Airlines Can’t Ban Pit Bulls

It’s a victory for people and for dogs
By Karen B. London PhD, August 2019

Flying commercial airlines recently has meant being in a veritable zoo in some cases. How does one react when the person sitting next to you has a squirrel or a turkey with them for emotional support? Passengers have tried, with varying degrees of success, to fly with ducks, pigs, monkeys, spiders, snakes and a peacock, all of which have been presented as emotional support animals. That is in addition to huge numbers of the usual suspects—dogs and cats.

Being allowed to fly with emotional support animals makes flying manageable for anxious passengers who legitimately need an animal to feel safe and secure. Unfortunately, anxiety levels of many other passengers, as well as airline employees, went sky-high, so to speak. That’s because numerous people tried to cheat the system by claiming that their pets were emotional support animals to avoid paying animal transport costs. The resulting high rates of urination, defecation, barking and biting on board commercial flights led, quite understandably, to policy changes.

Delta Airlines attempted to ban Pit Bull type dogs from flying in the cabin as emotional support animals. This may have been in response to a particular incident in which a flight attendant was bitten severely enough to require stitches. Other airlines have banned a variety of animals from flying as emotional support animals, including snakes, ferrets, goats and chickens. The United States Department of Transportation guidelines to the airline industry stated that airlines are not allowed to ban particular dog breeds because the airlines consider them dangerous. The agency was very clear that even though some cases with Pit Bulls have made the news, they have not presented evidence that any breed is intrinsically more dangerous than other breeds. They did uphold bans of various species, with snakes topping the list.

Banning breeds is problematic because it unfairly targets perfectly lovely dogs and responsible guardians. (In human terms, when we view whole groups of individuals differently and treat them differently than individuals from other groups, it’s called bigotry and discrimination.) Any breed of dog can bite, and knowing the breed is not a good predictor of whether that dog will behave in an aggressive manner. Because I specialize in working with dogs who are aggressive, it is nearly impossible to name a breed of dog that I have not seen in my practice because of an aggression issue, yet I’ve also met dogs of those same breeds who do not behave that way. Considering a dog dangerous based on that dog’s breed is not going to keep anyone safer because the breed doesn’t inform us about any individual dog’s behavior.

Most airlines are now allowing only dogs and cats to fly as emotional support animals, though at least one is also allowing miniature horses. Though we won’t see the diversity of species on board as in recent years, we can still hope to see dogs of every breed.

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.

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