Fewer pets on planes? New legislation seeks to tighten standards

Law makers in Washington D.C. will consider tightening restrictions on what animals will be allowed to accompany passengers when they fly commercially. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

Lawmakers in Washington D.C. will consider tightening restrictions on what animals will be allowed to accompany passengers when they fly commercially.

The bill, introduced on Tuesday by North Carolina Senator Richard Burr, seeks to align the definition of a service animal for air carriers with the current definition from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Various emotional support animals, from ducks to pigs, have been making headlines for several years

On his website, Senator Burr cites "emotional support kangaroos" as an example of abuse in the current system.

Under the ADA, service animals are defined as "dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities," meaning cats, birds, or any other animal that could provide emotional support would have to fly just like any other pet.

But, there's also an issue with current standards for service dog certifications according to Steven Canady, owner of Specialized K9 Services in Fairview.

"Right now, there is no federal standard," Canady said, who's been training service dogs for over a decade and puts his service dogs through rigorous testing. "We take them through the airport, we take them to, like, the mall, grocery stores, restaurants, and they are trained and learn. They don’t mess with the food on the floor. They don’t care if other dogs walk by."

The legislation would require several different groups, including commercial air carriers, to establish a standard of service animal behavior training for those seeking accommodation when they fly.

It would also make it illegal for someone to lie about their pet's qualifications as a service animal for the purposes of flying.

Canady believes the standards and the penalties are needed.

"It causes everyone else with legitimate dogs a problem," he added.

News 13 spoke to several travelers at the Asheville Regional Airport on Thursday who had mixed feelings about the legislation.

Donna Williams, visiting from New York, said emotional support dogs should be allowed as long as they're trained.

"They bring so much warmth, and just emotional support to people who might be not only lonely, but have a disability, but not quite measuring to maybe a service dog. I know, for instance, my mother is 91, so she likes having dogs like this one around her because it gives her comfort."

Another passenger, Sandra Tuttle, was bringing her service dog Jack through security.

"I believe it should be only service dogs because you go through rigorous training with service dogs," Tuttle said. "He went through a 10 months training in Tampa, and it was really rigorous. I mean, we took lots of field trips to grocery stores, restaurants, airports, practice going through security, and I’m not sure emotional support and therapy dogs go through that training."

According to Burr's website, the bill has garnered support from numerous airlines and the Association of Flight Attendants among others.

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