The Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) finalized a rule in early December that prohibits airlines from banning pit-bulls and similar breeds from acting as service animals, includes new rules on emotional support animals and additional rules on service animals.

The new rules classify a service animal as “define a service animal as “a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability,” according to a release from the U.S. DOT. The rule also “No longer considers an emotional support animal to be a service animal.”

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Here are the complete rules, per the DOT:

  • Defines a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability;
  • No longer considers an emotional support animal to be a service animal;
  • Requires airlines to treat psychiatric service animals the same as other service animals;
  • Allows airlines to require forms developed by DOT attesting to a service animal’s health, behavior and training, and if taking a long flight attesting that the service animal can either not relieve itself, or can relieve itself in a sanitary manner;
  • Allows airlines to require individuals traveling with a service animal to provide the DOT service animal form(s) up to 48 hours in advance of the date of travel if the passenger’s reservation was made prior to that time;
  • Prohibits airlines from requiring passengers with a disability who are traveling with a service animal to physically check-in at the airport instead of using the online check-in process;
  • Allows airlines to require a person with a disability seeking to travel with a service animal to provide the DOT service animal form(s) at the passenger’s departure gate on the date of travel;
  • Allows airlines to limit the number of service animals traveling with a single passenger with a disability to two service animals;
  • Allows airlines to require a service animal to fit within its handler’s foot space on the aircraft;
  • Allows airlines to require that service animals be harnessed, leashed, or tethered at all times in the airport and on the aircraft;
  • Continues to allow airlines to refuse transportation to service animals that exhibit aggressive behavior and that pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others; and
  • Continues to prohibit airlines from refusing to transport a service animal solely based on breed.

According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the rule aligns with recommendations from experts and scientists, including groups like the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Bar Association, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior and the National Animal Control Association.

These new rules may impact individuals with mental illnesses who really benefit from having an emotional support animal. Individuals with anxiety, for example, may experience heightened stress while flying. Not being allowed to have their emotional support animal with them, may even make flying an impossibility.

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