Where is the Line When it Comes to Emotional Support Animals on Planes?

By Cara Bradley ’20

Contributing Writer 

This February the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) released a notice of proposed rulemaking to amend the definition of a service animal in air transportation. This change would allow airlines the right to prohibit emotional support animals (ESAs) on planes, limiting the ability of passengers to falsely represent their pets as service animals (U.S. Department of Transportation). The DOT stated that these new rules would ensure the safety and comfort of all passengers, a necessary precaution after the uptick in service animals onboard.

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) of 1986 guarantees cost-free in-cabin travel for service animals identified as: “any animal that is individually trained or able to provide assistance to a person with a disability; or any animal that assists persons with disabilities by providing emotional support” (U.S. Department of Transportation). This ambiguous definition of service animals allows the free travel of ESAs, which has resulted in many incidents regarding untrained animals aboard planes. United Airlines and Delta Airlines have placed restrictions on passengers flying with service animals in response to these recent incidents, however further restrictions must be put in place by the DOT to prevent the likelihood of such situations.

An ESA dog on a passenger plane. Photo courtesy of ESA Doctors.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), ESAs and service animals serve two different purposes as ESAs include any animal that provides a “therapeutic benefit” to individuals with psychiatric disabilities and other mental impairments. Meanwhile, service animals are defined as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities” (“Service Animals”). Many questions have been raised over the validity and necessity of ESAs on planes after the number of passengers traveling with their pets increased tenfold from 1992-2002 (Marchand 2020). The ACAA’s broad definition of service animal currently allows passengers to travel cost-free with their ESAs, avoiding fees of at least $125 for international flights. Evading expensive fees and the hassle of arranging alternative transportation for their pets, more and more passengers have started flying with their ESAs.

The DOT’s requirements aim to limit the misuse of ACAA protections, which has been seen through the wide variety of “service animals” flying in recent years. While airlines do require documentation for passengers travelling with a service animal, a recent influx of passengers have been accompanied by their emotional support pigs, turtles, iguanas, and other unconventional animals, leading to grave concerns over the safety of all passengers. The current definition of a service animal is dangerously too broad, resulting in passengers taking advantage of the protections it provides. It is intended for passengers with disabilities requiring the accompaniment and use of a service animal, rather than those looking to avoid expensive fees to fly with their pets. The DOT’s proposed rules would no longer provide passengers this right by making a clear distinction between ESAs and service animals, which will remain allowed aboard (U.S. Department of Transportation).

In 2017, Delta employees reported increased acts of aggression, such as “barking, growling, lunging and biting from service and support animals, behavior not typically seen in these animals when properly trained and working” (Delta News Hub). In one incident a Delta passenger was mauled by an emotional support dog resulting in facial wounds requiring 28 stitches (Yamanouchi 2017). In 2018, an emotional support dog injured a young passenger when its teeth scraped her face onboard. After witnessing the attack, passenger Todd Rice tweeted: “@SouthwestAir flight 1904 allows a support dog on the plane, bites kid, paramedics now on plane. Why are dogs on the plane?! Never again will I fly SWA” (Phillips 2018). The same year, multiple dogs had accidents mid-flight, with one resulting in an emergency landing due to the discomfort of passengers onboard. Such incidents of misuse led to Delta’s 2018 policy requiring advance documentation for passengers to fly with their ESAs in order to ensure the safety of all passengers. According to Delta’s website, this policy is in response to “an 84 percent increase in reported animal incidents since 2016, including urination/defecation, biting and even a widely reported attack by a 70-pound dog” (Delta News Hub).

While ensuring the nondiscriminatory access for individuals with disabilities to travel with their service animals should be the DOT’s top priority, where should the line be drawn when it comes to the safety and comfort of other airline passengers? According to the DOT, these new regulations would deter “fraudulent use of other animals not qualified as service animals” and prohibit “animals that are not trained to behave properly in the public, effectively balancing the safety and protections off all passengers” (U.S. Department of Transportation).

ESAs have proven to provide valuable companionship and benefit to their owners. However, the current definition of service animal has provided too much leeway for pet owners, allowing the common misuse of the term. The time has come for a narrower definition of a service animal in air transportation. The DOT’s proposed rules will serve the needs of individuals with disabilities while protecting the equally important safety of other airline passengers.

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PBPL Federalism Course and Their Study of COVID-19 Featured By Trinity

By Brendan W. Clark ’21


Public Policy and Law Program Director Renny Fulco and the students of her “Federalism and Public Policy” course were recently featured by Trinity College for their continued study of COVID-19 and how federalism plays a role in dictating government efforts to combat the virus.

Speaking as a current (and very proud!) PBPL student in the federalism course, we’ve been receiving news articles regularly from Professor Fulco; we receive a curated, weekly selection of stories on COVID-19 from TA extraordinaire Dayna Vadala ’21; and Professor Fulco and Dayna are working to organize a discussion this weekend about the virus and federal and state responses via Zoom.

Before Trinity shifted to remote learning at the start of March, Professor Fulco also quickly adapted to ensure that COVID discussion and the federal response figured prominently in our discussions.

You can check out the post on Trinity’s website here or view the LinkedIn post below. Please join the conversation with many of our program’s outstanding alums and check out what they’re saying in our gallery below, too!

Even as our Public Policy and Law family is apart, the lessons learned in the program continue to remain as relevant as ever.


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Seven Questions With Karla Mardueño ’15

By Brendan W. Clark ’21


The Policy Voice spoke with Karla V. Mardueño ’15, a Public Policy and Law program alumna, about her time at Trinity, her experience in law school, and her present employment as an attorney with Kirkland and Ellis, LLP.

Karla Mardueño ’15. Photo courtesy of Karla Mardueño. 

  1. What was your concentration in the Public Policy and Law program and how did the program shape your decision to go to law school?

My concentration was law and society. I always knew that I would eventually go to law school and after taking Professor Cabot’s Law, Argument, and Public Policy class, I knew that Public Policy and Law would not only challenge me while at Trinity but would prepare me for law school.

  1. What advice would you have for those Public Policy and Law majors who want to go to law school?

Develop relationships with your professors. I cannot begin to count the number of times I reached out to Professors Cabot, Fulco, and Williamson while I was a student at Trinity and as I was preparing to apply and eventually enroll in law school. These professors have written letters of recommendation on my behalf, they mentored me while at Trinity and continued to support me in my post graduate endeavors.

  1. How did law school differ from your undergraduate experience? What practices, if any, from your undergraduate years were useful in law school?

My undergraduate and law school experiences differed greatly mainly because in college you are focused on so many different things. In a single day at Trinity, I could have chemistry, statistics, and a Public Policy and Law class while law school requires much more of a laser focus. My Public Policy and Law professors, above subject matter, taught me to think critically, to share dissenting opinions, and to ask the tough questions. These skills are what allowed me to graduate as one of the top 10 students in my law school class. I’ll also add that anyone who has taken a class with Professor Fulco is unquestionably ready for any law school cold call.

  1. What undergraduate extracurriculars did you participate in at Trinity? 

While at Trinity, I was a member of the mock trial team, I served on the E-board for La Voz Latina and the Men of Color Alliance, and I played for the Women’s Rugby Team.

  1. What is your current position and what is your work like on a day to day basis?

I am now a litigation associate at Kirkland & Ellis, LLP in their Chicago office.  What I love about my job is how different my day to day can be. While a lot of my job entails the typical work of a young attorney—legal research and writing—I often fly across the country to meet with clients or to conduct field visits.

  1. Did you aspire or expect to work in the position you are now in? 

I always aspired to become an attorney and to work in big law and Public Policy and Law gave me all the resources I needed to make it a reality.

  1. Anything else you’d like to mention about your experience at Trinity or with the program? 

I am incredibly grateful for the Public Policy and Law program. My Public Policy and Law professors always pushed me to strive for excellence. In one of my many meetings with Professor Cabot, he encouraged me to minor in Writing, Rhetoric, and Media Arts. I vividly remember him telling me that my writing could open many doors.  Without hesitation, I followed Professor Cabot’s instructions. The writing skills that I gained from Public Policy and Law and my writing minor led me to an internship with First Lady Michelle Obama, to become the Editor-in-Chief of the flagship journal at my law school, and have allowed me to enter a profession that I love. This is just one of many examples of the quality mentoring that takes place within the Public Policy and Law program.

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Public Policy and Law Alumna Brooke LePage Writes for The Hill

By Brendan W. Clark ’21

Brooke LePage ’19, a Public Policy and Law alumna. Photo courtesy of Brooke LePage. 

Public Policy and Law alumna and former contributor to The Policy Voice Brooke LePage ’19 recently co-authored a piece in The Hill that addresses the important policy issue of student loan debt and offers some solutions to the crisis. You can read LePage’s piece here.

The Department could not be prouder of our alumna Brooke and encourages all current and prospective students to read the piece and engage with the questions it raises.

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Leonard E. Greenberg Center Hosts Conference On Natural Law and Catholicism

By Brendan W. Clark ’21

Thomas Aquinas was a leading thinker who redefined religious understandings of natural law in the 13th century. Photo courtesy of The Yorck Project. 

On Columbus Day, the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College held a conference at the Smith Alumni and Faculty House, titled “Natural Law & Co.: Making Faith-Based Claims in the American Public Square,” on Catholic law and natural rights. The conference, which was inspired by Mark Massa’s The Structure of Theological Revolutions: How the Fight Over Birth Control Transformed American Catholicism, included two panels of speakers addressing natural law and its alternatives in various iterations of natural law in the public sphere.

Speakers on the first panel, which spoke to questions of natural law, were from several institutions and included the Darrald and Juliet Libby Professor of Theology M. Cathleen Kaveny (Boston College Law School), President of Hartford Seminary Joel Lohr, Professor of Political Science Paul Brink (Gordon College), Professor of Philosophy Maurice Wade (Trinity College), and Professor and Director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Life (Boston College). The speakers on the first panel spoke, in order, from the Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant, Evangelical, and secular perspectives. Massa offered his response to comments and critiques on his text and attendees had an opportunity to share their responses and thoughts.

Speakers on the second panel, which spoke to alternative approaches to natural law, included Director of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life and Professor of Religion in Public Life Mark Silk (Trinity College), Professor of Religious Studies Emerita Ellison Findly (Trinity College), Associate Professor of Islamic Studies Hossein Kamaly (Hartford Seminary), Visiting Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution Elizabeth H. Prodromou (Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University), and Massa. The speakers on the second panel spoke, in order, from the Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, and Greek Orthodox perspectives. Similar to the first panel, Massa also offered a response to the commentary.

Silk spoke with The Policy Voice and emphasized that “there is a tradition in Roman Catholicism of appealing to natural law and this conference serves to examine this tradition and how other traditions approach this too.” Silk was pleased that the conference address the “various philosophical and theological perspectives that came to the forefront of discussions.”

The conference was followed by a reception and dinner. Silk, Director of the Greenberg Center at Trinity, is a frequent contributor to the Religion News Service (RNS) and mentioned discussion s from the conference and Massa’s work in a recent post addressing United States Attorney General William Barr’s comments on religious liberty. You can read Silk’s post here to learn more and explore the implications of this discussion!

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Program Director Honors the Late Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens

By Brendan W. Clark ’21

The late Justice John Paul Stevens (1920-2019) at a lecture in 2015. Photo courtesy of the United States Supreme Court.

Public Policy and Law Program Director Renny Fulco recently spoke with New England Public Radio about the legacy of the late Justice John Paul Stevens, who passed away earlier this month.

Fulco reminds us that “Justice Steven’s North Star was fundamental fairness, the bedrock upon which our legal system stands,” and praises his collegiality and respect for the courts.

You can listen to the full segment at WFCR’s website here.

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