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Service & Support Animals Part 3: Public Travel with Service Animals

Service dogs and emotional support animals are invaluable for many people, especially while travelling. That being said the regulations and rules can be confusing at times. Read this article to gain an understanding of what you can expect when travelling with an animal.

Public Outings (for service dogs)

Canada has set laws pertaining to service animals and people with disabilities. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act protects those with service animals, and their public access. A service animal is considered a human right, according the Human Rights Code. Individuals cannot be refused access to public places because they have a service animal. The only places that they are not permitted is anywhere that food is prepared, due to health and safety concerns.

If you have a service dog, there are certain questions and actions that people can and cannot ask of you:

They cannot:

  1. Deny the accommodation, services or facilities available in a school or in any place that is open to the public.
  2. Discriminate against the person with respect to accommodations, services, or facilities available in a school or in any place open to the public, and cannot charge fees for the use of accommodations, services, or facilities.
  3. Ask for documentation or proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed. Some businesses do reserve the right to ask for a letter from a physician stating that you need the service animal, so always keep your doctor up to date. Also, any local laws against possession of certain dog breeds do not apply to service dogs.
  4. Ask about your reason for having a service dog (a disability).
  5. Ask you to have your dog perform a task in order to “prove” anything.

They can:

  1. Ask if it your dog is a service animal (without asking for proof).
  2. Ask what some of the dog’s tasks are (ie. blocking - creating space between you and others, deep pressure therapy, retrieving items, etc.).
  3. Ask to pet your dog (whether you allow them to is up to your own discretion).

NOTE: Your own comfort level will change your experiences. If someone asks about your dog, remember that you are an advocate for anyone with a service animal, and the likeliness of people just being curious and/or wanting to make sure it is okay to ask to pet your dog is out of kindness and learning. But you are entitled to say no to anyone asking to pet your dog - you can simply say that you would like them to remain focused because they are working, and that you appreciate that they asked. Most times, it may be parents asking for their children, which is also a learning lesson about service dogs for youth.

Travel

There are two well-known airlines that allow service dogs (other animals are subject to admittance by the airline, so it is best to confirm with them), WestJet and Air Canada. You must have your animal in their work harness, and you must bring credentials and a letter from your doctor (within the last year) stating that you need the service animal during the flight and/or at the destination. Having your identification is crucial is having your animal be allowed on the flight. With the amount of people posing their animal as a service animal, it is important that you can provide documentation for air travel, as well as cross-border travel. You should have any certifications/licenses stating that your animal is a service animal, paperwork from your veterinarian (ie. rabies vaccination, papers, etc.), a letter from your doctor, as well as any other identification you need for air travel or crossing borders. They will not charge you any additional fees for bringing your service animal, unless they need to clear out a space for them - typically there is enough room at your feet, but advance notice that you have a service animal, and what kind/breed is required to be communicated to the airline at least 48 hours in advance. If you have a larger animal, such as a Great Dane, they may not be permitted to travel in the cabin, and may need to be put in a kennel for travel. It is always crucial to check each airline’s rules and regulations regarding air travel, as they each have their own specific requirements.

Regarding emotional support animals, airlines become more strict. They specify which animals are banned due to health and safety regulations, and specific instructions for accommodation and boarding policies. Sometimes airlines will classify emotional support animals as pets, and they may need to travel in a kennel. They place a limit on the number of animals they will carry during travel, so early notification is best to obtain a spot for your animal. Ask any questions you have about accommodations while you are in contact. Sample questions may be; “Is there a designated relieving area?” “Are there any special screening processes we will have to undergo?” and “What documentation will I need to have for my service animal for boarding?”. Always contact your air travel services and be aware of their specific policies, as well as any other airlines if you are taking more than one flight.

Links regarding service dogs can be found on the Provincial Legislation website.