Travel pros and cons

Emotional support animals: turkey and horse fly, but squirrel, pig and peacock grounded

Last week’s banning of a woman who tried to take a squirrel with her on a flight in Florida wasn’t the first such case. Who can forget the hamster flushed down a toilet and the peacock forced to travel terrestrially?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2018, 2:31am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2018, 7:38am

A woman was kicked off a flight in Florida last week for bringing her “emotional support squirrel” on board.

Although the woman had informed Frontier Airlines that she was taking along an “emotional support animal”, she did not say it was a squirrel – a species that is banned, along with other rodents.

The incident delayed the flight by about two hours.

Several airlines have tightened restrictions on so-called emotional support animals as more people seek to fly with them to help cope with mental health issues. They can be prescribed by licensed mental health professionals in the United States, and are different from service animals, which perform tasks such as guiding their owner.

In Hong Kong, the only animals permitted in a plane cabin are disability assistance dogs, and prior approval is required.

A number of misadventures involving emotional supportive animals in the US have made the news. Last week’s incident reminded us of the following:

1. Pebbles the dwarf hamster

A Florida woman said an airline told her to flush her hamster down an airport toilet because the emotional support rodent wasn’t allowed to fly with her.

Reports in February said she had called Spirit Airlines twice to ensure she could take Pebbles with her when she flew home from college to deal with a medical issue. But when she arrived at the airport, Spirit employees refused to allow the animal on board.

RIP Pebbles: passenger says airline told her to flush pet hamster

The 21-year-old said she flushed Pebbles down a toilet at an airline employee’s suggestion, after running out of other options.

2. Dexter the peacock

Dexter the peacock was banned from boarding a United Airlines flight with its owner, Brooklyn-based artist and photographer Ventiko, in January.

Even though Dexter was declared a support animal by its owner, the peacock’s weight and size did not meet United’s guidelines.

After six hours waiting at the airport, Ventiko decided to drive across the US instead.

Dexter died in his owner’s arms in July.

3. Hobie the pig

Hobie the pig was originally given the chance to fly as an “emotional support animal” aboard a US Airways flight, a day before Thanksgiving in 2014.

However, Hobie started kicking up a fuss before the plane took off, defecating and squealing.

Pig and owner were eventually kicked off the flight for being disruptive.

4. Easter the turkey

Widower Jodie Smalley took her 25-pound (11.3kg) turkey, Easter, on a flight from Seattle to Salt Lake City for emotional support when she was on her way to spread her husband’s ashes in January 2016.

“Having Easter with me was a source of positive presence. She was someone to focus on if my emotions became too much,” Smalley told British broadcaster the BBC.

They made the trip without any problems.

5. A miniature horse

Miniature horses, as well as dogs, are counted as service animals in the US, so while many airlines have tightened their policies on emotional support animals, some, including United and American Airlines, still allow miniature horses on board.

This lucky one took flight in April last year.