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Today, the American Kennel Club (AKC) submitted comments to the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) regarding its proposed regulation updates that would redefine “service animal”  for the purpose of air travel.

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in air travel and requires air carriers to accommodate the needs of passengers with disabilities.  Under current ACAA rules, a “service animal” is any animal that is individually trained or able to provide assistance to a person with a disability, including emotional support animals.  In addition to dogs, animals such as miniature horses, pigs, and monkeys have been considered “service animals” for the purposes of air travel.

The AKC has long shared concerns that passengers wishing to travel by air with their pets may be falsely claiming that their pets are service animals—especially emotional support animals—so they can take their pet into aircraft cabins or to avoid paying fees for their pets.  Unfortunately, this has resulted in numerous reports of untrained or poorly-trained service animals being brought into airports and onboard aircraft, thereby putting the safety of the aircraft, crew, and other passengers at risk.  These situations have undermined the use of all service dogs, especially onboard aircraft.

Moreover, the definition of “service animal” under the ACAA has differed from the definition of “service animal” used by the Department of Justice under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  This has led to confusion as to what type of animal may be acceptable as a “service animal” in certain situations.

In January, DOT responded to the concerns of AKC and many other organizations by proposing changes to the rules it uses to enforce the ACAA.  Chief among them, DOT proposed that the definition of “service animal” be changed to, “a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefits of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”  This proposal would align the ACAA and ADA definitions of service animals, and would include psychiatric service animals.  Dogs not specifically task trained, including those considered emotional support animals under the existing definition, would not be considered a service animal.  Those animals may continue to be accommodated by air carriers as pets.

In keeping with AKC’s policy on the Misuse of Service Dogs, the AKC expressed support for the proposed definition of “service animal”, and reiterated strong support for public accommodation that allows individuals with disabilities to use service dogs without regard to the dog’s size, phenotype, or breed.  Likewise, it condemned actions that fraudulently misrepresent a dog as a service animal when it is not, or attempt to benefit from a dog’s service dog status when the individual using the dog is not a person with a disability.

Click here to read AKC’s comments to DOT.

Upon consideration of all comments it receives, DOT will provide notice of the final version of the rule adopted.  This process may take months to complete.  AKC Government Relations (AKC GR) will continue to provide updates on this rule proposal as developments warrant.  For more information, contact AKC GR at doglaw@akc.org.

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