Remember that wild time when everyone was trying to pass any type of creature they could get their hands on as an emotional support animal to bring aboard an airplane with them? Everything from peacocks to tortoises to goats and monkeys and turkeys, people have tried to attach "emotional support" to anything they could put their hands on.
Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if someone was trying to smuggle a key on a plane and tried to pass it off as their emotional support cocaine to beat a trafficking charge.
Airlines have been cracking down on emotional support animals in recent years, however, making clear distinctions between animals that are actual service animals and ones folks just want to bring aboard an aircraft to sit with them.
And a recent TikTok from @finnianthegoldie, someone who travels with an "actual" service dog went viral after the individual in question recorded a snippet of their dog's interaction with the other pooch, along with a lengthy caption explaining the differences between the two.
The video shows the non-service dog, who appears to be a bulldog of some kind, sniffing and trying to interact with the golden retriever, which the TikToker says is an actual service dog. The TikToker puts up their leg to separate the bulldog from their golden retriever as the owner of the bulldog pulls their pup away.
The TikToker begins their post with a quote from what they say is from the US Department of Transportation: "'Emotional support animals, comfort animals, and service dogs in training are not service animals” (US DoT) and are not covered by the ACAA (Air Carrier Access Act) We’ve had these kind of interactions with 'service animals' too often since the law changed in 2020 and it’s really alarming (the # of ESAs that suddenly became PSAs with 0 training)."
@finnianthegoldie continued, "Now every time we’re at the airport, I am constantly on the lookout for “service dogs” that might put Finnian at risk (or service dogs in training who are clearly not ready to fly and had little public access training) Recently saw a video of a 5 month old puppy flying as a fully trained “service dog” after the owner got an online certification from a scam website."
The TikToker stated that abuse of these service dog policies are making businesses more reluctant to give concessions and make exceptions to actual service dogs as they ultimately set a bad example for properly trained dogs.
"Faking a service dog definitely contributes to business’ and the public’s reluctant attitude towards real service dog teams (not to mention they’re breaking federal law) & puts real SD teams at risk. Most recent ruling: U.S. Department of Transportation Announces Final Rule on Traveling by Air with Service Animals (2020)"
They also referenced the fact that emotional support animals are technically not considered service animals, according to the ADA. "Emotional support animals are not considered service animals (meaning they are pets and you will need to follow the airline’s pet regulations and pay the pet fees to properly transport them) • Allows airlines to limit the number of service animals traveling with a single passenger with a disability to 2 service animals"
They said that these new laws also help protect "actual" service animals from other pets as well as passengers aboard aircraft: "Allows airlines to require a service animal to fit within its handler’s foot space on the aircraft • Allow airlines to refuse transportation to service animals that exhibit aggressive behavior and that pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others "
Many TikTokers, even those who say that they have trained emotional support animals do not attempt to pass them off as service dogs saying that there's a clear difference between the two.
Others said that they've been in plenty of scenarios at airports where folks were masquerading their pets as service dogs, but it's clear that they haven't undergone any serious training protocols as they easily get distracted by their environment.
TikTok user @@elluhhhwtf made a point about the difference between service and emotional support animals, writing: "you can actually tell a service dog because they go through YEARS of training to not get distracted by people or objects, especially other dogs"
Have you ever traveled and had an upsetting interaction with an animal that was a "fake" service dog? Do you believe that it's important to make this distinction especially in a closely-packed and often stressful environment like an airplane?