A dog took a shit on a plane, and I’m back to writing.

After my March stint in hospital jail, I tumbled into weeks of new-meds-feel-like-shit-more-new-meds-more-shit-repeat. We’ll call it a rough patch and stop crying about it now. Mmkay? Mmkay. I wrote quite a lot in that time, but didn’t publish a lick of it. There’s some good stuff in there, and I’m going to start publishing again, but after a review of the full body of writing, much of it is just a bunch of crap.

Speaking of crap, several days ago, a US Airways flight traveling from Los Angeles to Philadelphia made an emergency stop in Kansas because an alleged service dog took a crap in the aisle, not just a regular crap either, full on diarrhea … several times. Unable to keep up with the clean up, running out of supplies, and with passengers dry heaving in each other’s laps, the captain made an emergency landing to have the cabin properly scrubbed.

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Owner and dog. Via Chris Law’s Twitter feed.

My immediate thought should have been, “Oh no, what happened? What went so wrong that the dog was uncontrollably sick? What a nightmare for the handler!” (Insert other sympathetic, nice person type thoughts here.)

But that’s not at all what I thought. My first thoughts, rapid fire style:

  • Did anyone find out if it’s a legit service dog?
  • Why isn’t the dog wearing a vest for identification?
  • Given that it appears the dog was actually sick, having uncontrollable diarrhea, what kind of handler would take a sick service dog on a plane? (Hint: We wouldn’t.)
  • How could a handler NOT know that her service dog was sick? (As a handler myself, I can tell you that the health of the service dog is my top priority. None of the (3) dogs I’ve handled ever had so much as a broken nail without me knowing about it. We are a symbiotic team, I can sense a mood change in my service dog at a glance, and given we are together 24 hours a day, we read each other’s needs countless times a day. Missing an illness as severe as to produce explosive diarrhea would be a VERY rare occurrence.)
  • If the dog was frightened of the flight, and was having “nervous diarrhea”, then that dog was not ready for public access, and more work should have been put into putting that dog in a variety of stressful environments so it would be used to it. If someone were to have a seizure on the plane, the dog can’t be helpful if it’s shitting up and down the aisle.

A service dog handler follows protocol for limiting food intake at the beginning of the day of the flight, and to ensure that the service dog has ample time to eliminate before boarding the flight. In addition to that, we pay VERY special attention to the service dog’s general health in the days leading up to lengthy travel, so as not to be stuck midair with a sick dog (would be one of our worst nightmares, to be sure). We have to add on extra time to our arrival at the airport, if we book multi leg flights, we need to book flights with adequate layover time for the service dog to eliminate, if needed. When we arrive at our destination, we allow for another potty stop before we get ground transportation, too. A service dog is performing a life saving job for its handler and, at the very least, the dog deserves a handler that will do her best to ensure that traveling is as comfortable for the dog as possible. A well trained service dog can easily (and they very often do) ‘hold it’ for a cross country flight, and longer. In fact, service dogs are trained to eliminate on command. If I don’t tell Gen she can go, she will hold it until her body physically fails to do so any longer. Therefore, if my service dog has an accident, it is MY FAULT, 100%.

Owner and her dog.

Via Chris Law’s Twitter feed.

At least one of the passengers on the plane felt that the owner was lying about her dog being a service dog. My knee jerk reaction is to suspect that, too. I’ve flown 6 flights with service dogs. On several of those flights, I witnessed people trying to scam their way to a free flight for their pet by claiming it’s a service animal. It is infuriating. On my last flight, a woman who was clearly lying about her pet being a service dog, was ultimately denied her seat on the flight, but only for the technicality of the crate she wished to bring with her not meeting proper specifications for pets in the cabin. (Service animals don’t fly in crates. How can they do their jobs from a crate?) The airlines are at such a loss to control the “fakers” because of the laws that protect the actual disabled people that have a properly trained, legitimate service dog. It keeps them from asking too many questions, even when they suspect someone is lying. A disabled handler does not need to present any formal documentation other than (possibly) a health certificate, and some flights require nothing. The laws that were made to protect me and other disabled people from being harassed unnecessarily make it easy for the fakers to avoid any line of questioning by the airline. The airline faces fines and penalties if they do not adhere to federal laws, their hands are usually tied, and the rest of the passengers just have to hope that the dog is really a service dog. In the case of the woman who was kicked off my flight, every single employee dealing with her continually shot glances at me and Gen throughout the time she stood at the bulkhead arguing with them. Gen and I were in the front row, right in the middle of the action. (As a courtesy to other passengers, and for the service dog’s comfort, I always purchase bulkhead seating. I don’t have to, but I consider it a small price to pay for a seamless travel day.) The crew had a real-time example of a true service dog’s behavior. Always at my thigh, she obeys each verbal or non-verbal command I give her, and when we are seated, and she curls up into a ball at my feet and doesn’t move from her spot until I tell her she may get up when we reach our destination. The most common thing we hear? “There was a dog on our plane the whole time?!” (We get that at restaurants all the time, too. No one even knows she’s at my feet under the table.) Our presence definitely did NOT help this woman’s (faker) case to try to smuggle this frightened, tiny lap dog in a make-shift crate when there was a certified Seizure Alert and Response Service Dog performing her duties two feet away. When I fly, I overhear people sharing their plans to buy vests for their dogs so they can fly for free. Most common type of OH: “I’m going to have my therapist write me a note for an emotional support animal and then I’ll get a vest and Fifi can fly with me!” Even though “Emotional Suppport” Animals are not considered service animals under the Americans With Disabilities Act, (Edited with info from Jeff’s comments below, Thanks Jeff! ) —> Air carriers are governed under the ACAA, and airlines can and do accept ESA’s (even other than dogs) if the handler has a qualifying disability (key word: disability), but NOT for all mental illnesses. I recently had a twenty something girl share with ME that she had her psychologist friend write a note saying that her PET RABBIT is her emotional support animal so she can take it to Hawaii. I immediately shared with her that emotional support animals are not considered service animals, that a rabbit is a RODENT (nope, not even covered under ACAA) and then I guilt tripped the shit out of her with the old, “Would you fake the need for a wheelchair because you didn’t want to have to walk on your two healthy legs like everyone else?” I basically enlightened her on what it feels like to be disabled and have to watch people fake a disability to bring pets on planes, keep pets in apartment buildings that usually don’t allow them, or just take their fucking pomeranian everywhere. These people aren’t just faking having a service dog. They are faking having a disability. Fucking gross.

DO YOU THINK FOR ONE SECOND THAT I WOULDN’T TRADE MY SERVICE DOG FOR A HEALTHY BODY THAT DIDN’T SEIZE UNEXPECTEDLY ON REGULAR BASIS, ASSHOLE?

Having a service dog isn’t a game, it isn’t cool, and it is a fuckload of work every single day, but having her is the only way I can be safe, especially when I’m alone. In 2012 I had a seizure that could have killed me, and I had no warning, could not call for help, and am damn lucky to be alive today. In the past few years, I have had seizures that caused dangerous falls and serious injuries. I’m lucky to have recovered from those injuries. Without Gen, I would need round the clock supervision and lose more freedoms than I have already lost. A service dog is a true lifeline for me.

Could this service dog have been a genuine service dog? I guess, but my spidey senses feel otherwise, and it pisses me off. I would never bring a sick dog on a plane, and I would never bring a service dog that could not handle air travel on a plane. The training that service dogs go through is thorough and rigorous. While accidents do happen (service dogs aren’t robots after all), it seems like this situation was preventable. The other thing that got my spidey senses up was her (totally weird) request for the other passengers addresses so that she could buy them all Starbucks gift cards. Smells like guilt to me, bigger than just the fact that the dog forced an unexpected landing, but more like the dog shouldn’t have been there in the first place. If I’m wrong, and the dog was a service dog, then I recommend that the handler get more training and pay more attention to her dog.

Perhaps it’s time to require more service dog identification and certification for public service. I have always feared that doing so would make access unnecessarily and unfairly difficult for people with disabilities, but because some people are fucking assholes we are already facing unnecessary discrimination if we don’t outwardly appear disabled. Thanks, dicks.

2 comments

  1. Jeff

    Airlines are well aware that the ADA does not cover ESAs, however they are also aware that the ADA does not apply to airlines. They are covered by the Air Carriers Access Act which went into effect before the ADA. The ACAA does cover ESAs and allow them to fly in the cabin with their disabled owner. ESAs are not limited to only dogs and miniature horses as Service Animals are under the ADA. Some state’s laws still allow animals other than dogs to be service animals in those specific states. Since the ADA states that when there is conflict between it and state laws the one that offers the greatest protection to the person with a disability is the one that applies those state’s laws apply over the ADA’s limitation of only dogs and miniature horses.

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    • Sara

      Good stuff here, thanks!

      You can transport just about any animal other than a rodent (and a few others) on a plane, as long as it fits under your seat (doesn’t block aisle or exits). You just have to pay for it. Could one of those pets crap in their crate? Sure. That would suck.

      Psychiatric Service Dogs are a given, but the ACAA only gives special accommodations ESAs for those with a legitimate disability and NOT to all people with mental illness. I thing I am a bit hung up on the term “ESA” because it is being quite abused. Since airlines are supposed to require extra information to verify that an ESA is medically necessary, and passengers are required to contact the airline ahead of time to be sure to get on the plane (all of this to prevent abuse of claiming need), I know of 2 people in Illinois just flat out lying and calling their ESA a Service Dog, just to avoid questions, documentation, and such.

      The key word you used is “disabled”. I’m talking about people who are NOT truly disabled passing off their pets as ESAs.

      The airport is regulated by the ADA, and also allows psychiatric service dogs, but only for disabled individuals. And yes, different states have more specific language regarding importing animals from a different state, some requiring more documentation than others.

      Bottom line: If you are not disabled by your illness, you are not entitled to bring your dog on a plane, whether you call it an ESA or not.

      This is really good information, Jeff. Planes are a different situation than apartment buildings and other public spaces. I’m editing the post with your information and notating that you brought the information to my attention.

      To be clear, I NEVER want things to be harder for disabled individuals when trying to gain public access ANYWHERE. People who are abusing the system by passing off pets as ESAs are hurting us. I have experienced discrimination because of it, as have other handlers I know.

      Thank you for chiming in. Don’t be disheartened, you brought up some great clarifications, I added them and appreciate it. Be well.

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