Delta chooses discrimination over public safety and science

"The safety and security of Delta people and our customers is always our top priority."
Gil West, chief operating officer, Delta Airlines

Gil, I couldn't agree with you more. That's why I was so disappointed to see that Delta Airlines ignored the science, data and research on animal behavior and safety when the airline recently adopted a breed-discriminatory policy toward service and support dogs.

As of March 1, the airline will no longer allow individuals with disabilities to travel with "pit bull type dogs." It doesn't matter if your service dog has been working with you for years without incident or if your emotional support dog is desperately needed to help you overcome your anxiety about flying. If the animal looks like a pit-bull-type dog, then he or she (and you) are no longer welcome.

Delta is one of the world's largest airlines, carrying more than 180 million passengers each year. According to the company, it flies over 250,000 service and support animals annually (about 700 each day). I mention the numbers only as a way of illustrating how many disabled individuals and their service or support dogs will be affected by this misguided decision.

Putting aside for a moment the questionable legality of the new policy and its devastating impact on the people who rely on these animals, I'm also struck at just how out of touch the airline is with the current science about dogs and their behavior.

In fact, this isn't really a point of debate any longer. The research and science on this are settled matters. Study after study has definitively found that a dog's breed is not a reliable factor in predicting the dog's behavior. And when you consider how many pit-bull-type dogs are mixed breed, you can see why breed-discriminatory laws and policies are on their way out.

And that's even before getting into the problems of enforcement and the nightmare this new policy will create for front-line Delta employees. Looking at a dog and figuring out his genetic makeup is about as easy as trying to guess the winning lottery numbers.

Breed discrimination is a failed policy that is being rejected by governments and companies alike. As of today, 21 states have provisions protecting owners against breed-discriminatory laws. Best Friends is working with our partners throughout the country to increase that number to promote responsible dog ownership and public safety. You can join that fight for our pets by signing up for our advocacy alerts to become a voice for animals.

We fight breed discrimination for lots of reasons: We know it doesn't work. We know it can't be fairly enforced. And we know that all dogs are individuals. But we also fight to stop breed discrimination because we know that it only exacerbates the needless tragedy of pets dying in our shelters.

Every year, around 1.5 million cats and dogs are killed in our shelters. Of these, pit-bull-type dogs are the most vulnerable of the dogs. Shelters consistently find that a large number of the dogs who come through their doors are the direct result of breed discrimination in one form or another. Whether it's because your city, town, apartment, insurance carrier or airline has said no to your pet or service dog, these restrictions can lead to more dogs being killed. That's reason enough for us to fight on.

There is still an opportunity to change this policy and to stand up for the rights of disabled individuals and their legally protected service and support dogs.

First, I sent Delta an email letting the airline know that I disagree with their decision. I urge you to do that, too.

Next, I let our government know that breed discrimination is immoral, ineffective and completely unacceptable. The U.S. Department of Transportation (the agency that enforces the law regulating this issue) is accepting public comments until July 9 on rules about service animals and airlines. I just emailed in my comments, which was easy and quick, and told everyone I know to do the same.

I'm an optimist, and I always like to focus on what's possible. While I was stunned and saddened by Delta's new policy, it also reminded me of how effective we can be when we stand up and raise our voices for the animals.

I don't plan on resting until breed discrimination is a distant memory — at Delta or anywhere else.

Holly Sizemore