Emotional Support Animals (ESA’s). America finally sees sense.

America has finally banned the carriage of Emotional Support Animals in aircraft cabins following abuse of the system and taking exotic animals on board.

Finally, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) took action in December 2020 to amend the Air Carrier Act and stop the carriage of Emotional Support Animals in aircraft cabin. It is now restricted to proven trained service dogs only which have been “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability”. Under the new rules, animals such as pigs, ponies, turkeys, snakes and possums and other exotic animals will rightly be designated as pets and must be paid for and travel in the holds.

US airlines can now refuse animals.

Airlines now have the leverage to refuse to take such animals and it is not surprising that within weeks virtually every US airline immediately banned ESA’s. Alaskan airlines were the first quickly followed by United, American and Delta. United airlines have stated that “the change will further ensure a safe and accessible travel experience for our customers”. Well any sane person can understand that, but there has still been an outcry from individuals insisting they need a cockerel or a peacock or crocodile or whatever to steady their nerves.

Emotional Support Animals ESA

I wrote an article a year ago on the farce of so-called Emotional Support animals in America varying from ponies to possums being allowed in the cabins of aircraft to ease the flying worries of their owners. In most instances it was more a case of attention seeking or a chance to outdo each other with photographs and video on social media. For some it was a chance for their pets to travel free. Agencies suddenly sprang up to provide dubious accreditation for the animals and also online sites offering fraudulent certificates.

U.K. airlines do not allow pets in cabin.

UK airlines sensibly have never allowed or been able to take alleged ESAs in the cabin as they have no legal status, but organisations have been established to lobby for such animals to be accepted as legitimate which would allow them into restaurants and other restricted areas like a guide dog. One is the UK Emotional Support Animal Registry established in 2017 who may now have to amend their plans. As in America there are apparently scams regarding registering animals in the U.K.

The number of ESA’s carried on aircraft in the USA jumped from 481,000 in 2016 to 751,000 in 2017 and a 14% increase in 2018. And there has been a sharp increase in “negative incidents” caused by animals and we can imagine what these were. Strangely many cabin crew appeared to welcome these animal passengers.

The airlines quite rightly have been arguing about the stupidity of the situation for a long time and pointed out all the health and safety issues involved to both cabin crew and other passengers, but it had fallen on mainly deaf ears until now. The Airlines for America lobbying organisation has been pushing for the change for over a year. The question is what took so long?

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Kuno, canine war hero or cannon fodder.

Heroes or unwitting participants.

Kuno, a British military dog, has recently joined a long list of those that have been injured or killed in action in the line of duty and was awarded a PDSA Dickens medal for bravery as a “hero“.

Kuno, a young 3 year old Belgian Malinois, took part in a military operation in Afghanistan in 2019 and was seriously injured when helping his comrades who were pinned down from machine gun and grenade fire. He was sent in under a hail of bullets wearing night vision goggles to attack the al-Qaeda extremists.

It sounds like a storyline from one of the animated movies we are all so fond of where the heroes are animals doing great deeds, particularly the part of wearing night vision goggles. Unfortunately, this was real life and our hero was shot and suffered a multitude of injuries resulting in part amputation of his back legs. He now has the accolade of being the first UK military working dog to be fitted with custom prosthetic limbs and must contend with these injuries for the rest of his life.

“The great care the UK armed forces provide to animals”

The UK Defence Secretary stated that Kuno had changed the course of the mission by saving British soldiers lives but also added that the story showed “the great care that the UK armed forces provide to the animals that serve alongside them.” But it seems rather illogical to view sending a dog through a hail of bullets as providing great care of them.

Kuno miliatry dog and Dickens Medal for bravery
Heros or cannon fodder. [Photo credit:PDSA/TIMES PHOTOGRAPHER RICHARD POHLE]

Is it a betrayal of the trust they obviously form with their handlers to send them to their deaths.

Surely to be a hero you need to have a fair idea of what you are doing at the time. Dogs have many attributes but understanding the dangers of charging into machine gun fire is not one of them. When we describe and fete them as heroes we are obviously humanising them and giving them the ability to process and acknowledge the risks and dangers they are getting themselves into, but this is against scientific doctrine and understanding.

Dogs will always try to cope with anything we demand of them and mostly treat everything as a game, so following a command regardless of its intentions is an act of trust and faith on their part and perhaps a betrayal of this trust on ours.

Are we doing them an injustice by giving them medals?

It is unclear what charities like the PDSA are trying to achieve by giving them medals unless it is to alleviate some of our guilt of putting them at risk in the first place. Although it is a poignant gesture, particularly when it is posthumous, and expresses our animal loving instincts the dogs possibly deserve better from us instead.

I have not thank god been in such a situation as Kuno and his comrades found themselves but I hope there was great heart searching when making the decision to sacrifice Kuno’s well-being to save their own. The story illustrates that these dogs are merely extra weaponry or ‘kit’ and are expendable in these situations and any consideration of their rights or welfare is not viable. But can we seriously call these dogs genuine heroes and glorify these enforced acts of so called bravery, when they have not ‘volunteered’ their services and are obviously unaware of what they are doing. At best they are just unwitting ones.

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