Comments sought: New rules proposed for transporting assistance animals

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A woman and man face the viewer on the U.S. Capitol steps

Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) related to transporting service and emotional support animals under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).

Among other provisions, DOT proposes to define service animals as dogs that have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability. This could include physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disabilities. The proposed rule also would:

  • Permit airlines to recognize emotional support animals as pets, rather than service animals
  • Allow airlines to require passengers with a disability who are traveling with a service animal to complete and submit to the airline forms developed by DOT attesting to the animal's training and good behavior, certifying the animal's good health, and attesting that the animal has the ability either to not relieve itself on a long flight or to relieve itself in a sanitary manner
  • Clarify existing prohibitions on imposing breed restrictions on service animals
  • Allow airlines to set policies to limit the number of service animals that one passenger can bring aboard an aircraft
  • Require service animals to be harnessed, leashed, or otherwise tethered

The notice also addresses the transport of large service animals in the aircraft cabin and clarifies when the user of a service animal may be charged for damage caused by the animal.

Veterinary expertise and feedback are crucial

Airlines and the DOT have both welcomed the AVMA’s voice in discussions on this issue, recognizing that the association’s voice is that of our 95,000-plus member veterinarians. The AVMA's prior comments on this topic, as well as the 2018 roundtable convened at AVMA headquarters, are mentioned at some length within the notice issued by DOT.

Add your voice

The AVMA will continue to represent the profession in these conversations by responding with comments on the DOT proposal. In doing so, we’ll continue to look to you for input. We welcome and encourage all interested AVMA members to submit feedback to us to inform our response to the DOT.

Please review the NPRM and email your feedback to PolicyandPracticeatavma [dot] org (PolicyandPractice[at]avma[dot]org) by February 29, 2020. Discussion of the DOT's proposed forms, including those to be completed by the owner and those to be completed by the veterinarian, can be found on pages 64 through 70, with a model health form provided on page 71.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts.


Wonderful idea!

I fully support this, with the caveat that veterinarians shouldn’t be required to attest for an animal’s training or temperament. I’ve rufused to sign ESA applications b/c we cannot be expected to vouch for an animal after meeting them for a brief exam. This should be something the agency that trained the animal and/or the vet that followed the animal through said training can vouch for.

ESAs and service animals

I support increased airline restrictions regarding emotional support animals. As these animals are not specifically trained for a task, their behavior is not subject to professional assessment as is the behavior of service animals. Far too many "ESAs" are truly just pets whose owners do not wish to be separated from them during air travel, but whose behavior is such situations is unpredictable and potentially dangerous or unsanitary. Even genuine ESAs may behave unpredictably in unusual situations. I further support improved monitoring or registration of service animals such that unscrupulous persons would find it more difficult to pass a pet as a service animal through purchase of a vest or a fake certificate, although I am undecided as to what form this might take. I do not support the restriction of the airline definition of service animals as solely applying to dogs; a small but significant number of miniature horses and primates are trained as, and serve appropriately as, service animals and their owners may also need to make use of airline travel.

Dr. Erica Rambus
February 20, 2020 Permalink

Emotional Support Animals

Any species or Breed can be potentially considered an emotional support animal, and should not be discriminated against. The animal, of course, must be well behaved and always under voice- command control.

Dr. Danielle Capelli
February 20, 2020 Permalink

DOT changes to ACAA

I support the movement to label service animals as service animals vs. emotional support animals as pets. I believe this is an important distinction. Every owner would love to find a way to travel with their pet, but this really does harm those who have appropriately trained and certified service animals. The service animals are tasked to perform a specific job, having untrained pets which are passed off as emotional support animals can distract these service animals from protecting their humans and predicting minor changes.

elizabeth w penton
February 20, 2020 Permalink

service animals on planes

I have strong feelings about NOT allowing animals classified as "service" animals on planes except "service animals as dogs that have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability." Emotional support animals are not included in this category. I also feel there should be a size restriction. If the animal is to big to be on the owner's lap, then they should be charged for an airline ticket, just as if it were occupying a seat, in which case, if the owner has purchased a plane ticket for the animal, then it can occupy the seat next to the owner. I believe there are too many opportunities for the presence of an animal on board a plane to cause problems for the other passengers, especially a large dog. Real service dogs have been professionally trained by licensed companies.

Marilyn Mitchell DVM
February 20, 2020 Permalink

Restricting species for ESA to just being dogs

I believe that ESA should not be considered pets and should not be charged a fee. For one, the pet fee that airlines charge are too high and the pet counts as your carry-on which forces more baggage fees onto the person. Another is that many people have ESA for differ medical reasons some including to help with the loss of a child or inability have a child. Their ESA is their child. Many people travel with their human children at no charge and no other bag restrictions- actually they are allowed an extra bag at no charge. Many delays, damage and nuisances, including hygiene and intruding into others space, happen related to humans without consequences.
Also, I do not believe that cats should be removed from the species considered as ESA. I have several clients with ESA cats rather than a dog due to their fear or dislike of dogs and due to their medical needs. I personally have an ESA cat and dog that provide different services. My cat travels with me out of the country several times a year rather than my dog because the limitation of only being about to have one ESA, the ESA counting as a carry-on, and the airlines restriction of traveling with different species. This prevents me from taking both. At this point, I have been able to handle only having one of them with me but I don't know about in the future.
I completely agree with the need to be harnessed and on a short non retractable leash along with not intruded into other passengers space. A large breed dog that has truly been trained as ESA or service animal will know how to lay in a tight position limiting their space needs. Also, charges for damages and fees if proven not to behave as a trained ESA should apply. In this day of cell phones, recorded proof would easily prove or disprove a case.

Emotional Support Animals

I am glad that we as a profession are addressing this issue. I hope our human colleagues are doing the same. I hear all to many stories of people claiming their animal is an ESA only as they are allowed in the cabin free of charge, and this is not the purpose of ESA. There are too many people to take advantage of this classification and I believe are causing those with real needs harm. I especially am bothered that people equate their ESA with service animals when they are not. I also always try to remember others and I am greatly concerned that I sanctioned animals in an aircraft can cause harm to people if stricter guidelines are not. I also believe that there needs to be some segregation on flights... what happens if a passenger who is fearful of dogs has to sit for hours right next to one? Thank you.
Dr. Dana Graham

Gretchen Kasameyer, DVM
February 21, 2020 Permalink

"support" animals

These are pets, and often poorly trained. The only reason these people want" support animals " is so they don't have to pay or follow the rules. If they are that afraid to fly - they aren't a safe risk on a tin can in the sky either.

Gretchen Kasameyer
February 21, 2020 Permalink

Support animals

Also- Therapy animals, and true service animals have been through extensive training by professionals, and can act appropriately in these circumstances. However, I am concerned for the epidemic of "paid for , over the internet" certifications and I think there need to be standards as there are for true service animals.

David Specht DVM PC
February 22, 2020 Permalink

ESA policy

Glad to support this planned policy change. Our family has raised many young dogs for CCI over the years and have an appreciation for what effort and resources that has been put into training services dogs. We have been saddened how the airlines have been pressured in accepting ESA as service animals. I am in total support in tightening regulations by the airlines to have owners prove their service dog is truly a service dog. No more ordering a vest and ID card claiming the animal is trained.

Ellen Collisson
February 23, 2020 Permalink

Emotional Support Animal

I travel when I can with an emotional support animal. It is my opinion that there is blatant discrimination against (even bullying of) persons who need this support. The news media has encouraged this kind of treatment of people who in fact do function much better with their support animal. The idea that the airplanes are full of such animals is ridiculous and a testimony to discrimination. My dog has been the only support animal on the many flights we have taken together. He is a small quiet creature that keeps his eyes on me and provides a calm environment for me and in fact for other passengers. The AVMA should support emotional support dogs. With the increase in older individuals, it is likely this kind of support could become more important. It is further my opinion that airlines would like an extra $200 for an animal that does not take up more than the space under the seat in front of the passenger.

Emotional Support Animals

With the abuse of the "free ride" for emotional support animals, I strongly believe that people should have to pay the appropriate fee for all animals. It's up to an airline to waive this fee for a seeing eye dog, which would actually take up a seat of a paying person.

Emotional support animals

I feel true emotional support animals are rare. The greatest number of the animals are pets which owners wish to be declared such. Being declared such , enables owners to take their pets with them wherever that wish.

Emotional Support Animals

I believe that there are instances such as PTSD for which emotional support animals can be helpful, and perhaps in rare cases even essential, such as with Veterans. Why not establish a "Board" of sorts similar to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals ( with a physician, a DVM, and an airline representative or two as members of the Board. The board reviews applications and is the ONLY true certifying authority of ESA or Service animals. If you can't show that one specific legal credential, verifiable within a national database, then you can't bring your animal aboard. Period. Further, since commercial aircraft were never designed to carry animals or serve their transportation needs, perhaps it is unreasonable to think they should be allowed on commercial flights with seats made for humans. And yet, people with service animals need to travel by air. Therefore, could it be possible that the FAA begin allowing FedEx to haul the few passengers with animals? FedEx goes everywhere these days to most airports and the only other passengers who would encounter a service animal are those that also have service animals. That way, regular passengers on regular flights are not inconvenienced by service animals. This seems only fair. While some people may be scared out of their wits without their service animal, I also know people who are scared to death of dogs. Fair is fair.

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