Monkeys and turkeys and pigs (on flights), oh my!
The Department of Transportation has allowed comfort animals in plane cabins since the 1990's, but that may soon change.
About 100,000 animals ride in plane cabins each year, and some airlines feel people are taking advantage of the opportunity to bring along a "comfort animal," taking the phrase "when pigs fly" too literally.
In the past, monkeys, turkeys, and pigs have all been spotted.
From Wednesday to Friday, the DOT is meeting to see if there should be a limit on what kinds of animals would be allowed in a plane cabin. Federal officials say some travelers are trying to avoid paying fees and abusing the "comfort animal" term.
Airlines are suggesting only trained service dogs and miniature horses should be allowed in plane cabins. That would make things difficult for Heidi Pagano, who doesn't have a monkey, turkey, or a pig, but just a dog, Toby. Toby is her emotional support dog, but not a trained service animal.
"Toby is my other half, my best friend, my everything," Heidi said. "An emotional support dog is a dog that's a companion and provides a therapeutic service. For me he calms my anxiety."
Heidi has had anxiety her whole life. She has always taken medication, but for the past year and a half, she has also been depending on Toby.
"I take him with me everywhere," Heidi said. "All I have to do is let him stroke him and I feel ok as long as he's there. He's like my security blanket for an adult."
Essentially, Toby is Heidi's comfort animal and if the DOT only allows trained service dogs in plane cabins, Toby wouldn't be included.
"I understand there are a lot of people who try to take advantage of the system," Heidi said. "But for people who aren't, it's frustrating because then you're questioned."
Flying is the exact type of situation where Toby would bring her comfort.
"The idea of not being in control of a situation scared the heck out of me," Heidi said. "Having an animal like this where I can hold and keep on my lap. I can feel his energy."
Heidi said Toby can't come on the flight with her, she'll avoid plans and try to drive instead.