People have come a long way toward accommodating disabilities. Many live performances provide interpreters for people who are hard of hearing. Theaters offer space for wheelchairs. Crosswalks have auditory signals to help people with limited sight cross the street safely. Yet when it comes to service animals for the disabled, accommodations suddenly dwindle.
Meet Axel: Named “Service Dog of the Year” at the 2015 American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards, he’s credited with saving his handler’s life. Wounded in service, Jason Haag of Fredericksburg, Virginia, relies on Axel to help him contend with the effects of a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. By helping Jason avoid anxiety attacks and terrifying flashbacks, Axel truly embodies the meaning of “hero.”
Not everyone sees it that way, however.
After clearing their way through the airport, Jason and Axel were recently pulled from line while trying to board an American Airlines flight home. Airline staff asked Jason to identify his disability, which he says is an illegal question. According to the National Service Animal Registry, he seems to be correct.
While an airline representative can ask what tasks a working service dog performs, it is not acceptable to inquire about a person’s specific disability. Airline representatives went on to accuse Jason of lying, of producing fake identification and asking other questions that seem, at best, dubious.
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Though they had followed the air carrier’s policies, Jason and his family were denied entry on the aircraft and instead forced to spend the night in a hotel. Although American Airlines representatives later apologized, offering the family clothing and a place to stay, he feels more should be done.
Despite the widespread use of canines as service animals, there currently is no national registry that helps people avoid these situations. In fact, instances of people being denied entry due to a service animal are more common than one might think.
Just as canines can provide tremendous assistance during active combat, they also offer immense support after a soldier’s service. Unfortunately, many dogs are left behind once combat subsides or a soldier’s term is over.