Comfort Animals

I’ve had enough talking about delays, let’s move on to something else today.

There was a story that came out the other day about a guy who recently smuggled a monkey from Peru to New York, and it brought back a flood of memories.

No, it had nothing to do with my monkey smuggling days. We don’t talk about that anymore. It brought back memories of comfort pets. Now, this monkey was not legally allowed to be on the plane, but there are actually some cases where that is permitted.

When I worked at America West, I was in charge of keeping the contract of carriage updated. Usually, something urgent would come down the pipeline, and another workgroup would call me breathlessly asking me to change it yesterday. I usually just did it, but I always wanted to know what was behind the change first.

One time, I received a call saying that our seeing-eye dog policy had to be changed immediately because it couldn’t be limited to dogs. You can imagine my response:

Me: “Is this a joke?”
Them: “Believe it or not, other types of animals are becoming more common as seeing-eye pets.”
Me: “Like what?”
Them: “Ponies.”
Me: “Ponies?!? Where the hell do you put a pony? Tied to the lav door with a rope?”
Them: “No, these are little ponies that fit in the bulkhead.”
Me: “Uh, ok.”

CUDDLES 3I really didn’t believe this at the time, but sure enough I had a picture of a pony sitting in the bulkhead of another airline’s airplane in my inbox soon after. There is even a Guide Horse Foundation which helps place ponies with disabled people. As you can tell, these are some pretty small ponies, but wouldn’t you still be freaked out if you pulled up to your bulkhead seat and saw a pony staring you down?

And don’t think it stops with ponies. There are monkeys too. Apparently, people who do not have use of their arms have monkeys that act as substitute arms – feeding them, etc. So again, there you are in the bulkhead about to dig in to your meal when out pops Mr Peepers and he starts feeding his owner. I know, it’s absolutely ridiculous . . . they don’t serve meals anymore. But just pretend that they did, and you can see how this might be a bit uncomfortable for the rest of the row.

So, fine. I have no problem making that change if it’s the law, but there’s more.

Me: “Is that it?”
Them: “Not exactly. We also need to broaden the policy to allow comfort animals onboard.”
Me: “What the hell is a comfort animal?”
Them: “It’s an animal that people need to fly with for psychological purposes. They have a calming purpose.”
Me: “What the f***?!?! Ok, I’ll be sure to tell my friends to declare their St Bernard a comfort pet next time they fly so they don’t have to check him.”
Them: “This is serious. There are doctor’s notes coming along with these animals. And it’s not just dogs. People have ferrets, rabbits, gerbils, etc.”
Me: “Is this a crank call?”

07_08_10 comfortbearSure enough, we heard stories about people who claimed all kinds of psychological stress issues, and they had to bring their animal with them to keep them calm. At first, it seemed completely ridiculous, but then I figured that would give me my excuse for bringing Mr Icey, my pet polar bear onboard. As you can see at right, I got a doctor’s note saying I needed my comfort polar bear with me on all future flights.

Of course, there were some problems with this plan (the whole thing, not just the polar bear). Soon after that phone call, it became headline news when someone’s 300 pound comfort pig freaked out on landing (on another airline), ran all over the place, cornered a flight attendant, and relieved itself in the forward galley. SOOooiee!

So, what happened in the end? Well, we did make the change, but I don’t know if it ever got put to use . . . other than Mr Icey of course.

24 Responses to Comfort Animals

  1. james says:

    Interesting. Isn’t there a discerning body that says clearly whether or not an animal is a certified service animal? Having people travel with their guinea pigs and selling them as “service animals” to get over fear of flying is an insult to people that spend years training and using true guide animals for the blind and handicapped. (By the way the pony is legit. Bizarre but legit.)

    We had a cutesy human interest story here about a boy recently diagnosed with type 1 Diabetes. His family wanted a dog to sense blood sugar extremes. These dogs exist and are able to help – but as a type 1 diabetic myself I found the entire concept ridiculous. I wrote him a letter stating he WON’T be seen as normal, something we can easily be and do, and a dog won’t do anything that modern technology can’t.

    http://www.futuregringo.com/index.php/2007/07/31/my-letter-to-jason-rinkel/

    Just because a service animal exists and CAN do something, doesn’t mean it should be used or is practical TO be used.

    james…

  2. CF says:

    I don’t believe there is anything saying what is and isn’t a service animal. As far as I can tell, if there’s a doctor’s note, that’s enough. But there are still safety concerns to think about, like the pig. The place to look would be the Americans with Disabilities Act.

  3. Rich says:

    So, are comfort ponies and pigs subject to full TSA screening?

  4. Frog Man says:

    Cranky, you’ll always be my service monkey!

  5. Smail says:

    Ha, just a couple days ago, I was talking with my wife about this. We just bought a bunny, and she wants to take it with us when we go home for Christmas.

    Just looking at the sites of the big carriers turned up some interestingness. They all charge for pets in cabin, the cheapest was Delta at $100 r/t (but Lord knows I’m never going to fly with them). Southwest allows no animals, American only allows cats and dogs, etc etc. The strangest thing was that they all said the FAA limits the number of pets in the cabin, but then they provided conflicting numbers of how many pets are allowed. Maybe it’s on an airline by airline basis?

    Regardless, I told her that if she claims the bunny is therapeutic, we can take it home for Christmas and we won’t have to pay the absurd extra charges.

    Strangely enough, she didn’t want to forge a doctor’s note and try and convince the airline that she’s psycho.

  6. Sheila says:

    Have to admit that I don’t often laugh until I’m speechless with tears rolling down my cheeks, but you made me do that today! Even as a health care professional who has great respect for service animals and their companions, I was wiping my eyes over the notion of encountering a pony upon boarding…lots of potential mental images are still flooding my mind. Thanks for the laugh of the day!

  7. Rich says:

    I lack the words to expless my feelings upon learning that my tax dollars have financed Helper Monkey screening guidelines.

  8. Kim says:

    I have a problem with the TSA guidelines pertaining to service monkeys. As mentioned in the post, service monkeys could be used to act as substitute arms for those without. The guidelines indicate that the handler should carry the monkey through screening and put it in a carrier or on a leash. This may present a challenge for a passenger with no arms. Perhaps the service monkey could get a pony handler…

  9. John says:

    Right, because people with psychological or mental illnesses should just suck it up and deal, right? Or tranq themselves into oblivion, or just drive instead!

    Same with those folks with no arms — why don’t they just not damn well eat on the plane, instead of making random people “uncomfortable”?

  10. Chris says:

    Thats not at all what he is saying he is simply saying there’s a reasonable limit to what should be acceptable as a comfort animal. Some things such as the 300lb pig are clearly not acceptable but for fear of fanatical lawyers and lawsuits they are allowed at the cost of safety.

    I for one dont want to be the person sitting next to someone and their animal for a flight even if its just an hour.

  11. JamED says:

    Guide dog, I’m fine with, Guide pony, thats ok too, Helper Monkey, ok I can let that slide…..Comfort pig!?!

    The world is heading for a unexpected hard reboot if we don’t get a grip soon.

  12. Albert says:

    Everyone’s been talking about the animals but you’ve mentioned something that I’ve never been able to figure out to this day:

    What the heck is the bulkhead?

  13. CF says:

    Sometimes I guess I’ve been around the industry so much that I forget how to speak like a normal human. The bulkhead is the front row of a cabin. The wall in front of that row is the bulkhead, though people often refer to any front row as a bulkhead row even if there isn’t a wall there. This generally has more legroom than other rows so there’s more room for, um, a pig.

  14. Albert says:

    Thanks for that explanation. What airline industry buzzwords I know I learned from flyertalk but bulkhead was one words where everyone threw it around and one I managed never to decipher. I always thought it was “things on the side” like an emergency exit row seat where the door bulges inward and so the “window” (even though there’s no window) seat passenger is somewhat miserable despite the extra room .. or at one point I thought it was those side compartments you have on the side upstairs on the 744s…

  15. rick aka ollie says:

    well heres one for you just 2 wks ago on a southwest flight that came into phx a flight attendent was asking a guy who had a service monkey to return his seat tray up for landing .he refused saying i can`t right now after being firm but nice she grabbed the tray table and put it up for him and ………. thats when she discovered the monkey was giving this guy a b j no i`m not making this up i know the customer service supervisor and ramp manager who verified this sooooooooo

  16. Elizabeth says:

    Laugh all you want but there are situations where comfort animals can do far more than modern technology and are blessings in their ability to allow people to function. For years I couldn’t drive because of a panic disorder and the fact that any and every drug combo they tried either didn’t help stop them or had such extreme side effects that I couldn’t function on them. It was hell on earth until my doctor recommended a comfort animal. Now I can live a normal life because my dog can sense when a panic attack is going to come on even before I can which gives me the time I need to pull over or do anything else necessary to make sure I don’t hurt myself or someone else.

  17. Justin says:

    So here’s the real question. How do I get some documentation saying that I really really need my “comfort dog” to be on the plane so I don’t have to dish out that pesky $100 pet fee….or worse…not be able to take fido on my international flight? How much do I have to pay a shrink for that letter?

    I’m guessing more than $100 to compromise their reputation (or even for the appointment). Pity though, flying with my dog is way to hard.

  18. Lee says:

    @ Elizabeth:

    How do I get my 7lb Chihuahua to be declared my Comfort Companion? She travels everywhere with me in cabin on airlines that allow her but now that I’m going home (overseas) I’m being told she needs to go cargo.
    Someone mentioned Comfort Companion, so now I’m looking into this. For those that laugh at this, it’s really not funny. I need her with me…

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  20. dan durnan says:

    we would like to know the proceder on how to get our little dog a comfort animal so we can take her with us when we go places with out having to leave her home or in car alone she is a small shitzue can you help us to a site to get registered thank you

  21. Lilly S. says:

    No extreme people!!!!!! Peaceful people!!!!!!

    Whoever is reading this. this is not a joke. This is serious! I am serious. There are good reasons and bad reasons for comfort animals. You are going to find out soon enough that comfort animals keep people safe. We want tranquil people in the world not crazy people, so comfort animals help people. We want to allow them to go anywhere because people need them in public and even on planes. Plus, these animals are so cute and I want to see them around. I would love to see cats and sugar gliders in different places. I think that other people will want to see them too and accept them.
    Companion dogs, or other comfort animals, are different from service animals because they just love humans. They do not work. They play with sick people or old people. This is controversial because people argue on both sides. People that are bothered by comfort animals think is a joke, they think that sometimes the animals are too big, and these animals do not do anything. They are scared of these animals. People have used dogs, lizzards, cats, pigs, parrots, small horses, monkeys, sugar gliders, and ferrets. People that are for comfort animals need them.
    The Americans with Disabilities Act law says that people with disabilities can have these animals if they need them. The law said people with disabilities have rights. If these animals help the people then they should go everywhere with them. They don’t hurt anyone, they help them.
    These pets are like medicine to people. People do not have to take pills. They do not get sick. They are comforting to other people like me too. I love furry animals and want to see them around. I would welcome cats, dogs, small horses, and the cute sugar glider I read about if I saw them at a restaurant because they were helping the people. They need to be calm not berserk.
    I want to allow comfort animals because they keep people healthy and us safe. The woman in the article said that she needed the ferret to help her not get seizures. We don’t want a woman to have seizures. The parrot helped the man not get angry. The parrot is needed because it can talk and tell the man to calm down. We don’t want a mad man running around the streets.
    These strange comfort animals sometimes go to the bathroom in stores and eat food they are not supposed to eat. Their behavior is sometimes evil. Even though these animals eat food in the stores and roll in the mud and go to the bathroom on the floor, I think that many of them behave and there are good comfort animals. The good is better than the bad because I want people to be blissful and safe.
    Finally, I think it is a superior idea to have comfort animals because they keep people healthy and safe, the law says that people with disabilities have rights, and these pets are like medicine to people. I know that some people might say, “No dogs or others allowed because they go to the bathroom in the store.” But I say, “Comfort animals should go in stores or anywhere as long as they are with people and they can be obedient.”

    Persuasive Essay written by Lilly S.
    -8th grade student

  22. Nic says:

    as a crew member, the idea of “comfort animals” has gotten out of hand. There MUST be a defining body on this that says what constitutes such an aid and how to go about proving it. I was once treated to a comfort goose from DFW to ORD and it quacked every other second the entire trip. Yes, it even had a little diaper on, because we know that geese are not exactly the cleanest of creatures.

    in the course of my work, I come in contact weekly with people who are trying to get over on the system and not pay for their animals in the hold. It seems that now, anyone can go to Petco and buy a “service animal” vest and they think that’s tacit right to parade their animals through the concourses like the circus was coming to town.

    My contention is that IF you need a comfort or support to fly, then this may not be the best means of transportation for you. The general public would not believe how often this comes up and technically I’m not allowed to ask (but that doesn’t mean I won’t). ALL PETS STAY IN THE CAGE, NOT ON LAPS, NOT IN THE AISLE OR UNDER THE SEAT. Just because Fluffy has never bitten anyone to date, does NOT preclude that today will be the day (as it is an unfamiliar environment for said stressed animal).

    Where do we draw the line? If a small horse is okay, why not a tapir or South American anteater? It sounds insane, but this is sometimes used to have people feel special over everyone else. I am not saying there are not genuine cases out there, but it has become pandemic.

    Also, internationally monkeys of any sort are not allowed into various countries regardless of cause.

    Fly safe, but sane!

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