Monday, February 5, 2018

Support Animals

To hear flight attendants tell it, people taking their pets on planes by claiming that they are necessary for "emotional support" has become a big problem, and airlines are starting to tighten their policies. David Leonhardt:
This story begins with progress, in the form of a 1986 law forbidding discrimination against handicapped air travelers. The law made sure that physically disabled people could travel with service animals. It also rightly applied to nonphysical disabilities. Some autistic children, for example, function better with a trained dog.

The trouble started when pet owners realized that they could game the system, because airlines did not require much proof of medical need. By claiming one, people could bring an animal on board without putting it in a carry-on bag and without paying a fee that typically runs $125.

It’s true that some people honestly believe they have an emotional condition that an animal solves. But they are often confusing their preferences with actual medical needs. As a recent front-page story in The Washington Post dryly put it, the effectiveness of emotional-support animals “is poorly substantiated through studies but widely embraced by the public.”

Once animals became more common on planes, the trend fed on itself. Pet owners figured that if other people were cheating the system, they might as well too. A cottage industry sprung up in service of low-level fraud. For $30 on Amazon, you can buy a bright-red dog vest that reads, EMOTIONAL SUPPORT. With a quick web search, you can find a therapist to diagnose you long-distance. Fill out a form, and suddenly you’re certified as having an illness that requires animal attention.

All the while, people told themselves they weren’t doing anything wrong. (How often have you heard a version of, “My pet is friendly and harmless”?) But people weren’t thinking about the collective cost of their actions — about the many children afraid of sitting next to a dog, about travelers with serious allergies, about flight attendants charged with keeping cabins safe and, most of all, about truly disabled travelers.
You can buy the "Premium ESA Kit" at the top of the post for $99.95, including the certificate and the official-looking id card.

The travelers who complain loudest about all these emotional support animals are blind people with seeing-eye dogs, who think it cheapens their own legitimate needs, plus there have been incidents in which untrained animals attack seeing-eye dogs.

I find myself ambivalent. On the one hand, who cares if people scared of flying carry their dogs on planes? Lighten up already.

On the other, this confirms the vision of America as a nation of narcissistic weaklings who don't give a damn for anything but our own feelings and need constant emotional support because we can't stand on our own.  Plus, flying is already unpleasant enough without some stranger's dog getting hair in your face.

I guess I don't care much either way, but something about this seems very America right now to me.



Unknown said...

Here are some thoughts: Not surprisingly, I don't care much for the tough-guy approach that what's bad about this is it makes us look like weaklings. What's more America-at-this-moment about it, it seems to me, is the notion of gaming the system. Plenty of Americans seem to assume that any rule is just put there by officious bureaucrats and/or busybodies to thwart them in their own narcissistic tough-guy awesomeness, rather than for the common good or even to benefit them (the person complaining about the rule). So these individuals decide that they're entitled to game the system in any way they can, and that doing so is an act of brave Sticking It To The Man. Of course, part of the reason we have so many bureaucratic rules is because we fear a lot of people will try to game the system. And then, on top of it, politicians and corporations game the un-gaming by adding even more rules, as when states add more paperwork to Medicaid qualification, voting registration, and the like, as way to reduce Medicaid costs, voting by minorities, etc., etc. That to me is why the tale of support animals seems so America-at-this-moment.

G. Verloren said...

To be fair, maybe if the airlines didn't routinely kill animals in their cargo holds, people wouldn't feel so compelled to bring their pets into the passenger cabin.

The horror stories you hear about animal abuse and neglect at the hands of baggage crew are enough to give anyone second thoughts. If your choice is to cheat the system or risk your animal dying an agonizing death that the airlines have ensured they cannot be held responsible for, a lot of people are going to pick the former option.

The problem is also exacerbated by the difficulty and expense of finding kennels in the modern day. If it were easier and more affordable to leave your animal at home while you travel, this wouldn't be much of an issue. But kennels are fairly rare these days, frequently cost more per day per animal than cheap accomodations for humans do, and much like the airlines are far too often disgustingly neglectful of the animals in their care.

There just aren't many other options for pet owners, particularly people who lack wiggle room in their finances. If you have a friend or family member you trust, you can ask them petsit - assuming they aren't too busy. If you don't have anyone you know who is available, you can try to hire a sitter - assuming anyone in your area even offers such services, which is highly dependent on where you are, and you're comfortable giving a total stranger access to your home while you are away. If you have the right kind of pet for it and the money to spend, you can buy an automatic feeding system and set up a litter box or similar indoors. But other than that...

It's just such a shame that airlines can't be trusted to safely handle animals. That alone would solve so very much of this issue.

leif said...

this is going to get out of hand soon, if it hasn't already (for instance, the emotional-support peacock). picture this: in addition to all the personal info you have to provide, even to board, next people could be asked, do you have allergies to dogs, cats, whatever else is proposed to be on board that flight. if anyone says yes, then, what, bring a note from your doctor to prove that you have that allergy, or YOU can't board? or, take it a different direction: people quickly wise up to a different policy that if anyone on a flight has a dog allergy, then "emotional support" animals can't be boarded, then a lot of people will make sure to declare that they have allergies.

reducto ad absurdum.

so @G, while i 100% sympathize with the position you're taking (airlines DO do an awful job at keeping pets alive in the hold), i'm going to say that giving up bringing an emotional support animal on the flight will have to be something akin to giving up knives, guns, and such. if someone really wants to vacation with their pet, drive already.

@John, sure this is so-america-today, but that doesn't make it right.