Delta Airlines’ announcement that pit bulls and pit bull-related dog breeds used as support animals will be banned inside airplane cabins under the new revisions is discriminatory and could be unlawful, says a service animal support group.
The ban begins July 10 in response to recent incidents where airline staff were injured by pit bulls, according to a press release issued by Delta last Friday.
But an American advocate for progressive pet policies, Abby Volin, the founder and president of consulting firm Opening Doors, said Delta attempting to ban service and support animals from their aircrafts is an issue of discrimination.
“Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), the law that prevents air carriers from discriminating against individuals living with a disability, qualified individuals are permitted to use service and emotional support animals of any breed,” she said. “Delta’s policy banning certain breeds as service and emotional support animals therefore likely violates the ACAA.”
Delta said the ban comes as the peak summer travel season is underway because of growing safety concerns following recent incidents where employees were bitten, its release said.
“The new requirements support Delta’s top priority of ensuring safety for its customers and employees,” the company said.
Delta claimed there was an 84 per cent increase in reported incidents involving service and support animals since 2016, including urination, defecation, biting and attacks. It also cited a previous attack in which a passenger was mauled by another passenger’s 22.6 kg (50 pound) emotional support dog in June 2017. It was not specified if the dog was a pit bull or pit bull-type breed.
Pit bulls and pit bull-related breeds will join the list of other banned service or support animals on Delta planes, which include rodents, goats, spiders, snakes, hedgehogs, ferrets, insects, sugar gliders, reptiles, amphibians, non-household birds like farm poultry, waterfowl, game bird, birds of prey, animals improperly cleaned and/or with a foul odor and animals with tusks, horns or hooves.
“The safety and security of Delta people and our customers is always our top priority,” Gil West, Chief Operating Officer, said in the release. “We will always review and enhance our policies and procedures to ensure that Delta remains a leader in safety.”
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service and emotional support animals can’t be restricted by breed, even if the local municipality has a breed ban, Volin said.
“The federal laws preempt the local ordinances even in jurisdictions that have local ordinances restricting ownership of certain breeds,” she said. “All types of dogs must be allowed to work as service or assistance animals. It’s unlikely that Delta’s policy is legal, but my hunch is that it will take a court challenge to find out conclusively.”
In a Twitter post, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) CEO Matt Bershadker said Delta’s ban goes against the airline’s commitment to public safety and reinforces false stereotypes about Pit bulls and Pit bull-type breeds.
— ASPCA (@ASPCA) June 21, 2018
“Pit bull” is an umbrella term for many different breeds of dogs with muscular heads and short hair, said Kate Crew, the founder of Canadian rescue organization Loveabull.
Crew, who is a certified dog trainer and behaviour specialist, said this ban is no different from human-profiling.
She believes the term should be reserved for purebred America Pit Bull Terriers, which are actually quite rare. Most dogs are mutts, and any dog who is aggressive is likely a result of their owner, she said.
“I think a lot of the issues we are seeing these days are due to poor backyard breeding,” Crew said. “A lot of dogs don’t have the same genes as they once did. You can’t label one breed and say they’re all the same way because they’re not.”
Volin said this ban is completely arbitrary.
“It has no bearing on public safety,” she said. “Banning one type of animal gives people a false sense of security that all the ‘dangerous’ animals are restricted from the flight and they may not be as careful around a strange dog as they should be.”
“The policy wasn’t thought out well and enhances discrimination against individuals living with a disability,” Volin said. “It certainly isn’t good optics or PR.”
As far as how the airlines will effectively enforce this ban, Crew believes Delta won’t be able to identify the breeds correctly simply by eying the dogs.
“In general, it has been a proven fact that humans can’t correct identify a breed of dog just by its appearance,” she said. “So how do they prove these dogs that they’re calling ‘Pit bulls’ are technically American Pit Bull Terriers? Again, it’s an umbrella term for so many dogs who have a similar appearance.”
Canadian dog rescuer Kate Crew, the founder of Canadian rescue organization Loveabull and certified dog trainer and behaviour specialist, said this ban is no different from human-profiling.
“They’re saying just because a dog looks a certain way, they’re not allowed to go on airplanes,” she said. “There are so many good dogs out there, it doesn’t matter what they look like. They’re all individuals, so whether they’re allowed on a plane should be determined by their temperament.”
Maria Galindo, spokesperson for Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides, says anyone with a pit bull-type dog as service dog could be grounded if they fly Delta.
She said short snout dogs shouldn’t be placed in cargo because they can’t breathe as well.
“The reason we ask service dogs not go to cargo is because they can suffer stress and I do know that pit bull breeds are considered to have short snouts, which means they have breathing issues,” Galindo said.
“So, a lot of airlines actually ban those types of dogs to be placed under cargo,” she said.
Service dogs in general are essential to the person they are travelling with, Galindo said.
“Think of it if you have a wheelchair,” she said. “You want your wheelchair next to you or if you’re blind you want your cane next to you so you can be independent, or as much as you can be.
“That is the way our service dogs work,” Galindo said.
Crew, whose rescue society seeks to eliminate the stigma surrounding the “bully breed” of dog, said she knows quite a few dogs who are under the label of “pit bull” who make great support animals.
“With the right genetics, they can be really great therapy dogs for people who suffer from PTSD, anxiety, depression, and even autism,” Crew said. “They are so loyal and really great family dogs.”
“There’s always going to be something that somebody’s not going to like and they’re going to target,” she said. “It used to be German shepherds, Rottweilers, Dobermans. Now it’s pit bulls, which is unfortunate. We only hear about the negative stuff, but there’s lot of positivity out there regarding bully breeds in general.”