Victory! New Department of Transportation rule says airlines cannot ban certain breeds of service dogs

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

By on December 2, 2020 with 5 Comments

The Department of Transportation has just finalized a rule that prohibits airlines from banning pit-bull-type dogs and certain other breeds from serving as service animals on flights.

The Humane Society family of organizations has long opposed breed bans because they are unscientific and discriminate against animals based simply on their appearance. Airline bans on specific dog breeds also cause unnecessary and cruel hardships for customers with disabilities, forcing them to choose between air travel and their essential service animals.

Such bans have also affected members of the military who have had pets and service animals banned from flights when returning home from service overseas.

The rule finalized today is a rebuke to airlines like Delta, which implemented a discriminatory ban on pit bull-type service dogs in the summer of 2019.

It also brings our nation’s policies in alignment with scientists and animal experts, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Bar Association, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior and the National Animal Control Association, all of which oppose policies that discriminate against dogs based on their physical appearance. Indeed, there is no evidence that pit-bull-type dogs or other breeds typically maligned by breed-specific policies have more aggressive tendencies than other dog breeds. Dogs with these types of characteristics have been successfully serving as support animals for years.

State and local lawmakers have also moved on this issue in recent years, and 21 states have passed laws prohibiting breed specific legislation by localities (100 municipalities around the country also have similar laws). Michigan is now poised to become the 22nd state with such a law. A House bill there has just passed a Senate committee and awaits a final vote on the full Senate floor before heading to the governor. If you live in Michigan, please contact your state Senator and urge them to pass H.B. 4035.

In a welcome development the rule also prohibits wild animals from serving as service and support animals on flights—a move that is consistent with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, which does not recognize wild species as service animals. Having monkeys or other wild animals in a small, crowded space is dangerous for both the animals and people as there is a significant risk of injury and disease transmission.

By finalizing a rule ending breed discrimination by airlines today, the Department of Transportation has taken a huge step toward correcting the historic wrongs perpetrated against a group of dogs based simply on how they look. We applaud the agency for doing the right thing, both by the animals and by the people who love and rely on them, whether in their travel or their day-to-day lives.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Companion Animals, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative), Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. jane says:

    good airlines have too much say

  2. John says:

    Some people are terrified to death of pit bulls and bully type breeds (and/or dogs in general). Those persons have just as much right to keep themselves safe by being able to keep themselves away from these types of dogs. Airlines should implement a “dog section” and “non-dog” section similar to the smoking and non-smoking sections of the past, and/or require muzzles on all dogs – because dogs do bite and dogs do attack and dogs can spread zoonotic diseases as well (those aren’t characteristics only specific to wild animal species)

  3. Julie Wall says:

    Wow! You left out airlines can ban pit bulls and other breeds as pets or ESA on their flights. You left out the ESA can’t fly for free and have to ride in the cargo area. Huge Victory! DOT turned our airlines into dangerous dog pounds. The airlines should sue DOT for all the damages these ESA and Service dogs have caused on their airlines with their previous mandates.

  4. John says:

    Having dogs in a small, crowded space is dangerous as well… dogs bite and dogs attack. Dogs can also spread zoonotic diseases. Why does a certain species of animal get a free pass if all the other animal species don’t? If you’re arguing that breed-specific rules are arbitrary… then you realize the argument extends to all animals. It’s purely arbitrary that dogs at large get a free pass as being “suitable animals” to be on a flight. If airlines will be allowing all types of dogs on-board, then there needs to be a “dog section” and a “non-dog section” to accommodate all passengers. Safety is a priority for everyone and if for some people safety means NOT being near a dog – especially a pit bull or any bully type breed, then they need to be accommodated too.

  5. Julie Wall says:

    This is great news that is long overdue – dogs should not be arbitrarily judged by their breed or appearance, for any reason. The vast majority of scientific studies, legal determinations, and public opinion is against breed bans. All dogs are individuals.

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