I write you this letter with both an open and a broken heart. I understand that a negative experience may have led you to arrive at the decisions that you have made, but I hope you will take this opportunity to see things from another point of view.
My name is Katie Corbett. I am 27 years old, and I am proud to call Atlanta home. I have two Bachelor’s degrees from the University of Georgia; I work for LifeLine Animal Project, an Atlanta non-profit animal welfare organization, and I still cry when I get pulled over for speeding. I have three dogs who are my pride and joy, and I spend countless hours every day trying to rescue other dogs in need. Some people may call me a crazy dog lady, but really I have just had the absolute privilege to see what dogs are capable of, which has led me to be so compassionate about saving them.
While I was in college, I was privileged to work with a non-profit organization that raises and trains service and guide dogs for veterans in need, as well as for people with visual impairments and/or other disabilities, who may require the assistance of service dogs. This organization uses purebred labs, golden retrievers, and standard poodles. While I had a wonderful experience with this organization and think very highly of them, my current experience working for an open-intake county shelter has inspired me to be creative about how we can save even more lives.
This is where Otter comes in. Otter was born at DeKalb County Animal Services and was eight weeks old when I first met him. He was incredibly calm when the rest of his siblings were running around and wrestling each other. He wasn’t phased by loud noises, flashing lights, or being handled by an array of people, and he was quick to pick up on commands. Spending time with him for a couple weeks led me to believe that Otter might be a good service dog candidate. Once we began training, my belief was validated. Otter is smart as a whip, will do anything to please his handler, and quite literally comes running for you when you are sad. In the three short months that we have been together, Otter has made me laugh on a daily basis, waits patiently at my feet everyday in the office, and hears my every joy and sorrow when I need someone to vent to. With all of this in mind, it breaks my heart as his handler and trainer that Otter won’t be with me forever, but I know someone out there needs him much more than I do.
And I know that someone needs him much more than I do because I have seen it happen before. I first met a dog named Liberty in December 2012. We spent 10 wonderful months together until it was her time to go off and finish her formal training to become a service dog. Liberty’s mom is a retired Naval officer who sometimes needs a little extra help doing things that you and I may take for granted. Liberty is trained to do things like retrieve the emergency phone and needed medication, help her mom with balance, pick up fallen items off the floor, comfort her during hospital visits and so much more. These are all things that Otter will be trained to do as well.
So you may imagine my surprise when I found out that one of these dogs would be able to board your airplanes and one would not. Liberty is a purebred black lab. Otter is a “pit bull type dog.” Can you, for a moment, imagine my fear when we heard the news of your policy changes last week and I wondered if we should even continue training together? How many other reputable service dog teams faced the same fear and anxiety? How many people are devastated that their service dogs will not be accepted on your airlines, just because of their physical appearance?
How embarrassed would Otter’s veteran be if they couldn’t board their flight? Sure, they could go with another airline, but honestly they shouldn’t have to. This ban is not only an attack on the breed. It’s an attack on people. Putting this in play is denying accessibility to good, ordinary people that just want to safely get from point A to point B.
When an incident involving a chocolate lab/pointer mix results in a Delta passenger being hospitalized, do you ban that dog from flying on your aircrafts, or do you ban a whole slew of dogs that had nothing to do with that attack in the first place? In January, I was elated to hear that Delta had imposed new policies to crack down on fake service dogs and emotional support animals, so what happened?
I have just a few questions about this new policy:
Are you aware that “pit bull” is not a breed? So what exactly does this new policy change mean? Are you just banning dogs with big heads and cropped ears? Did you know that only about 1% of a dog’s DNA makes up their physical appearance? Did you know that chihuahuas contribute to more reported dog bites annually than pitbulls do? AND did you know that 30+ breeds of dogs and mixes are incorrectly identified as “pit bulls” in dog bite incidents?
You are banning dogs who have been great family dogs and good with children. You are banning dogs who will jump in front of a bullet to save their person and will pull a child from a burning building.
And the implementation of this new policy has yet to be determined. Who will be enforcing this ban, and how do you plan to do so? Will you be requiring AKC papers or DNA testing for all dogs boarding your flights? Will TSA agents and Delta employees be trained on what questions they are allowed to ask service dog handlers?
I understand that there is an issue with fake service dogs and emotional support animals. TRUST ME, I do. It frustrates me just as much as it does you all, I’m sure. I’m upset, I’m angry, and I’m discouraged and disappointed. Quite frankly, I’m exhausted. I am absolutely sick and tired of advocating for HUMAN RIGHTS in 2018. I am absolutely sick and tired of my dog being discriminated against because he has a big, blocky head and a short, stocky body. Why are we still fighting for accessibility? When will all people be treated equally, Delta?
Advocates, animal rescuers, Delta supporters, and the service dog community nationwide are completely outraged and disheartened by this decision. As such a huge organization with a powerful presence, Delta has the opportunity to really turn this around and do something incredibly powerful about this horrible situation. I encourage you all to open discussion among the service dog community, other airline providers, and ADA, DOT, and ACAA regulators about a better way to address the issue of fake service dogs and emotional support animals and how we can all work together to continue to support and protect your loyal customers and their needs.
So I leave you with this, Delta, and I hope you take it to heart.
For you, Otter may be a “pit bull type dog.”
For me, Otter is just another dog who was lucky enough to make it out of a bad situation.
For Otter, he is just looking for the next opportunity to get a treat.
And for Otter’s future person, and for all service dog users, he is a lifeline.
For years, Delta has led the way in being an inclusive organization. Please don’t be the ones to take away a person’s independence.
A concerned citizen