Last week, Delta Airlines announced it would ban pit-bull-type dogs from flying in the cabin as service and assistance animals. In doing so, the airline is overlooking the fact that there is no evidence that a particular breed of dog bites more than another. And it is creating a hurdle for people with disabilities who rely on their companion animals to help them perform routine daily tasks, including getting from place to place.
Airlines have discretion in how pets fly, but they are also supposed to make reasonable accommodations for service and emotional support animals regardless of breed. When an animal misbehaves, the airline has the ability to remove the animal, and it also has the responsibility to make appropriate accommodations for owners with larger size animals. In their announcement of this policy change, Delta failed to define how they will be identifying pit bulls, which is important because the term “pit bull” isn’t actually a breed, but rather a type of dog — one that is very often misidentified even by those in animal-related professions. Barring an entire type or breed of dog from flying because of a single incident needlessly punishes people who need their service or support animals with them, continues to contribute to a harmful stereotype, and it may not be legal.
Air travel is regulated in part by the Air Carrier Access Act, which provides specific accommodations for service animals and emotional support animals, above and beyond the standard regulations on normal pet transport. Several federal statutes also protect the rights of disabled Americans and provide for reasonable access for service, assistance and emotional support animals. These provisions do not regulate by breed and they already provide ways for business owners and companies to address inappropriate behavior on the part of any assistance animal.
We have reached out to Delta to discuss their situation, but there is a great opportunity for those concerned about this issue to weigh in on the topic of breed bans and other policies impacting service and support animals on airlines: the Department of Transportation is working to amend its regulation on service and emotional support animals on airplanes, and it is inviting public comment. You can leave a comment here and demand that the government support breed-neutral regulations that do not discriminate against specific breeds. Tell the Department of Transportation that what we need are clear, common-sense regulations that keep the spirit of the federal protections for disabled individuals, while balancing the safety of all aircraft passengers.
Scientists, animal professionals and experts agree there is no evidence that one breed of dog is more dangerous than another. On the contrary, we do have data that tells us that the small percentage of dogs who do bite and attack include a range of breeds and mixes. With advances in science and our increasing knowledge about a dog’s DNA and its relationship to appearance and behavior, we now know that a dog’s breed is a complex issue that does not neatly translate into predictive behavior patterns.
Overreacting to incidents such as dog bites isn’t effective or productive, whether it’s done by an airline, by an apartment complex or even by an entire city. Increasingly, lawmakers around America have moved to prohibit breed-specific legislation in their communities because there is no evidence it helps, it is cost-prohibitive, it is difficult to enforce, and it causes tremendous hardships to animals and their owners. In fact, 21 U.S. states have enacted prohibitions on breed-specific legislation and many North American municipalities have rescinded such laws. Earlier this spring, the city council of Castle Rock, Colorado, lifted a 25-year-old breed ban, making it a policy focused on behavior instead of breed. Most recently, Quebec backed off from targeting pit bulls in controversial proposed legislation, with Quebec’s Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux stating that there wasn’t scientific support for banning pit-bull-type dogs, Rottweilers and mixes of the two. By enacting its ban on pit bulls, Delta is bucking the trend and taking a giant step backward.
The bond between humans and their companion animals is a close one, and it acquires special significance and importance when it is between a person with a disability and his or her service animal, or between a person and his or her emotional support animal. Please weigh in on the federal rulemaking before the July 9th deadline to ensure that the skies stay friendly for our fellow citizens and their service and assistance animals. And if you live in a community with breed-specific legislation, download our advocacy toolkit on repealing such legislation.