I don’t want to fly the friendly skies with a monkey. I like monkeys, but air travel is challenging enough with unexplained flight delays, needles in the sandwiches and a dearth of pillows, blankets, food and space on domestic flights. And now, I might have to share the cabin with a monkey, a pot-bellied pig, or a miniature horse.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is considering proposals to update accommodations for disabled airline passengers who have a service animal — not just allowing service dogs in the cabin with their owner, but also monkeys, pot-bellied pigs and miniature horses. The legroom is cramped as it is, where would you put a horse — even a little one?
No snakes will be allowed on planes as service animals, thank goodness. I saw that movie. Rodents, spiders, snakes and other reptiles are exempt from air travel. No service rats, service tarantulas or service turtles will be allowed, even if they are wearing a little red vest. I can see the discrimination lawsuits coming already from all those who wanted to bring their service guinea pig along for emotional support.
Until 2010, only trained dogs were considered to be service animals according to federal ADA regulations. The revised regulations now have a special provision permitting specially trained miniature horses (24-34 inches in height and generally weighing 70-100 pounds) to accompany disabled individuals where reasonable. Reasonable means the horse must be housebroken and under the owner’s control; the facility can accommodate the horse type, size and weight and the animal does not compromise legitimate safety requirements for the operation of the facility.
Anywhere the public is allowed to go, so goes the horse. An example given is that in a hospital a miniature horse may go into patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias and examination rooms, but not in surgery or on burn units where sterile environments are required.
I support making businesses as ADA accessible as possible, but I wonder about a little horse trying to fit into an ADA accessible bathroom. Dogs, even big dogs, appear to be more flexible; able to curl up under restaurant tables, out of the pathway. A miniature horse? Maybe standing politely at your side, looking longingly at your salad. Horses have butts — even little horses have big butts. It might be difficult for a harried server in a small restaurant to work around a horse.
Miniature horses are an alternative to dogs for people who are allergic to dogs or whose religious beliefs prevent the use of dogs. They are currently used by the visually impaired as a cost-effective alternative to guide dogs because they live longer. But monkeys and pigs? Why? For emotional support for people who can’t use dogs, so says the Department of Transportation’s draft manual for Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel.
Pot-bellied pigs can be trained to open and close doors and use a litter box. They can also weigh in at around 300 pounds. You can’t take a snow globe on a plane, but you can bring a 200-pound pig?
Flying monkeys — I saw that movie too. They take up much less space than a pig, but even trained monkeys can be a little volatile.
Could we, perhaps, be going a little bit overboard in our zeal to accommodate people with disabilities? With 90 percent of businesses currently out of compliance with regard to ADA regulations shouldn’t we be doing something to help bring businesses into accessibility compliance instead of adding more regulations that can’t be met?
What about the rights of people who share the plane or restaurant or hospital room? Allergies or fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals, according to ADA regulations. The animals are supposed to be housebroken and under the owner’s control at all times. But what if they weren’t … and you’re trapped in a plane 30,000 feet in the air with a poopy monkey who bites? Or, you have the seat next to the pig who didn’t bring his litter box?
I hope the DOT reconsiders the inclusion of monkeys, pigs and horses into the cabins of our airplanes. Maybe when pigs fly.
Wendy Schultz is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. Her column appears bi-weekly.