Do I really need him in the cabin?

Happy to answer a question posted by NCG, and I apologize for hijacking the RBC with service dog issues . . .  I guess I’m not that sorry.  I didn’t start it.  NCG wanted to know if I need my balance-walker dog in the airplane cabin.   It’s a familiar question.  Children often ask to pet my dog when we’re in a restaurant, for example, and when I explain that they can’t pet him because he’s working, I get the kind of withering look that only a pre-schooler can give, and they point out that he is just lying there. No, I don’t need my dog once I’m seated in a restaurant or the airplane cabin, but I need him to get me there and back. If I can’t have my dog in the airplane cabin, here’s what my business trips would look like:  I’d get the two of us to the cargo area of the terminal, and this would not be easy, since I would have to take a large, heavy, airline-approved Fiberglas crate that doesn’t fit in a cab.  Oh, and cargo must be delivered 3-4 hours before a flight, so if you care about your dog, this won’t work for a flight longer than 2 hours.  But back to my flight from Boston to- say, Cleveland and no farther:  I’d pay $200-$500 for cargo shipping, assume the very real danger that my dog could die in the cargo hold, call for a wheelchair to get me to my gate, or limp there using my cane and risking a fall. And yeah, having taken those steps, no one on the plane would be inconvenienced by my dog.  Once at my destination, I’d have to get myself to the cargo area, which, by the way, is often at a different terminal.  My dog would not be in great shape.  I’d have to figure out how to transport the crate to my hotel- or ditch it and buy a new one.

This is what my trips were like with Cormet (and soon, I hope, with Spenser).  I take public transportation or a cab to the airport.  In a cab, my dog stands on the floor of the back seat; he does not leave hair or dirt from his paws on the seat.  We zip through the terminal with the dog alternately supporting me and pulling me forward, depending on my command.  I hardly ever fall, but if I do, he braces so I can get up. We pre-board, I remove and stash his harness, he backs into the row, curls up at my feet, and we fly to my destination. I give him an occasional ice chip since he can’t eat or drink until we get there. Of course he doesn’t accompany me to the restroom on an airplane: I mean really! He’s a German Shepherd. Large purses don’t fit in airplane bathrooms.  When I tell my dog to stay, he stays until I release him.  Service dogs do accompany their people to restrooms in other locations, however. They are an enormous help, since not all public restrooms are equipped with grab bars. And just for the record, when we get to our destination, many of my fellow passengers express shock to see my dog emerge into the aisle. They had no idea there was a dog on board.  I concede that he takes up more floor space than is allocated for my feet.  On the few occasions that the flight crew has not been able to leave an empty seat next to me, I have been so grateful to the people who begged for the opportunity to sit “in the row with the beautiful dog.”  If you’re reading this? Thanks again. Those drinks I bought you don’t come close to the value of your kindness.

Non-disabled people, particularly those who run businesses and public institutions, often want to decide which accommodations we should have.  With the DOJ now controlled by you-know-who and a Republican Congress, I worry about the regulations under the ADA.  Some bureaucrat may decide that I am not entitled to access with my dog, because a wheelchair is just as effective.

The question was not rude, NCG. You’re a valued member of the RBC. I’m glad you asked.  I worry about other people, though, particularly those in power.

Author: Lowry Heussler

Lowry Heussler is a lawyer from Cambridge, Massachusetts. Having participated in the RBC as a guest-blogger, she made it official in 2012. Her most important contribution to the field of public policy to date was her 1994 instruction to Mark Kleiman, "Read Ann Landers every day. You need to learn about real people." Her essay on the 2009 arrest of Henry Louis Gates went viral and brought about one of her proudest moments, being described as "just another twit along the lines of Sharpton, Jackson, Gates, etc." (Small Dead Animals Blog). Currently serving as General Counsel to BOTEC Analysis Corp., she has been a public housing lawyer, a prosecutor for the Board of Registration in Medicine, a large-firm associate and a small-firm partner. She serves as a board member for NEADS, Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans, a charity that trains service dogs to increase independence for people with disabilities.

12 thoughts on “Do I really need him in the cabin?”

  1. We have two things here, I think: a conflict-of-rights question between people who need support animals and people who either have allergies to those animals or just find themselves stepping in horseshit left in the aisle of the plane by somebody's support horse, and the reaction against abuse of support animal privileges by narcissist doofuses who somehow manage to get a doc to sign off on a 'need' which the rest of us think is silly preening and greed to be noticed.
    A lot of good will was built up over the years by seeing eye dogs, etc. And a lot of good will is ebbing away with support horse stories.
    There is no perfect solution, but I am inclined to think charging for two tickets would get rid of a lot of the preeners.

  2. No apologies needed. Larry is quite right to concentrate on the more intelligent animals in society. Humans have been downgraded by the Rating Angel to junk species.

    1. Fixed. Now your rejoinder will be confusing. Apologies; I expect your first name gets mis-spelled as often as my surname.

        1. James, in this time of serious concerns about the future of my country, and of the world, this little exchange was a great reminder that we can retain our sense of humor. But I'm confused-did you go back and unfix your previous comment so the rest of the exchange would make sense?

  3. Looking at this issue more broadly, it is symptomatic of the problems created by "me first" jerks who refuse to take others into account and make it impossible to provide simple accommodation on a common sense basis to those who need them.

    Some years ago I got a call telling me my mother was seriously, probably fatally, ill due to a heart attack. I jumped on the first available flight to New Orleans, her home, but the flight was diverted to Houston because of heavy fog in NO. Soon enough the fog cleared and passengers on the diverted flight were given seats on Houston-NO flights. But of course a limited number of seats were available, and there were substantial waits. I approached a gate attendant to ask if I might get priority, given my situation. "No, sorry," came the answer. "You are the fourth person with that story ."

    Well, maybe there were three other people trying to get to NO for the same reason, but I doubt it. I suspect that there were three (or maybe only two) jerks trying to get an edge with a phony sob story. Since then I've deeply resented those who lie to get privileges that ought to be reserved for those who need them.

    (Sadly, the heart attack did what the Nazis couldn't, but not before I got there. )

  4. Arlington had a big problem with people who had inveigled their docs to give them the note for a 'disabled' tag for their cars. It was a big contributor to this working for them that we then had disabled parking free, so if you got the tag, you could park nine hours in a two hour zone right next to your office! And actually disabled people were displaced from those meters. So we started charging for disabled meters, and stickered the posts on the meters 'All must pay', and the two hour zone time limitation then applied. Result: frivolous tags went down in numbers, and disabled people going to the optician could get the spaces.

    1. In time, I suspect that additional questions will be asked (and the answers will need to be documented). Such as, do you need this comfort animal for most of each day, or only on airplanes? What training did this animal receive? Who trained it? I'm a disability rights activist (who does not need a service animal), but I see this abuse of a legitimate accommodation leading to harmful suspicion of (and limitations on) legitimate service animals.

      1. I was murky on what we did in Arlington. There were two classes of meters: disabled-only and 'regular'. And at either one, somebody with a disabled tag could park for no payment. This led to abuse, so we started charging everybody for parking, and you couldn't leave a car on a disabled spot for limitless time.
        I am with you on questions to ferret out abusers, but I also think strategies like charging for an extra seat can be helpful, with perhaps some private charities topping up tickets for people who they regard as deserving and needy.

      2. I like those additional questions.

        For a point of comparison, I have had therapy dogs for well over 20 years. That means they're pets who visit hospitals, nursing homes, schools, children's camps, libraries and various other facilities by pre-arrangement to offer animal interaction to those who would benefit from it. They are not service dogs in any sense.

        They had to undergo some pretty extensive training and have to be retested on a regular basis. Based on the account mentioned in the Veterinary Information Network story brought up in an earlier thread, the questionnaires and testing I have to do to register a new dog or update a current dog's status (and my status as handler!) are significantly more thorough and careful than what was required of author DeGioia to get her dog registered as a "comfort dog."

        Unfortunately, with the publicity surrounding Carrie Fisher's dog Gary, I'm afraid we're going to see a lot more of this sort of thing.

  5. Very informative, thank you! Btw… I never said "really."

    I think the airlines ought to supply crates (though it sounds like, from a dog perspective, that would be unjust… what about a pet section instead?)

    I also don't fly that often so this isn't a huge issue for me. I am though rather against charging more for things as an enforcement shortcut. I think it's unfair. I'd rather see us ask more questions than make poor people less able to participate.

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