Whether you know it or not, you dog – big or small, young or old – has been classified. Government and businesses have decided if your dog is an essential traveling companion, be it by plane, train, or automobile. They have determined if you can board with it, have it next to you when flying, or carry it on your car when on the road. Knowing where you dog falls under equal pet protection under the law is useful.
Dogs that generally are afforded few rights
These are the dogs most people own. Airlines have some restrictions that are pretty common sense when flying. If your dog is a Great Dane or Saint Bernard, it’s not likely to accompany you on the plane even if you buy two seats for it. On the flip side, if you want to take a puppy that is not housebroken, that is likely to be a messy situation, even if the flight is only an hour. I realize that sometimes it’s necessary to put the pooch on a plane with you, but I lean on the side of treating your dog like a baby when traveling. But I still get the window seat.
Therapy dogs have limited rights
As far as the airline is concerned, dogs have a paw up on most other members of the animal kingdom when it comes to equal rights. One exception is the pit bull, which one airline has announced it will no longer allow as a therapy pet. Some pit bull owners are quite upset about this, but to be fair to the airline it’s not like you can all animal control from 30,000 feet in mid-flight. This same airline also prohibits ferrets, snakes, reptiles; animals with tusks, horns, or hooves to come on board as a therapy pet. They are also careful to distinguish between therapy pets and the dogs with the most rights. A therapy pet requires a psychiatrist’s prescription even before it can be considered to be within the boundaries. No note, no slice of equal rights.
Service animals are the leader of the pack when it comes to animal rights
Most service animals are dogs, and there are many reasons for this. They are intelligent, come in many sizes, and are easily trained. Therapy pets make you feel better, while service dogs are actually doing something. They help blind people get around, tow people in wheelchairs, and help deaf people have more freedom of movement. But a service dog must provide a definite service that helps a person deal with a specific disability.
Naturally, the government had to set some boundaries, and the laws governing service dogs and their treatment falls under the Department of Justice American Disabilities Act or ADA. When you talk about getting the Royal Treatment, a service dog is king of the hill. According to the ADA if there is any question about whether a dog is a service dog, only 2 questions can be asked of the owner:
- is the dog assisting the person with a disability?
- what the task is that the dog performs is providing that assistance
That’s it. So if you see a service dog with a smirk on its face, you know why.
A couple of closing notes on real life situations that involve equal rights for dogs.
Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney caused a considerable stir when he was seen driving with his dog in a cage that was strapped down to the roof of his car back in 2011. Animal activists howled when the pic went viral, saying it was cruel and unusual, though there was no reference to the dog being punished. At the time, Romney was in Massachusetts, where there is a law against transporting your dog in such a manner. Romney played down all the excitement about the incident, but also said he would never do it again based on the public foment over it. But what’s weird about this is that a state legislator actually wrote a law and lawmakers passed it into law, where it was signed by the governor. Slow day at the office?
The ADA is currently doing some horse trading by amending the current service animal restrictions to include miniature ponies. If you go back and look at the airline that included animals with hooves being banned, it makes more sense than you might first think. They are covering their bases before someone tries to trot a mini horse onto the plane. It’s not certain whether other airlines will follow suit with their restrictions, but imagine yourself sitting in your seat when a horse comes trotting down the aisle. That’s weird.
Though this article has focused primarily on airplanes, you will find the same legal restrictions in grocery stores and other public venues. The restrictions are not as severe for therapy pets, but you should check if you have recently taken ownership of a therapy pet or service animal.