaquin: If I need to see my primary care doctor, I’d better not plan on getting sick for three to four months.
Veronica: Yup, I’ve heard that.
Brad: You know what, I just wrote an article, it’s called “Should we hate online service dog certification?” And the point of it is yes, there are a lot of sites that are terrible and they’re scams and they provide you legally meaningless things and they try to trick you into thinking it’s meaningful. Those are horrible sites. But on the other hand if you look at these laws, the housing law and the flying law, they force people with disabilities in a lot of cases to come up with this paperwork. Say you need to fly in a couple of weeks and you can’t get in to see your doctor and you need a couple months to do that, well if you have a site that provides you legally meaningful paperwork…
Veronica: A doctor’s appointment and a doctor’s letter.
Brad: Right, or even the worst case, where you have a site that’s kinda iffy but it has a therapist on the other end that reviews your checklist of “Yes, I’ve got a lot of anxiety, yes my animal helps me,” and on the other end they say, “OK You’ve filled it out right, I’ll give you your letter.” Well I don’t think that those are the sites that we should focus all our energy on if we’re going to go after sites, because if a disabled person needs that to get around in the world because of these laws that I’m not a fan of, then that’s what they need. And if that’s a problem, what we need to change is those laws. Not the ability of those people to get around in the world.
Joaquin: I agree the laws should be reshaped to be more equitable. I have an issue with the sites. Especially the airlines see the paperwork, and not all service dog handlers have to provide paperwork, again we get into discrimination. If they require all service dog handlers to provide paperwork, they then, should they require all hearing aid users to provide paperwork? Wheelchair users to provide paperwork? Does everybody with a prosthetic leg need to provide paperwork? If you’re going to make a rule, you need to make everybody do it
or none of them do it. That’s what equality means.
Brad: Right. And I think what a lot of people forget is the basic disability rights perspective. If you have a disability, it shouldn’t be your life that everywhere you go people are stopping you and demanding that you have some outsider’s validation for being there. That is de-humanizing and eternally frustrating to me that people do not realize that that’s what they’re doing to people in this community. They don’t know that…
My friend likes to talk about armbands and stars, and I’ll not go in that direction but often disabled people are the easiest people to discriminate against.
Joaquin: Well and it’s happened in the past. That’s where that comes in. I think we have the same mutual friend who talks about that.[laughter]
Joaquin: He and I talk about that often as well.
Brad: Yup, I think there are many of us out there.
Joaquin: Yeah and it’s really the crux of the matter and why I think education is so important. Look, the ACAA, the FHA and the ADA are not about giving special privileges or extra to anybody. It’s about protecting everyone’s rights to be treated equally and have equal access. And service dog handlers are already discriminated against because we’re the only ones that all three laws allow gatekeepers to ask questions of regarding their rights. They define the questions.
Brad: And there’s the broader context, too, when we’re talking about these laws and how they’re structured when we’re talking about systematic discrimination or systematic ableism if you will, then here’s why enforcement matters. Take any law that lawmakers pass that regulators give regulations on, if the regulators or the law enforcement officials do not enforce that law, that law may as well not exist.
So with the ADA, there’s a private right of action. And so that means that you can sue as a private citizen under the ADA if someone has violated your rights. Now you can’t sue for money, which confuses a lot of people. They think, “Oh people are getting rich off the ADA.” That’s only in a couple of states that have their own state laws where you can get money off of it. But you can sue for injunctive relief which is basically get people to stop discriminating against you hopefully.
But the ACAA is different. This is what is a little scary, and what I wish would really change. There’s no private right of action under the ACAA. Which means that the enforcement happens by you filing a complaint with the Department of Transportation, the Department of Transportation looking into it, seeing if they want to deal with it, and then they issue what amounts to a small fine if they find a wrongdoing. Now if you look at the airline’s budgets and what they’ve been fined, it’s not really all that much. So when DOT puts out enforcement priorities, and they say, “Well, you know, our regulations say that this sort of thing should be illegal, but we don’t really have the resources to enforce that,” then what they’re saying is, “There isn’t really a law in effect at this time regarding that. Your rights aren’t really protected. And you have no way to go after the airlines on your own.” So that is also something, if you can’t tell from the tone of my voice, that’s eternally frustrating to me.
Joaquin: So I think the perfect example of that is Delta airlines’ breed ban.
Veronica: I was thinking of that exact thing.
Joaquin: It’s literally illegal according to the word of the ACAA. However Delta’s doing what they want and the Department of Justice isn’t doing anything about it.
Veronica: Actually I wanted to give you a little update on that. We met with DOT on November…
Brad: Last Monday. The 25th.
Veronica: Yeah, the 25th. We met with DOT on the 25th and we brought up Delta and Allegiant’s pit bull ban. They said that they are working on it, but the main thing that they said is that they need people to file complaints. So if you want to travel and you have a pit bull service dog and you can’t buy an airfare on Delta or Allegiant, then file a complaint. They need to have the complaints.
Joaquin: I think that’s a good point.
Veronica: And you need to give a story. Don’t just say, “I wanted to travel and I couldn’t.” Tell them how it affected you. Because they are really swayed by personal stories.
Joaquin: And I think…I’m not sure if you’re aware of America’s Humane service dog of the year last year was Roxy the PTSD service dog who happens to be a bully mix. She’s not an American Pit Bull Terrier which is technically the only pit bull, but “pit bull” as we know it is a phenotype I guess you could call it—it’s an assumption. But people call Boxers “pit bulls”, they call Mastiffs “pit bulls”.
Veronica: Black labs with blocky heads are called “pit bulls”!
Joaquin: It is such a subjective non-sensical rule and not many dog owners, service dog owners anyway, are walking around with their dog’s pedigree. You know? I shouldn’t have to show a pedigree to show that my dog is not a wolf, he’s an Alaskan Malamute, he’s purebred. And it’s perfectly legal for me to have him as a service dog and you can’t ban him. That’s ridiculous! Back to the conversation about yellow arm bands. So, I think the subjectivity about it is what I think is the most frustrating. You have the service dog that was named the number one in the United States, but because of the way she looks, she can’t fly on certain airlines.
Scav: She’s stunning.
Joaquin: Oh yeah, murder doggie.
Veronica: Yeah, my first service dog was a pittie mix so I have a soft spot for the pities.
Joaquin: They’re wonderful. Our puppy is an Am Staff Boxer mix with some other stuff. But she’s got the broad chest and blocky head so, “Oh my god it’s a pit bull!”.
Scav: Um hum.
Joaquin: She’s not. She’s about as…She’s noisy.
Scav: Well it looks like a pit bull so it’s gotta be a killer.
Joaquin: Right. But she’s about as dangerous as a goldfish.[laughter]
Joaquin: These assumptions are…But you know what, though? In the same way we’ve overcome similar, or are overcoming I should say, we’ve overcome a lot of similar assumptions about people with disabilities. Especially visible disabilities. And the stigma we’re trying to overcome for those of us who have invisible disabilities is still very real, very prevalent, and I really want to thank you for the work you’re doing to try to destigmatize psychological disabilities, or psychiatric excuse me. Terms are so important, I have to remember the right words. I really want to commend you for the work you’re doing, thank you.
Please if you ever need to reach out specifically to the veteran community, Scav and I are connected with a network of veteran service dog groups. And we can get information out to them, especially with this upcoming renegotiation of the rules. I think it’s very important that handlers, not the providers, but that veteran handlers’ needs are taken into account.
Veronica: I totally agree.
Scav: Yeah, we’re big in stopping this false information that’s out there.
Joaquin: Oh yeah. The number one problem in our own community, the number one problem we have to deal with, is misinformation. And it’s so very frustrating.
Brad: Well if you want to get a lot of the direct recent information that we don’t have time to cover here, we wrote up a report from our meeting last Monday with DOT and just published it today on our site at psych.dog, p s y c h dot d o g. It’s the first thing under the news items with a date of December 2nd 2019. And you can read all about everything that we talked about with DOT that relates to service dogs. And you can see what their plans are and everything that we were able to get out of them.
Veronica: And also on the page is something that for your veteran service dog handlers that are in your community should know, is that when the new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking comes out, we need comments. Even if you love it, even if you love it we need comments because if only the people who don’t like it comment, then they’ll change it before they put it into effect. So no matter what it says, we need your comments.
Joaquin: And I got that notification when you published that today and I read it immediately, dong my homework, you know, to make sure I could speak somewhat knowledgeably as we recorded this program, and yes tell people where they can find you if they want to get involved.
Brad: Well you can find our website, it’s psychdogpartners.org but the easiest way to get there is just to type in psych.dog, that’s p s y c h dot d o g, and please feel free to contact us through our contact form. We have a peer guidance group that’s open to psychiatric service dog users and those who are thinking about becoming one, and that is one of the best resources to talk with peers about all the issues you might have. And I guess I wouldn’t be a good non-profit volunteer if I didn’t say, “Hey you can also donate on that webpage if you like the cause because we need to get to DC again to meet with DOT and make sure they keep hearing from the handlers and know what our issues are.”
Joaquin: Alright, thank you for being here Dr. Veronica and Brad Morris from psych…I’m gonna mess it up again…Psychiatric Service Dog Partners.
Veronica: Yup, that’s it!
Joaquin: PSDP. For joining us and filling us in. I really especially appreciate the history lesson and I think it’s very important that people understand the perspective so that we can understand where things are heading. Appreciate your advocacy, and I appreciate your work. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us.
You have been listening to The Service Dog Show with PTSDog and Scav, right here on DV radio WDVR. For those of you who don’t know, we, WDVR, DV radio is all for vets by vets. We of course bring anybody and anyone everyone we can into shows and programs on the radio station if they’re able to give us some information and help us learn more about ourselves and the world around us. Although it is all veteran owned and veteran run, we welcome everyone. We do this free of charge. Nobody pays to have their shows aired, nobody pays to listen, however it does cost us to provide programs which you listen to. If you are interested in helping support DV radio, please check out patreon.com/DVradio and see what you can do to help support our efforts. We’ve enjoyed having you on The Service Dog Show, we’ll see you next week.