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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 12:18 am

Pug on a plane

Peanut in a window seat.
Photo By Bruce Rushton


Somewhere over Colorado, a flight attendant drew the line.

“Sir,” she told me, not unpleasantly. “Your dog must be in your lap or on the floor.”

Snoring atop a computer satchel placed on the middle seat, Peanut was oblivious, as was a passenger on the aisle who boarded with us in Seattle and instantly fell asleep, as if fresh from a Vegas all-nighter or a month spent crab fishing on the Bering Sea.

Let sleeping dogs lie? Try telling that to this rules-obsessed airline employee who stood apart from others whom my pug and I had encountered while flying extraordinarily friendly skies. Anyone who doesn’t believe that we live in a dog’s world has not lately spent time in supermarkets or airports or taverns or any number of other places where a pug’s, or a poodle’s, right to walk among us goes unchallenged.

Years back, when plane crashes were not uncommon, dogs were pretty much forbidden on flights. Now that it’s safe, canines are welcome on the premise that some humans need so-called emotional support animals to feel secure. Unlike trained service animals such as seeing-eye dogs that guide the blind and have distinct regulations governing their presence in public, support animals have no certifiable skills save the ability to chill out people who might otherwise feel anxious or depressed.

Lots of folks feel better with dogs around, and so lots of people have been taking mutts on planes. This has caused much consternation as people suspicious of everything accuse dog owners of gaming the system so that they may crisscross the nation with pets that pose grave dangers. Dander. Defecation. Barking. And worse.

Last year, a dog on Delta bit someone in the face, necessitating a reported 28 stitches. Beginning March 1, Delta says that folks who bring dogs on planes as emotional support animals must certify that canines have been vaccinated and trained to behave. The number of Delta passengers with support animals nearly doubled between 2016 and 2017; United Airlines, citing similar increases and rises in problems, also is also cracking down.

Unlike the biting lab mix on Delta that weighed a reported 70 pounds and was owned by a Marine in need of emotional support, Peanut, who is short on teeth, weighs barely more than a bowling ball and needs a diet. She is more than a pug.

“The presence of an emotional support animal is necessary for the emotional and mental health of Bruce Rushton as evidenced by the therapeutic presence of animals assisting with mitigating symptoms the (sic) he is currently experiencing,” my online therapist, a counselor licensed by the state of Illinois, wrote in a letter of transit that allows Peanut to ride in the aircraft cabin, free of charge.

I paid $150 for an evaluation and the letter. No one asked to see it when I took Peanut to the airport. “Can I pet her?” asked the man at the check-in counter in St. Louis. At security, TSA employees carried my luggage so that I wouldn’t have to fumble with both a pug and bags as I made my way to the bench where you put your shoes back on. On the plane, a flight attendant moved us to a row where no one else was sitting. I could feel a few WTF glares as Peanut and I got up and moved from an aisle seat to the new spot where she stretched out and promptly fell asleep.

Peanut and I have flown once since then, with similar experiences. Kids and fellow passengers have asked to pet her, and she’s had her picture taken in a terminal men’s room. We’ve been moved to the front of security lines so we didn’t have to wait and assigned premium seating so that we could board early and enjoy extra leg room. I’ve been asked for Peanut’s letter of transit just once, and she’s been as welcome on shuttle buses and Uber as she’s been on planes.

It is easier to fly with a pug than without one, which is ridiculous. The tolerance for dogs and other animals in public places is astounding – a New Yorker writer a few years ago got on Amtrak with an alpaca and on an airliner with a pig, shortly after Ivana Trump, the president’s ex, brought her Yorkie to lunch at an upscale New York restaurant, appalling a patron who said the dog was on the table. In January, someone tried boarding with a peacock. United said no.

I didn’t object when the flight attendant demanded that Peanut give up her seat an hour or so from home. Rules, after all, are rules, and so my dog finished the journey on my lap. And it was Peanut’s last trip. Regardless of legal rights and stellar behavior, my pug is grounded. There are rules, there is wiggle woom and there also is common sense. I will miss her, but from now on, Peanut stays home. Call it doing the right thing.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com


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