For My Dog’s Sake, I’ll Drive


I guess I’ve misunderstood the term “emotional support” as it applies to animals. As any owner of a border collie will tell you, that’s a street that runs one way in the opposite direction for us.

As you may have read in the accompanying news columns, the DOT has ruled against folks who insisted on traveling with the animals they depend upon to make them feel better emotionally. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that most of those animals are dogs and I get it. I’m an unapologetic and enthusiastic dog lover and there is no question that our beautiful Sophie is a major contributor to our mental well-being. Whether her absence would cause a recognizable medical condition is doubtful but I’m not here to judge what makes others tick. If petting an animal keeps you from stabbing someone, then pet away. As long as it doesn’t bother anyone, where’s the harm?

But as humans are wont to do, some folks pushed the boundaries. How dragging a pony or a peacock aboard an airliner became a fundamental human right, I’m not sure, but clearly it was an infringement on the rights of others onboard to a safe and relatively hygienic experience. The airline drew the line at the peacock but inexplicably let the pony trot on.

Since that story appeared, we’ve heard from crew members with bizarre stories about the emotional experiences they’ve endured breaking up fights, cleaning up disgusting messes and nursing bites and scratches to protect the rights of those passengers.

So that’s why there seems to be universal support for the common sense rule enacted by the DOT that limits non-human passengers in the cabin to “pets” which can occupy crates underneath seats or to the highly trained and properly registered service dogs that some folks rely upon, which can lay at their humans’ feet. All others must go in the hold.

But having said all that, there is not a hope in hell I would try to travel with Sophie in the cabin of an airliner. Like all border collies, she’s whip smart and anxious to please and I don’t think she would be a problem for anyone else on the plane. I, however, wouldn’t be able to endure the huge guilt trip she would put on me. Sophie likes her couch, and in her younger years, the freedom to roam our rural property and enjoy the freedom of being a country dog. She would hate being on a plane and she’d be even more upset about going in the hold.

A decade ago when we bought part of a vacation home in Florida, there was never any question that we would travel there by air, even though we live on the opposite side of the continent. For Sophie’s sake, we’d load up the motorhome or the car and Griswold more than 4,000 miles in the middle of winter to get to flip-flop weather. 

We sold the Florida place a few years ago and have been sticking close to home in winter but we’re plotting our next warm weather getaway. Unfortunately, by the time the pandemic allows it, we will almost certainly be free to travel as we wish because Sophie can’t realistically be with us much longer. She’ll be 18 next year and she’s clearly in the deepening twilight of a magnificent and extraordinarily long life.

When we come to that dreaded decision, our next dilemma will be whether to take a break from dog ownership in favor of the freedom to travel at will or to quickly try to fill the enormous void her absence will leave. If we get another dog (I’m definitely leaning that way), I want another border collie. My wife would like a small dog that presumably could join us in a crate in the cabin.

But traveling by air won’t be the deciding factor. It will have to be the right dog for both of us.

And I’m damn sure we won’t be getting a pony. Peacocks are cool, though.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. “For Sophie’s sake, we’d load up the motorhome or the car and Griswold more than 4,000 miles in the middle of winter to get to flip flop weather.”
    English is a magnificent language. Thank you for brightening my morning with the above sentence 🙂

  2. In CA, I lived on acreage next to a lady who had a pet peacock. Those birds make a very loud screeching sound that sounds like a woman screaming, “Hell..eL ..Pah.” I can’t imagine one of them doing that inside an airliner. Ironic that this decision coincides with that disallowing cell phone usage aloft. I can’t even imagine sitting next to someone yakking away for hours while petting their emotional support whatever. As bad as both of those would be to me as a passenger, I am SO grateful that smoking onboard has — likewise — been banned. Now toss in the requirement to wear a mask for hours playing Russian roulette with a virus while — maybe — having to prove you’ve taken a Covid shot and … “Griswolding” is looking mighty inviting.

  3. Great article by Mr. Niles! I would expect nothing less, though, from an experienced GA pilot. Pilots in the U.S. and Canada tend to have a great understanding of their level of freedom and privilege, and how it depends on, among other things, being considerate of others.

  4. Not taking away from the great article you wrote I would have preferred more details on some of the so-called Service Animals that folks tried to get on board over the years. I have a former Pilot who used to claim his two dogs were service animals even going so far as to buy them vests with Search and Rescue to get them into places. His other dog vest included Service Animal dragging them along to restaurants. Neither was true but he was left alone due to the vest. When one googles the animals that the FAA looked at with this revision of regulations you would be surprised…snakes, turtles, pigs, hamsters, birds. Over 1400+ reports of animals biting passengers and crew members. Not to mention the cabin crew needing to clean up the soil these animals leave behind. Let’s face it humans get sick on planes so do animals.

  5. Thamks. Russ. Your description of Sophie, “Smart as a whip and eager to please” reminded me of my own Siberian Husky, from whom I got plenty of emotional support yet he could never have been an “emotional support animal”. If he had to remain still for too long he would get an uncontrollable urge to burn off physical energy – common with Huskies. I could picture him running laps around the interior of the tube, some of which would likely be seatback headrest-to-headrest. This, and that peeing-on-every-vertical-object thing, would have been clearly disqualifying, based on common sense. In defiance of the odds, some rare common sense on the part of an alphabet agency.

  6. I do have a service dog. She’s a Doberman and I really can’t imagine taking her on an airliner. Thank heavens we have our own plane and so she always travels with us. Just another reason to make me realize how fortunate we are to be able to fly our own aircraft with relatively little restriction.

  7. This scrum started when accommodations for actual, TRAINED and diploma-bearing “service animals” were perverted by demands for accommodations for “emotional support animals” – whatever the hell that means (channels Humpty Dumpty).
    Even looney-Left Uber and Lyft allow drivers to ask about an animal’s training before permitting one to board. No training to assist with a disability? No ride required.

    Back in the ’70s, we had a setter-husky mixed-breed. He loved car rides; loved plane rides; wouldn’t come within 10 feet of our company’s Tradesman van. And he wouldn’t tell me why! 😉

  8. For those who must have support may I suggest a Support Rock. A flat, smooth, non-metallic river rock works well. You don’t have to feed it, it doesn’t crap or bite. And if worst comes to worst you can bounce it off someone’s head.

  9. “As long as it doesn’t bother anyone, where’s the harm?”

    Thing is, it does bother other people. My wife is allergic to most dogs and whilst is certainly not life threatening, being sat next to a dog would be miserable for her. My 6 year old daughter is terrified by most dogs after an unfortunate incident with a hopelessly irresponsible owner when she was younger. Again, being sat next to a dog is going to make the journey miserable.

    If you don’t want your animals in the hold, leave them at home with a friend or at the boarding kennels.

  10. The Americans With Disabilities Act states that Dogs and Miniature Horses are the only animals recognized as species that can be used as Service Animals. I know the instance you’re referring to with the “pony”. It was a Miniature Horse and she’s a trained Service Animal, not an ESA.

  11. Cargo holds are much too cold for
    dogs and cats to bear for any length
    of time, even when the cage used to
    transport them is padded or insulated.
    Even if they’re not scared or lonely,
    they often get sick and sometimes
    die, soon thereafter. If you love them,
    do not subject them to such an ordeal.
    Find another way to bring them with
    you, or leave them at home with a
    trustworthy caretaker. There are
    ways for animals to travel safely. Cargo holds aren’t one of them.

  12. Doesn’t surprise me that t was the DOT rather than the FAA that finally issued an intelligent ruling. There is no more obstinate, incompetent agency than the FAA

  13. There is no registry for service animals. They can be professional trained or self trained.

    All anyone has to do is say that it is a service animal. They only have to answer two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform.

  14. Am I the only one to wonder about the collective stupidity in the airline business which allowed this situation to arise?
    Ok, just a dog bite here, and a dog bite there — but it is indicative of the same stupidity which allowed the MAX to fly.