BREAKING NEWS: Dept. of Transportation moves to end breed discrimination on airlines

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

By on January 22, 2020 with 9 Comments

The Department of Transportation today announced its plan to issue new regulations that would prohibit airlines from banning certain breeds of service dogs. This represents a much-needed move toward ending discriminatory policies by individual airlines that cause unnecessary and cruel hardships for customers with disabilities and their animals.

The proposal follows a summertime announcement by Delta Airlines that it would no longer allow pit-bull-type dogs on its airplanes, even if they are certified service dogs. That decision failed to acknowledge what scientists and animal experts have agreed upon for years—that there is no evidence supporting the assertion that a dog poses a direct threat because of his or her breed.

With its decision, Delta placed an extreme and unnecessary hardship on its own customers, asking them to choose between air travel and essential service animals. It also ignored guidance from the DOT in August 2019 that instructed airlines not to prohibit service dogs on flights based on their breed or physical appearance alone.

The DOT confirmed that guidance in its announcement today and stated that it is not aware of nor has been presented with evidence supporting the assertion that an animal poses a direct threat simply because of its breed.

There is, in fact, absolutely no evidence that pit-bull-type dogs have more aggressive tendencies than other breeds. On the other hand, such dogs are increasingly serving as seeing eye and hearing dogs, as physical support dogs for balance and mobility, as medical alert dogs responding to various health issues such as low blood sugar, oncoming seizures or low oxygen levels, and as support animals for individuals with psychological conditions such as PTSD.

What adds to the confusion is that there isn’t a specific breed called a “pit bull.” Instead the term is used loosely to refer to any medium-sized and short-haired dog with a large head. As a result, a large number of breeds are clubbed together under this moniker, including the Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier and endless variations of mixed breeds.

Experts like the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Bar Association, American Kennel Club, American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, National Animal Control Association and Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association oppose any and all policies that discriminate against dogs whose physical characteristics are lumped into a breed. As awareness grows, dozens of municipalities have also done away with breed specific legislation in the last couple years. Just this month, Washington became the 21st state to prohibit its localities from passing such legislation.

There are some serious practical problems with such policies, too. Even professionals who work in the animal industry, including veterinarians, animal control officers and shelter employees, are unable to accurately identify breed based solely on the physical traits of the dog. An airline employee would find it impossible to decide which dog should be banned on the basis of his or her breed, leading to highly discretionary and inconsistent decisions. Airline personnel already have the discretion to prohibit an individual animal from flying if they are displaying unsafe behavior, and instead of creating breed discriminatory policies, airlines should train staff to look for signs of behavioral stress in dogs.

We applaud this proposed amendment that would bring airlines in line with the latest science while ensuring that individuals with disabilities and their service animals are adequately protected from frivolous discriminatory policies. The DOT also announced today its intent to prohibit exotic species, including capuchin monkeys and other primates, as service animals—concerns we have flagged in the past because of the health, safety and welfare risks involved. Please submit your comments supporting this rulemaking, and help us make air travel a safe, comfortable and stress-free experience for all individuals, including those with disabilities, and the animals who play such an important role in their lives.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Companion Animals, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Melanie says:

    I applaud you for stating the facts that so many fail to understand. no specific breed of dog has been proven more aggressive than another. Pitbulls ,as you mentioned cover a vast number of dogs that have been discriminated against simply for their appearance. I as well as other animal welfare professionals commend you for this . Thank you

  2. Melanie says:

    I applaud you for stating the facts that so many fail to understand. no specific breed of dog has been proven more aggressive than another. Pitbulls ,as you mentioned cover a vast number of dogs that have been discriminated against simply for their appearance. I as well as other animal welfare professionals commend you for this . Thank you

  3. Tom says:

    Clearly they have their head in the sand in regards to the fact that every year pit bulls are responsible for more fatalities then any other breed. This is straight up a fact like it or not. Shame!

  4. Katherine J says:

    Your hyper focus on the lifting of canine breed bans ignores the fact that the proposal specifically bans all non-canines from being service animals on flights. I think it’s incredibly important for breed restrictions to be lifted, HOWEVER, banning emotional and psychiatric service animals is deeply disturbing and appears to violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    • James Gilliam says:

      Is there a simplier solution?

      First Class


      Kennel (handicapped section)

      • Jodie says:

        Wow. Not exactly sure if you meant to imply that people travelling with service animals should all be relegated to the ‘Kennel’/’Handicapped’ section. I’m guessing there are folks who regularly fly First Class with their animal companions who might disagree.

  5. James says:

    It would be wise for all of us who own Pitbulls to be sure that our dogs are trained right and that they are always on their best behavior so the world will continue this upswing that they’re on and stay seeing our amazing pitbull pals as the great and special animals they are no matter what breed they might be. Don’t you agree? This is where I went to get my own dogs trained and it was some really pretty outstanding things we learned, my dogs and I. Tri it out and tell everyone here what you think.

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