Although I expected conversation to spring out from the post I published yesterday about flying with my large ESA dog (I mean I thought there were things to discuss… that’s why I wrote it!), I admit that there were both more total and more negative comments than I expected. Usually I try to respond to people one-off in my comments section, but felt this subject deserved a its own follow-up post.
After my experience flying, I felt pretty uneasy about the regulations that allow ESA animals to travel like they do. Back in the late 2000’s when I was training Eliot in agility, my trainer and her circle would tell everyone who needed to travel with dogs, “Just buy them a service vest and they’ll be fine! You don’t even need paperwork!” (I never did this). Even now, I have multiple friends who fly regularly with large ESA dogs (large and small). I have never been through the Austin airport and not seen at least one couple struggling to get an unruly French bulldog through security. Usually there are giant, golden retrievers bounding and dragging their airports down the corridors in gentle leaders.
And really, I can see why there’s so much nebulous area with ESA/service dogs. The idea that services dogs can only be bought from an institution for five figures is incorrect. I know someone who picked her’s out at the pound, hired a trainer to help train specific behaviors with that dog that block her from doing physical and mental harm to herself. It’s both an ESA and a dog that provides a service, and is legally registered in all accounts. The system, like many things, is murky.
All of this is not to say that I thought those people with the misbehaved dogs at the airport were making good choices, but that this was my background before flying. That experience made me think that I could do this with my much better trained dog, and be less of a disturbance than those I had seen before. It took actually going through the flying activity, for me to see that this was really a much bigger deal and had larger implications than I realized before.
I think there was an assumption made yesterday that because I admitted to feeling up to flying without an ESA, that I was perfectly mentally stable. And um, that’s not exactly the case. The reason I’m not in therapy right now, is that I had a terrible experience with a therapist before Tim died when I tried to get help dealing with his addiction. But the details of that, and my psychological/emotional struggles, are really for me and my brain alone.
I also want to clear up that the ESA papers for my dogs are 100% legal — they wouldn’t work for housing and travel otherwise. They’re not forged or drafted, but were produced from a combination of online & phone counseling sessions that led to my diagnosis of anxiety and post traumatic stress from finding Tim dead. Do I think this is toeing the line? Yes, I do, but it’s legal in every way as the system is currently written.
After the flight and after hearing comments from those with service dogs or more experience with them than I (comments I was grateful for and found educational), I did feel guilty about flying with my ESA dog. I do not feel guilty for using their papers for housing. I don’t have to explain to anyone who’s ever been deeply depressed about how having a living animal wake you up in the morning with a wagging tale can be the thing that pushes you out of bed to take care of their needs when you don’t care about your own. Pascale has slept next to me every night since Tim died, and those little things (plus many more) have kept me going these past years. Tell me that’s not medicine, and emotional support?
At the end of the day, you can choose to be disappointed with me or view the blog I wrote as an open point of discussion. That’s why I wrote it. I felt uneasy about the experience and the system that allowed it, and I was honest with my feelings. It would have been much easier to act like it never happened and sweep this entire thing under the rug, but I don’t think that’s productive to learning and growing.
I always try to be the kind of person that’s willing to share her experience, and is open to learning and change. Living that way keeps me from being disappointed in myself.