Therapy dogs come in all shapes and sizes. And sometimes, they happen to be pit bull-types—which really just means they have blocky heads, big smiles, and an insatiable need for snuggling. But because of breed discrimination, pit bull-type dogs and other dogs who are unfairly discriminated against for appearing a certain way are sometimes not allowed on airplanes—which puts their humans in a very problematic position.
Now, however, the U.S. Department of Transportation has thankfully moved to ban airline breed discrimination. According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the department will soon be issuing new regulations that will prevent airlines from refusing to accommodate service animals based on their breed.
This move comes after Delta Airlines decided to continue prohibiting pit bull-type dogs on their flights—much to the disappointment of animal rights activists and passengers who depend on emotional support animals to help them on flights.
“With its decision, Delta placed an extreme and unnecessary hardship on its own customers, asking them to choose between air travel and essential service animals,” wrote Humane Society CEO Kitty Block in a blog post. “It also ignored guidance from the DOT in August 2019 that instructed airlines not to prohibit service dogs on flights based on their breed or physical appearance alone.”
“Experts like the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Bar Association, American Kennel Club, American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, National Animal Control Association and Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association oppose any and all policies that discriminate against dogs whose physical characteristics are lumped into a breed,” Block added.
While the US Department of Transportation’s regulation has not been formally put forth, it is a step in the right direction to end breed discrimination.
Pit bull-type dogs are mixed breeds that often look a certain way (the closest official breed would be the American Staffordshire Terrier). They are perceived as inherently violent and aggressive from years of misinformation and stories about dog fighting rings (let’s not forget who the real monsters are in those situations). And unfortunately, they are one of the most common types of dogs found in shelters.
Any dog can be aggressive (they are animals, after all). According to a 2017 test by the American Temperament Testing Society, pit bull-type dogs had an 86.5% pass rate—which was actually higher than one of American’s most beloved dogs, the Golden Retriever.
I own two pitbull-type dogs and have volunteered with others at shelters for years. They are maligned, abused, and do not deserve their bad reputation.
But there’s good news—because of the tireless work of advocates, people are now realizing pit-bull type dogs are not these salivating demons ready to rip off your leg. Pit bull-type dogs are actually frequently used in services. They are seeing-eye dogs and hearing dogs. They are used as medical alert dogs “responding to various health issues such as low blood sugar, oncoming seizures or low oxygen levels, and as support animals for individuals with psychological conditions such as PTSD,” said Block.
So let’s hope the airlines get with it and ban breed discrimination. Have you ever been on a plane? Terrifying! With your support dog? Not so bad.