Travelling with a Psychiatric Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal: A Guide for Canadian Armed Forces Members and Veterans
With increases in the number of Canadian Armed Forces members diagnosed with operational stress injuries as well as in the use of psychiatric service dogs and emotional support animals by these members, a greater number of assistance animals will be traveling with their owners.
Psychiatric service dogs and emotional support animals help their owners readjust socially, easing the transition to post-combat life. Certain studies1 have found a significant reduction in symptoms after post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers were partnered with a service dog. These animals provide emotional support through their presence. Some act as a buffer against other people crowding too close to a person with post-traumatic stress disorder.
While psychiatric service animals are limited to dogs, emotional support animals include (but are not limited to) dogs, pigs, cats, ferrets, monkeys and miniature horses.
If you are a member or veteran who plans to travel with a psychiatric service dog or emotional support animal, it is important to know the policies and procedures involved. This guide is intended to assist you in preparing for travel with your assistance animal.
In Canada, an aircraft with 30 or more seats is obligated under the Air Transportation Regulations to accept an assistance animal for carriage without charge. It does not matter whether you plan to travel in first, business or economy class. Air carriers are obligated to provide sufficient floor space to permit the assistance animal to remain on the floor at the person’s seat while ensuring that the person and the animal can travel safely and comfortably. Some airlines, such as WestJet, will allow the assistance animal to sit on the owner’s lap for the duration of the flight, provided that it is smaller than a two-year-old child.
Planning, communication and an exchange of information with the carrier are of utmost importance if you plan to travel with your psychiatric service dog or emotional support animal.
Even in the early stages of planning a trip there is a lot that you can do to prepare for travel with an assistance animal, such as gathering information and knowing what questions to ask.
You should inform the carrier well in advance of your travel to ensure that they are fully aware of your needs and that all issues are understood and properly addressed before the day of travel.
Most carriers require 48 to 72 hours’ notice in order to accommodate your and your assistance animal’s needs. In special cases, such as the WestJet Vacation package, the airline requires seven days’ notice in order to book transfers, car rentals or other services included in your accommodations.
If you do not give airlines the requested notice, they are not obligated to accommodate you and your animal; however, in most instances, they will make a reasonable effort to help you.
Carriers are entitled to ask for information to help them assess whether an animal is required by a person with a disability to provide assistance. It is important for carriers and passengers travelling with assistance animals to engage in a discussion as early as possible before departure. This ensures that each party has the information it needs and helps avoid problems when it is time to travel.
Generally, you will be asked to share the following information:
- The weight, height and length of your service animal as well as its ability to curl up for an extended period of time.
- Whether you have a connecting flight. Usually, the originating airline will communicate with the connecting carrier to ensure that sufficient floor space is provided.
- In most cases you will be required to fax a letter from a licensed physician or mental health professional to prove that your animal is required (see the Travel Documents, Identification and Certification section below).
You should also ask the carrier about their policies for assistance animals. Questions can include:
- Whether there is space for your animal. You can ask the company to make sure that there is enough floor space for your service animal to remain at your feet, without extreme discomfort to you or your animal.
- How far in advance of departure you should arrive at the terminal or station. You need to allow sufficient time for check-in, boarding, and individualized safety briefings or orientations, if required. Generally, airlines will ask you to arrive an hour in advance of the check-in time.
- Where the designated relieving area is located.
- Whether you require travel documents (see the Travel Documents, Identification and Certification section below).
- Whether there are special procedures for the screening of assistance animals when entering secure zones and boarding areas.
Travel Documents, Identification and Certification
If a carrier is uncertain about a person’s need for an assistance animal, it may ask for documentation that substantiates the need. You should be prepared to explain that your animal provides disability-related assistance. You might need to provide additional information or medical documentation.
If you are unable to present the information or documentation required, certain airlines have the right to deny your assistance animal travel. This is also true if the documentation you present is questionable.
In order to ensure that you have everything you need, it is best to be prepared with the following:
- An identification card for your assistance animal
- Written documentation from a credible association who trained the animal
- Credible verbal assurance from the association who trained the animal
- Carry tags
- A harness
- This is especially true on international flights, where connecting airlines may require a harness
- While some airlines, such as WestJet, do not require you to harness your assistance animal, it is strongly encouraged
- Air Canada requires you to have your animal harnessed at all times
- A letter from a licensed physician or mental health professional as proof that you require the animal for travel. The letter should:
- Be on your attending mental health professional’s letterhead
- Include the type of license held by your mental health professional and the jurisdiction in which it was issued
- Be less than a year old
- State that you are currently under the care of the licensed health professional who prepared the document
- State that you have a mental or emotional disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM V)
- State that you require the assistance animal as an accommodation for air travel and/or for an activity at your intended destination
- State the task that the animal performs for you when travelling
- State whether you require your assistance animal to travel as a lap-held emotional support animal
Restrictions and Limitations
Most airlines will not accept animals that could cause a safety or health hazard, such as snakes, reptiles, ferrets, rodents and spiders.
Air Canada accepts only dogs as assistance animals. WestJet will allow dogs, cats, miniature horses, pigs and monkeys on most flights to most destinations. They may also accept unusual animals on a case by case basis.
An animal will be denied transport if it:
- Exceeds a safe size and weight
- Poses any type of health and safety threat
- Has not been trained to behave properly in a public setting
- May cause a significant disruption to cabin service
Questions to ask
When traveling outside of Canada:
- Find out about any regulations or restrictions related to the type of animal, travel, quarantine, or permit requirements that might apply in your destination country;
- Find out whether your animal requires an international health certificate or proof of vaccination; and
- Always carry all available certification for the animal, such as international health certificate and training certificate.
Documentation, Certification and Identification
If your flight stops in a number of countries, you must satisfy the entry requirements for each country. For import and export regulations, vaccination, and documentation requirements, it is important that you contact the consulate or embassy and consult specific government regulations of the countries you will be entering.2
For international travel, you must prove that you have complied with all regulations required by the country you are travelling to, from or through.
Failure to provide the required documentation may result in the quarantine of your animal. You will be required to pay for all additional fees associated with the quarantine of your animal and/or the return of your animal to where its journey began.
Canadian Transportation Agency
TTY for hearing impaired: 1-800-669-5575
Medical Assistance Desk: 1-800-667-4732
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