WASHINGTON — There’s this wonderful story about two New Yorkers on the hottest day of the year being ordered by their wives when they arrive home from work to first walk their dogs. “Don’t even take off your coat” each is told.

Dan Thomasson mug

Dan K. Thomasson

They meet in the lobby of their apartment building and trudge out into the oppressive heat of the night where no breeze is stirring. Miserable doesn’t describe it. “Sure would like an ice cold mug of beer,” one says, resolutely waiting for one of the dogs to do his business.

“Yeah,” the other replies. “But where?”

Just then they notice a new picture window bar in their neighborhood where patrons are sitting in a cool atmosphere with pitchers of beer, the condensation dripping enticingly from the sides. One problem: a sign forbids pets.

“I’ll fix that,” one of the walkers says. He reaches in his breast pocket, pulls out his sun glasses and heads for the door, telling his friend to follow his lead in a few minutes. His companion watches in disbelief as he is ushered immediately to a table, his dog at his feet and a pitcher of frosty beer in front of him.

The outside man immediately emulates his companion flipping on his glasses and heading through the door, the dog leading. He is met by the same waiter who tells him that he is sorry but no pets are allowed. “This isn’t just a pet,” the dog owner says. “It’s my new seeing eye dog.”

“Pardon me,” the waiter intones politely, “but I didn’t realize Chihuahuas were used as seeing eye dogs.” To which the walker shouts indignantly:

“You mean they gave me a Chihuahua?”

That’s what airlines and thousands of their passengers are facing — an onslaught of furry and some feathery creatures from passengers who misrepresent them as necessary companions on their journeys, bringing them on board in passenger compartments hardly large enough for humans and getting smaller. Resolving this dilemma is of high priority for those who run the nation’s airlines already faced with dealing with frustration and anger caused by the crowded space challenge.

Making the job more difficult for them is a 1986 act that allows free travel for any animal trained to assist a person with a disability or provides emotional support. It is difficult to challenge a dog or whatever is necessary for the emotional stability of a passenger.

So, a new surge of animals has been turning flights into a menagerie, blocking aisles, getting underfoot and even causing harm to fellow passengers. The Washington Post describes one man bitten badly in the face by a Lab held on the lap of a man in the middle seat as he tried to reach his window accommodation in the same aisle. Having owned two Labs, I can certify they aren’t lap dogs although they do make good seeing-eye guides.

Labs are normally gentle creatures, even untrained ones. But putting them or any large animal in the middle seat is a recipe for a disaster, a lawyer for the assaulted man told the Post. There have been numerous other incidents.

There are efforts underway to solve the situation but it isn’t easy. A 2016 panel to find new ways to be fair to all parties worked for seven weeks but couldn’t come up with any satisfactory solutions. The pet situation was only one of many that wasn’t dealt with to anyone’s satisfaction.

Delta, on whose flight the man was bitten, has come up with new requirements that go into effect next month. A passenger who wants his pet on board must subject a veterinarian form to its newly created Service Animal Support Desk at least 48 hours before flying. If the passenger is in need of a psychiatric—service animal the owner must provide a letter from his health provider saying the animal is trained to behave in public.

Airline travel has become increasingly wearing. Planes with passengers in such close confinement and sharing recirculated air face a myriad of health issues from the common cold to the flu to who knows what. Put an animal in the mix and it all gets worse.

Tribune News Service columnist Dan Thomasson can be reached at thomassondan@aol.com .


(1) comment


All that 1996 law did was create an opportunity for freeloaders to obtain some BS certificate so their pets fly free.

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