• Lauren Burke

The Risks of Travelling with a Service Dog

This post is a bit of a rant, fair warning...

Ricki taking up a little too much space on a Southwest flight.

When you have a legitimate service animal, the organization that trained your dog, and therefore you, went over traveling explicitly. We spent an entire day talking about traveling during team training, discussing what the ADA covers, what rights a service dog handler has, and general etiquette and rules about being on an airplane.

Ricki and I travel a fair bit. Not a lot, by any means, but frequently enough to know the routine. I prefer driving, because rental cars are expensive and T1D + a service animal means I have a LOT of baggage. We fly on a plane, average, three trips a year, more than half of which have been cross country flights, the rest between Oakland and Orange County (my two homes).

Not once had we had the *pleasure* of traveling with other animals. But a few weeks back, while flying back south from a weekend trip to the Bay, it looked like there will be at least three other animals on a half-empty flight… A cat in a carrier, a border collie, and a little white maltipoo wearing a rope slip lead and a pink vest and collar, each of which reads SERVICE DOG. While sitting in the airport waiting to board, I’ve watched this dog constantly try and run away from its handlers, hump its male handler’s leg, eat popcorn from its female handler’s hand, and beg for food. It also has a bowl of dog food that it’s been nibbling at for the last half-hour.

This infuriates me on so many levels. We were taught to NEVER give a dog people food, ESPECIALLY IN PUBLIC, never to use a rope lead, and never let a dog eat within two hours of flying. The rope lead is unprofessional, and it’s a slip-lead, so it’s not even secured to the dog; it’s just looped around its neck. The dog could easily get out of its lead. Letting your dog beg and feeding your dog in public? That’s wrong on so many levels. If you feed a dog too close to a flight, it’s very likely the dog will throw up on the plane. And humping???? That just isn’t ok, ever!

The humans clearly knew about traveling with a service dog though, because they also got pre-boarding. While waiting with an elderly woman in a wheelchair, the couple approached us. I immediately put Ricki between myself and the wheelchair, as the dog, lose on its lead, approached us. I made my body posture as big as I could, and loudly said, “Excuse You!” to the humans… Thankfully they reigned their dog back in. They were also kind enough to sit away from Ricki and I, so I didn’t have to yell at them, or give them my b*tchest evil glare. I also didn’t hear a peep from the dog on the flight, and got off before they had a chance to stand up.

I’m sure to an extent I’m being too tough on this little dog. It didn’t bark, it didn’t growl, it didn’t try and attack us. But it did approach us, which a service dog shouldn’t do while working, and a well-knowing handler would have worked on correcting before the dog got within a few feet of us. This wouldn’t be such a problem for me if it weren’t a regular occurrence that “service dogs” come at Ricki and I. I straight up refuse to go to Target on the weekends or after work anymore—we have been snapped at, growled at, barked at, and nearly attacked more than once. Yet not on a single one of those occasions, most of which a team member was watching, was the other dog asked to leave.

The ADA states that a service dog and its handler may be asked to leave if the dog is being disruptive. Yes, even a SERVICE DOG may be asked to leave! Frankly, if Ricki were being disruptive, I would be so embarrassed that I would be running out the door with my tail tucked! I wouldn’t even give the store time to ask us to leave, I would be apologizing and getting out of there as quickly as I could. But the people handling the dogs that were disruptive towards Ricki and I? One laughed. One apologized. Most rolled their eyes and walked away. One brave idiot tried to introduce her dog to mine, saying they should be “service buddies.” I don’t remember what I told that woman, but I can tell you with certainty that it was not nice.

Please, people. I know I am ranting here, but please. If your dog is not a service animal and has not gone through extensive training, please do not bring it into public. Please do not go online and buy a phony service dog “certification” so you can bring your pet with you anywhere. Don’t waste your money! Don’t memorize the questions you can be asked so you know how to lie if questioned. Please be respectful of those who need their service animals, and keep your pets at home.

© 2020 Lauren Burke

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