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‘Emotional support’ pit bull mauls child at airport

March 1, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

The mother of a five-year-old girl mauled in the face by a pit bull while waiting at an airport is suing the dog’s owner, the airline and the airport.

The lawsuit is bound to re-ignite controversy over eccentric American laws that allow a variety of animals to fly with their owners, provided the animals are needed for the owner’s “emotional support”.

The rule has caused problems for passengers as owners bring dogs, fish, squirrels and pigs onto fights (although rodents, spiders, birds and snakes are banned).

According to a report in the Oregonian online, the lawsuit claims the pit bull dog’s owner should have known that her pet had “vicious propensities”. The suit accuses Alaska Airlines of allegedly allowing the owner to bring a dangerous dog into the gate waiting area.

The suit also accuses the Port of Portland (operator of Portland International Airport) of allegedly letting a dangerous “emotional support animal” to walk loose without proper restraint in a carrier, when it wasn’t a service animal such as a guide dog.

Pit bull is the common name for a type of dog descended from bulldogs and terriers.

Mirna Gonzalez is suing on behalf of her daughter, Gabriella, who was aged five at the time of the attack in December 2017.

The suit alleges Gabriella began patting the dog, with its owner’s consent, when the animal suddenly attacked, biting Gabriella in the face, puncturing one of her eyelids, severing a tear duct, lacerating her face and tearing her lip. The girl required surgery and has visible scars today, the family’s lawyer said.

Alaska Airlines’ policy on its website says trained service animals as well as emotional support animals fly free of charge, the Oregonian said.

Portland International Airport

“We welcome trained service animals and emotional support animals,” the website states.

The lawsuit seeks USD 100,000 for past and future medical costs, including the costs of surgery, and USD 1 million for the girl’s pain and suffering.

It’s not the first such lawsuit. In January last year, a Delta Air Lines passenger on a US domestic flight was attacked by a dog while sitting in his seat.

In that incident the victim was said to have received facial wounds requiring 28 stitches after being attacked by an “emotional support animal” in an adjoining seat.

He was said to have taken his seat on the flight when another passenger accompanied by a snarling dog weighing about 23kg came and sat down beside him. The dog sat on its owner’s lap. As the hapless victim tried to fasten his seatbelt, the dog suddenly lunged at his face.

The US Air Carrier Access Act requires airlines to accommodate service or emotional support animals, within certain guidelines. Fines for refusing legitimate support animals can run as high as USD 150,000.

Travellers are bringing cats, dogs, pigs, parrots, weasels, monkeys and even miniature horses aboard, though some airlines are fighting back.

Emotional support animal in flight. This dog is innocent and not involved in any lawsuits

A year or two ago, Eric Lipp, executive director of Open Doors Organisation, a US advocacy group for people traveling with disabilities, told the New York Post of a traveller who flew with his miniature horse. As it didn’t fit comfortably in economy class, owner and horse were upgraded to first class, to the horror of people who had paid good money to travel in that section.

Written by Peter Needham

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