NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Jet-setting pets often travel in the lap of luxury, but the U.S. Department of Transportation is pushing stricter rules for service animals, CBS2’s Vanessa Murdock reports.
Traveler Kimberly Stephenson, of San Antonio, Texas, said the most interesting animal she’s ever seen on an airplane was a sugar glider.
“During the flight it was in the person’s pocket wrapped in a handkerchief, and fed it with a bottle,” she said.
Stephenson didn’t know if the miniature marsupial was an emotional support animal, but Jenine Stanley with the Guide Dog Foundation said it could have been. She said right now, there are no real rules as to what is a legitimate service or support animal.
“Once you board your plane with your animal and you say ‘I am coming with a service animal,’ ie. an animal that is trained to medicate my disability, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether it’s true or not,” she said.
Which is why the U.S. DOT wants to change the rules.
Too many people are bringing their pets on board claiming they are service animals, and it’s a safety issue because an untrained pet doesn’t know how to behave on a public flight.
Stanley recently wrapped up participation with U.S. DOT’s Service Animals Working Group, which made suggestions as to how rules regarding service animals on airplanes should change. One key issue they looked at was: Should specific species be defined? If so, what are they?
The group suggested only dogs be listed as service animals, and dogs, cats and rabbits qualify as emotional support animals.
Emily Sciarretta said so-called service animals are a real concern for her and her canine companion Carel, who helps her with everything from opening the fridge to the front door.
“People go online and get these vests and make their pets into what they think are service dogs,” she said.
She has actually had to protect her highly trained pooch from the impostors.
“I think every bonafide service dog team needs to have an ID card. If you pass a test through ADL, you should get the ID card,” she said.
Ursula Post said she needs her dog Poohbear by her side.
“He helps me with my depression. He travels with me all the time, he’s good on planes,” she said.
She told Murdock she follows the rules currently in place to fly and hopes only those skirting the system are affected by any new rules that go into effect.
Stanley said she expects the new rules to be out for public comment within the year and to be set within three years.