On Wednesday, the Department of Transportation ruled on what counts as an emotional support animal after a series of incidents involving animals that aren't trained to be around people. Several airlines had begun to crack down on fake service animals after passengers were bitten on flights and one person attempted to pass a peacock off as an emotional support animal.
"This final rule defines a service animal as a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability," the DOT wrote in their ruling.
Julie Hedrick, the national president for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, welcomed the ruling.
"It is inappropriate to have untrained or undertrained service animals in confined public spaces such as the aircraft cabin," she said. "Far too often, flight attendants have been intimidated, bitten, and required medical attention. We are frequently left to deal with behavioral issues, including urination, defecation, barking, and animals becoming loose in the cabin."
The ruling will allow airlines flexibility to restrict which animals are allowed to fly in the cabin of their planes.
"It allows airlines to recognize emotional support animals as pets, rather than service animals," according to the Department of Transport.
In 2018, Jessica Rock, an animal welfare attorney, believes that people are abusing current airline rules and passing their animals off as emotional support animals, despite having no training. “You are seeing a major increase in not only the abuse of people passing off animals of this nature when they’re not in fact service animals or emotional support animals,” Rock told Fox News. “You’re also seeing an increase in the amount of incidents that are taking place on airplanes.”
Following incidents involving fake emotional support animals, Delta began to require that all those flying with an emotional support animal submit a veterinarian health form and immunization record at least two days before departure. A doctor’s note, signed veterinarian health form and proof of animal training are required at the boarding gate, and certain exotic animals are no longer allowed in the cabin of Delta planes.