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    Case Of Real Therapy By Animals

    Emotional Support Squirrels Aren’t Just Nutty. They Undermine Case For Real Therapy Animals.

    Frontier Airlines says a passenger wanted to take a squirrel on board with her because it was her emotional support animal. The airline does not allow “rodents” on board, including squirrels. USA TODAY

    Checking in at Chicago’s airport in 2005.(Photo: Jeff Roberson/AP)

    I can’t know for sure that the woman who brought an “emotional support squirrel” onboard a recent flight was making a mockery of airplane rules meant to help passengers with various anxieties or disabilities.

    But you have to wonder. A squirrel is, after all, a rodent. A rodent whose teeth never stop growing, a rodent known to carry rabies and other nasty diseases.

    The tale itself is both twisted and very straightforward. The passenger noted in her reservation that she was bringing an “emotional support animal” on her Frontier Airlines flight. She did not say it was a squirrel, which, again, is a rodent.Rodents, according to Frontier, are not allowed on airliners. Fortunately there’s no discrimination: all rodents are included in the ban, including chipmunks, porcupines, hamsters, even guinea pigs.(Yes, it seems wrong to include guinea pigs because of their high “cuteness” factor, but let’s face it — rules must be equitable.)

    When asked by the flight crew to exit with her squirrel, the passenger refused. That meant all the other passengers were forced to deplane so she could be escorted into the main terminal by the authorities. Two hours later the flight departed from Orlando to Cleveland. No two- or four-legged rodents onboard.

    Fake support animals harm the reputation of real ones

    Two things irk me about what happened. There’s a small epidemic of fake emotional-support animals being claimed as companions. Remember the woman who tried to board a United flight last winter — with her peacock? She’d been told “no” three times by United but still she turned up at Newark International Airport — peacock in tow. Her efforts — and the resulting twenty minutes of fame — brought a crackdown by the airlines on phony emotional support animals, which is absolutely the right thing unless we want our airliners to resemble Noah’s Ark.

    Which I don’t.

    Both passengers, the one with the peacock and the one with the squirrel, hurt the reputations of the outstanding cats, dogs, and yes, miniature horses that are considered “service” or “therapy” animals — and are allowed to fly free in the main cabin to help those folks with a range of physical, psychiatric or intellectual disabilities. This is often both a necessary and beautiful thing. (A serious note: Passengers and flight crews must remember that not all disabilities are visible.)

    More: Air travel has become a real zoo

    More animals on airplanes are good

    Don’t drive Endangered Species Act into extinction

    Therapy animals, unlike emotional support squirrels, must be prescribed by a physician and the two-legged individual must have a verifiable disability (that is usually a doctor’s note that the passenger carries with him or herself). Those with disabilities fought hard for many years to get permission from the airlines to fly with their animals and I hate to see a menagerie of farm animals — that have included defecating pigs and a duck in a diaper — do them harm.

    Wild animals don’t belong on planes

    Then, there’s my second pet peeve: One passenger delayed an entire plane and its crew for a couple of hours. A passenger on the flight tweeted: “I just want everyone to know that all passengers had to deplane my flight to Cleveland because a woman brought a SQUIRREL ON THE PLANE.” Really, what’s up with that? The entitlement of one should not disrupt the lives of the many, although there seems to be less and less a prohibition on such behaviors.

    But don’t take my siding with the other 99 percent of the passengers as a legitimate trampling of “minority rights,” which surely matter. Except not when applied to squirrels.

    Squirrels belong in the wild, and right now that means harvesting their nuts for the long winter ahead. They do not belong up in the air — even if the airlines these days are giving out nuts, and transporting them.

    Steven Petrow writes on civility and manners and is the author of five etiquette books. Follow him on Twitter: @StevenPetrow

    You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

    Steven Petrow, Opinion contributor Published 8:30 a.m. ET Oct. 12, 2018 | Updated 11:49 a.m. ET Oct. 13, 2018

    Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/10/12/squirrels-rodents-not-emotional-support-animals-column/1591375002/

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