(Dis)Service Animals?

Serious animal lovers – my family and I. We currently have a rescue dog, who has turned out to be the most intelligent and lovable animal. I have to state upfront that, having grown up with family pets and with some farm experience as well, I do actually know something about animals.

Malaika

Enjoying the sun on the boardwalk. 

One of the less enjoyable parts of my job is to sign the NOTOCs (Notification To Captain) for animals carried on board our aircraft. Less enjoyable, as I often see the distress these animals suffer. More about that later.

Firstly, let’s discuss the merits of carrying animals in the cabin – a hot topic on social media, where (in particular) some US airlines are taking serious flak for faux-pas with “service animals”. The use of inverted commas is deliberate, as many of these animals appear to simply be badly behaved pets owned by equally badly behaved passengers. Apparently US airlines opened themselves to abuse by allowing “service animals” and “emotional support animals” indiscriminately into cabins – a trend they are now attempting to reverse by imposing some restrictions.

Mostly it would appear that US passengers are simply trying to avoid paying for their pets’ transport. Animals are apparently carried free of charge in cabins – probably regarded as carry-on luggage!

But this has come back to bite some airlines (pun intended), where dogs have attacked other passengers and animals caused havoc in aircraft cabins, with lawsuits now the order of the day.

To my mind, putting an untrained animal in a stressful situation among strangers in an aircraft cabin is tantamount to cruelty. That’s apart from it being discourteous and possibly dangerous to other passengers. And I am sorry, but if you need a peacock or a pony as an “emotional support animal” on an aircraft, perhaps your psychologist should have advised you against using any form of public transport.

Fortunately, the airline I fly for has strict rules about service animals in our cabins. In fact no livestock is allowed, with service dogs being the only exception. Only dogs trained (or being trained) by the Guide Dog Association of SA and other organisations affiliated with Assistance Dogs International and the International Guide Dog Federation can be accepted as “service dogs”. Passengers need to complete assessment and declaration forms, signed by a medical practitioner and provide proof from the aforementioned organisations that the dog has received the required functional and familiarisation training – all this well in advance of travelling.

In my experience this works extremely well. We often have properly certified service dogs on board and they behave impeccably, with no or minimal disturbance to other passengers.

Any other livestock must be carried in specifically designed containers in the forward hold. (Referring now specifically to the airline I fly for and the B737). IATA Live Animals Regulations apply. By the way, these regulations do not recommend sedation, except under certain conditions and when carried out under veterinarian direction.

I mentioned earlier the distress these animals suffer – this I’ve seen first-hand many times. I don’t know about fish, snakes or birds – they’re a bit difficult to understand (and we often carry those). But dogs, cats, monkeys and other pets often appear frightened and very stressed. One big Alasatian became so stressed that he chewed through his container and was found running around on the luggage in the hold after we had landed.

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Alsatian chewed his way out during a flight of under two hours.

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Eventually caught by a professional, still aggressive to anyone coming close.

That is clearly not ideal and perhaps indicates how, despite our best intentions, these animals suffer when forced to travel.

Now I know that the airlines, freight forwarders, pet shops and vets make good money from the transport of livestock – it’s just that I would personally not endorse the endeavour. I’ve seen too much trauma in the front hold during my many pre-flight walkaround inspections.

And as for animals in the cabin – don’t even go there!

(Featured Image by JBR Ranch via Aviation Week; Other images by the author).

 

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