I would say that one of the most-asked questions I receive about my pups is “how do you travel with your dog?”. Both of my Border Collies, Pharrell and Rosie, are ESA dogs. I know, I know, there is a lot of controversy on Emotional Support Animals and a lot of people cheat the system just to save on flight costs or to be able to travel with their fur-baby. This has made it hard for the people that actually need an ESA dog, but on the other hand, it has also made it more legit for people that have the correct paperwork and training.
When I was 17 years old, my grandfather, who was a pilot, killed himself, and I was the one that found him. It has always been hard for me to fly. Every time I see a pilot, I get flashbacks of my papa and become very stressed out. The only time this happens is when I fly, other than that I am okay with the whole situation because I have dealt with it over many years. However, when I found out that you could fly with an emotional support animal, I was so excited. Just knowing that I could have either Pharrell or Rosie there with me on the flight to calm me down and give me love automatically gave me comfort. Okay, sad story… now you want to know how and if your dog could be an ESA dog… well, here you go!
You HAVE to see a licensed therapist.
Go to your doctor, tell them why you think you need to travel with your dog, and get their option. This might not be the best thing for you. To be honest, traveling with a dog isn’t for everyone. You will not be able to take that 4-hour nap on the flight, you need to be awake and keep an eye on your dog. You have to make sure your dog is trained and groomed every time you fly. And most of all you have to be able to handle the looks and comments you will get from fellow travelers. I have had my share fair of those. It takes thick skin to not let the people that don’t agree with dogs on flights to get to you.
Side note: You really do have to have a REAL doctor’s note, you can just sign up online and get a certificate in the mail, that S&*% won’t pass.
Training, Training, Training.
Make sure that your pup is up to date on all basic commands and manners! They need to know how to listen to you in a crowd, stay focused with a lot going on around them and be calm at the airport. TSA can be a bitch, and it doesn’t stop just because you have a dog. The lines don’t get shorter and you have to take off all of their collars and leads to go through x-rays. They have to be able to walk through and stop without you. If you are okay with your dog saying hi to other passengers at the airport, make sure they know their manners, you know, they don’t jump up on others, bark or do anything else embarrassing. That will just make us all look bad, and no one wants that. Hehe
Check with your airlines
Every airline is different. I prefer to fly Delta, they are the best to deal with when it comes to traveling with an ESA dog. I also love American Airlines and JetBlue. They are all very helpful in the process. All the airlines do things a little differently so make sure you check with them as soon as you book your flight. You usually have to submit your paperwork at least 72 hours before your flight, documentation that you have completed basic training and up to date shot records. Depending on the size of your dog make sure you call and get the right seating. With my pups being about 40lbs, we have to sit in the bulkhead seats to ensure there is enough room for both them, my feet, and others on our row. I also always ask to be in a row with an extra oxygen mask… because we all know that I would give mine to them in a heartbeat if it came down to it.
The night before we fly or 6-8 hours before I make sure they don’t eat and have very little water before we get to the airport. Lines and delays can suck and some airports do not have pet relief areas, so it’s best to play it safe! The night or day before the flight we go full force at the dog park or go on a very long walk, I want to get out as much energy as I can. We also make sure we are fully groomed before flights, no one wants to sit next to a smelly dog for a 4-hour flight.
Pee-Pad (in-case of emergency)
CBD Oil (if needed)
A toy for delay entertainment
The first flight can be hard on your pup, they have NO idea what is going on, so make sure you are understanding their needs and can read what they need. During the first take off with Pharrell, I held him tight and ensured him that it was okay, and did the same thing during landing. These days, he sleeps through both.
Make sure that your dog and you know your space. The row is not yours, your seat and in front of you is yours, so make sure that you are both respecting that and keeping our of others space.
ESA dogs should just be there for you and your needs. Not the other way around or for others. So make sure that your dog is calm and doing that they are trained to do.
When you get off your flight, I can promise you that your dog is going to have to take a potty break. So before you head to the bathroom to freshen up or go wait for your bags, head to the closest pet relief area or outside to let your dog do their business. I also always give them water when we get off the flight and praise them for being so f-ing amazing!
One more thing, Emotional Support Dogs are not the same thing as Service Dogs or Therapy Dogs, so make sure when you are filling out your paperwork you are filling out the correct papers. Below are short descriptions of each from The Light Of The Dog.
Service dogs are trained to help mitigate the disability of a specific person and are protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). These dogs must be well-behaved and responsive in public as well as be trained to perform specific tasks for the individual. These dogs ARE allowed access to public locations where other dogs are not allowed, as long as they are not disruptive to the environment.
Emotional support animals provide comfort to a specific individual. ESA’s are allowed to fly on airplanes and to live in housing that might not otherwise allow animals but is not otherwise allowed in public places where dogs are not allowed. ESA’s are not trained to perform any specific tasks and are therefore not considered service dogs nor are they provided any of the rights or protections of service dogs.
Therapy dogs are NOT allowed to go anywhere in public. If stores, hotels, or other locations do not allow dogs, then therapy dogs are also not allowed there. They do not have any special privileges for being out in public, for flying on airplanes or for special exceptions in housing. Depending on the requirements for the location where therapy work is being provided, dogs will typically need to pass an evaluation to demonstrate they and their handlers are able to successfully and safely provide therapy work.