Emotional Support

I just learned something new. As I shared with all of you earlier, in November I got a new puppy, a white long haired teacup Chihuahua, named Minnie Mouse. When I got her, she was ten weeks old and weighed a pound. Now, at 4 months, she has made it to 2 pounds. She is totally adorable, and a really sweet puppy. And she is REALLY tiny. My goal in getting her was to have a dog who could travel with me, when I go back and forth to France. My dogs at home, whom I love, are just over the weight limit (or so I thought) for international travel (12 pounds), so too big to have them with me in the cabin. And Minnie is tiny enough that I can take her in a travel bag, and keep her with me on the plane. (However—–I discovered that a 2 pound dog is like a baby. The stuff I take with me, sweaters in many colors, leashes, collars, dog bowls, blankets, a dog bed, her favorite toys, wee-wee pads, food, and you name it for a very spoiled and pampered dog weighs a LOT more than 2 pounds. Her stuff took up half a suitcase on her first trip with me!!! And one of my daughters gave me a ridiculous pink hat (with holes for her ears); in case it was cold in Paris. So far, Minnie has refused to wear the hat, but I brought that too). You get the picture—tiny dog, silly owner, mountain of stuff to take along in suitcase).

The preparations for international travel to France with a dog were more complicated than I expected. I needed official/stamped health certificates and vaccination papers, both for the airline, and entry into France. In addition, she needed an ‘international chip’ under her skin that can be scanned by European scanners in case she got lost in France, a US dog license, and a whole lot of paperwork to take along. I got it all lined up, and then for the actual trip, you need a regulation size carrying case (she must be in the case at all times, and can’t be removed from it while on the plane). You need a reservation for her travel (no more than 7 pets can be in the cabin on the plane, so they keep track of how many will be travelling on every flight), and you have to pay a small fee. Whew!!! Complicated. But important to comply with the rules. You don’t want them quarantining your dog if you don’t have the paperwork you need!!!

It took a couple of months to get all the shots, and all the paperwork and certificates in order. She missed one of my trips to France while I was doing that, and finally she was ready. The big day came, and armed with all her documents, I got to the airport for the trip with Minnie. (And no, she wasn’t wearing the pink hat. She was wearing a tiny black sweater which she hated and kept getting out of!!)

And when we got to the airport, the first question the airline asked me was “Is she an emotional support dog?”…..uh….what was that question?? I wasn’t sure if they were asking me about the purpose of having a dog, in a tiny black sweater, whose equipment took up half of a suitcase. (Maybe someone told them about the hat??).  In response to my blank look at the question, they repeated it with a serious expression. “Is she an emotional support dog?” hmm….well, I certainly love her, she is 2 pounds of adorable puppy, so yes, I guess she provides some kind of emotional support. Ah…they said, that’s different. And they asked for a certificate for that as well. Now there’s a certificate I did not have. Great wardrobe yes, a gazillion toys, yes, the kind of food she’s been eating….proof of her chip and shots, yes…..but no certificate certifying her as an emotional support dog. And then began one of those great conversations of total confusion where two people have no idea (or one person for sure: me) what the other one is talking about. I know about service dogs: like guide dogs for the visually handicapped, and I’ve even heard of service dogs for people with epilepsy, who are able to detect a seizure before the person can, and can warn the person of the impending seizure. Service dogs of any size can accompany a person on the plane. I haven’t seen them often, but I’ve seen them, very well behaved, and lying at their owner’s feet in the cabin.  Well, guess what? Emotional Support Dogs are now in the same category, and are ‘official’. The airline representative explained to me that if you tell the airline that you are afraid to fly, and have a certificate testifying to that, you can bring your dog on the plane, in the cabin with you, without a carrier bag, without a reservation, with no size restriction (I guess you could bring a Great Dane or a Saint Bernard), and they can travel with you, free of charge. The size and weight restrictions do not apply (otherwise, for non-support dogs, 12 pounds is the limit for international travel, and I think it’s 20 pounds in the States). I was bowled over by that information. For one thing, so many people are nervous about flying, particularly since 9/11, that if they all brought an emotional support dog, the plane would look like Noah’s Ark.  I doubt that most people know about that new feature for travelling pets. I’d never heard of it. And I’m sure you still need all the vaccinations and papers even for an emotional support dog. But the airlines really give people a break if they are afraid to fly and feel they need to bring their dog with them. I was really impressed that they don’t need to be in a bag (like Minnie—fierce 2 pound attack dog that she is!!), emotional support dogs can be as large a dog as you want, and there is no fee for an emotional support dog (Minnie had to pay $125.00 for the trip).  It was a whole new aspect of pet travel I’d never heard of. Poor Minnie must have felt a little left out, in spite of her sweater, pink collar, many toys, and the pink hat in her suitcase. Actually, on a more serious note, I think it’s wonderful that the airlines are so sensitive to nervous flyers (there are several in my family), and recognize that travel with their dogs will bring them comfort. I was really touched and impressed. You have to have paperwork to back it up, and I’m not sure what that is (maybe a letter from a doctor about being afraid to fly?? I didn’t ask), but that was a whole new discovery for me!!! And I found it fascinating. So if you see a big dog, lying at the feet of a fellow traveler on a plane, now you’ll know why, and what the dog is there for….to lend emotional support. And if you see a ridiculously tiny white dog in a sweater and pink hat……you’ll know who that is!!! Miss Minnie!!!

Love, Danielle

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11 Comments so far
  1. Nancy Freedman-Smith (@Gooddogz) February 6, 2012 12:26 pm

    For dogs to travel in a cabin they need to be TRAINED, service dogs. Emotional support service dogs are not granted the same public access rights via the ADA as task trained dogs. You need to correct this before you single handedly mess up public access for people who really need it. Please research this, and correct it.

  2. Carolina Paton February 6, 2012 3:22 pm

    This is a lovely story, Miss Minnie will be a celebraty!!!! and the emotional suppport is not only for the nervous passengers must be for many in the streets. Like always Danielle you gave us beutiful writing…Love from Chile.

  3. Nancy Freedman-Smith (@Gooddogz) February 6, 2012 6:10 pm
  4. Dawn Goehring February 6, 2012 9:41 pm

    Maybe you should do a bit more research about emotional support dogs before being so excited about a new “feature” for airlines. There are many people out there that will use and abuse this and end up making un-restricted travel for real service dogs a nightmare. You do indeed need certification from a DR. that you are needing an emotional support dog, and then that dog should be trained! And the restrictions for emotional support dogs are different then task dogs.. do your homework.. this is going to create alot of confusion…

  5. mike reid February 7, 2012 6:22 pm

    Hi Danielle – pets our great aren’t they? Their sometimes smarter than humans and more sincere. After reading your story about pets – I think I’ll get one in the near future. Hows your new book coming along? One of my favorites was the (The House). Ive always enjoyed woodworking and this book aroused my creativity. SF has some wonderful homes!! Enjoy – mike

  6. Nicole February 8, 2012 12:14 pm

    Dear Ms Steel,
    I loved your story about getting Minnie Mouse ready for the flight and about emotional support dogs

  7. Nina February 8, 2012 5:20 pm

    From your About section “The hardest thing that ever happened to me was when my son Nick died, when he was 19, eleven years ago. He had bi-polar disease, he was an extraordinary wonderful fantastic kid, and we all loved him.”

    Then you should know how serious mental illnesses are. Emotional support animals are intended for those individuals and by taking advantage of the system you are only hurting people with mental disabilities. By writing such an uninformed blog entry you are putting half researched information out there for people to take advantage of. Not cool.

  8. Jacqueline Walas February 10, 2012 4:53 pm

    Danielle, like all of your writing, you implant a picture as vivid as any artist with a canvas!Your experience had to be hilarious, under the confusion! I have a cat, do you think that would work for me? Actually, she is the one that won’t leave my side! Our pets get the same love & care as we share with those we love, and your experience proved it! Please let us know how Minnie Mouse handled flying! Good luck & enjoy. A truly lovely story, as usual.

  9. Kimberly February 18, 2012 7:41 pm

    Very Interesting! 🙂

  10. Montecristo Travels March 2, 2012 11:01 am

    Lovely read. As a world travelling Chihuahua I found your post amusing, fun and well written. But is I may offer a word of caution regarding the ESA. It requires a Doctors note and in addition to get the letter required for flying (a separate thing altogether) you have to pass a test with a panel of psychiatrists. You have to have an actual disability (they do provide the list). Much of it is available online but please note that this should not be abused by those that do not in fact need it. Pets are wonderful and enrich everyone’s life. A service animal – even an ESA – is a necessity. The difference should be respected and followed. The risk here is if people lie on the application forms and the term ESA is abused it will become far more onerous a process in the future for those that need it in earnest. ESA’s had a very difficult time being recognized as service animals and we should all strive to be careful not to mare the process with falsehoods. I would be cautious before touting this as a solution for traveling pets; pets are not ESAs.

  11. Shirley Petroski March 6, 2012 3:57 pm

    I just love you, as you enjoy your darling animals like we do. We have a sweetheart named Sally. Just came to our front door asking for a home. She is 1/2 Poodle and 1/2 Shitzu. Probably that is not how you spell it. She is the love of our life. Quiet, loving, patient,very small,but big heart. I have just retired, as my Husband has to. Together we have 6 living children. and we lost our Daughter Krista in an auto accident when she was 20 years old.She had a Daughter as well, named Brittany. who lives with us now. She is 21 yrs. old I agree with you our Children are so very precious to us. I really enjoy your books. Have read 6 since Christmas. Thank you for all you do. Have a beautiful year. Love Shirley