I’m an animal, too

Light is Right Joe Campbell

Light is Right Joe Campbell

As I am not a frequent flyer, I learned only recently that Canadian and other airlines let emotional support animals travel free. Isn’t that generous of them? I can’t wait for my next flight. Oh, I don’t plan to fly with an emotional support animal. I plan to fly as an emotional support animal. Not only am I good at supporting my family and friends emotionally. I’m an animal by definition, albeit a rational one.

Most think they can take only dogs or cats to cuddle or otherwise engage emotionally. But flyers in need of comfort or therapy have shown up with rabbits, pot bellied pigs, monkeys, rats, parrots, and miniature horses. Well, if they welcome the dumb, I can’t imagine airlines discriminating against the articulate.

Besides, I consider myself eminently qualified. I witnessed emotional support from several species that lived with my family while I was growing up and I learned from them. You wouldn’t believe how emotionally supportive a couple of dogs, a series of crows and magpies, a nest of baby mice, and a farm-bred duck can be. The dogs taught me how to dispense unconditional love, the birds how to provoke uncontrollable mirth and the mice how to cope with an unnerving environment.

For many, few environments are more unnerving than the interior of an aircraft during flight. These timid souls need all the love and mirth they can absorb along with well-timed and targeted booster shots for their coping mechanisms.

I know, because in the mid-1960s when my job entailed periodic air travel, I recognized a similar need among fellow passengers. Back then, no flyers I knew of got emotional support from animals. Thanks to attentive flight attendants, passengers got it from a variety of potions generously distributed by the bottle or glass. Although they needed no further emotional help flying – the potions desensitized them to emotional trauma – some passengers needed physical help deplaning.

In those days, flying rarely, if ever, upset me. Nevertheless, I made liberal use of the potions just in case. At no time, I should hasten to add, did I need help deplaning. Once, however, while changing planes in Winnipeg en route to Ottawa, I risked needing legal help explaining.

Impelled, no doubt, by the potions, I dashed imprudently into the first rest room I saw only to discover on emerging that it was incompatible with my sex. Nowadays, some might wonder at my embarrassment as, in their view, I merely exercised my gender rights. In that saner time, most would have wondered whether I had violated someone else’s privacy rights. Fortunately, no one appeared to notice, or any who did sympathized with my plight and overlooked the transgression.

Anyhow, should a fellow flyer with an emotional support animal find himself in similar circumstances today, he needn’t worry. If accosted, he has only to declare, “My monkey is female.”

I realize that the non-human providers of emotional support may object to my encroaching on their livelihood. The dogs may want to bite me, the horses kick me, the birds peck me, the monkeys mimic me, and the others do what they’re best or worst at. Still, I can’t resist the opportunity to fly free, despite the distractions.

By distractions, I don’t just mean the machinations of my non-human rivals. I mean being scanned, probed, crowded, cancelled, stranded, re-scheduled, ill-informed and exposed to air rage and jet lag, not to mention charged for everything from baggage to booze. Flying is not what it used to be when I first became a passenger. It’s reaching the point where the emotional support animals need emotional support.

Which raises the possibility that such support could become an animal rights issue. That activists haven’t already made it an issue is surprising. Not only could the animals fall victim to the stress they’re intended to relieve. But, from the beginning, they’ve been pressed into what activists may consider involuntary servitude. Some already question the morality of pressing guide dogs and carriage horses into service.

This could be good news for me. I have no idea what, if any, kind of compensation activists think might justify employing non-human support animals. But for aspiring human support animals like me, money is always an acceptable option. Not only would I get to fly free. I would get paid for doing it.

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