It has become commonplace to see dogs walking through airports and other public spaces that used to be off limits to pets. This is a result of the explosive growth in the number of emotional support animals in our daily lives. Under the best of circumstances, the presence of these animals provides comfort and happiness to their humans. However, the same may not be said for those who come in contact with these animals.

This was the case when a five-year-old girl was attacked by an emotional support pit bull in the Portland, Oregon, airport. The dog bit the girl in the face, tearing off a part of her lip and damaging her tear duct. Her family recently filed a $1.1 million suit against the dog’s owner, the municipal agency Port of Portland, which operates the airport, and Alaska Airlines. It claims there was negligence since the dog was allowed in the airport without being in a crate. Unfortunately, this is not the first case of emotional therapy animals attacking, often when they are in airports or on planes.

A scam by owners?

Unlike service dogs like the bomb-sniffing dogs at the airports, which are rigorously trained to work in public, there are no governmental regulations or accreditations for emotional support animals – there have been reports of folks using dogs, cats, snakes, hamsters and even a famous peacock with its own Twitter account.

Critics point out that a simple note from a doctor or nothing beyond the claim of the owner enables the animal entrance to formerly off-limits spaces. This designation also allows these animals to fly for free and not crated in the cargo hold.

Airlines impose guidelines

There have been enough bad emotional support animal incidents that United and Delta airlines both instituting rules with others looking at it as well. The airlines have imposed limits of no longer than eight-hour flights and a minimum age of the animals. There are no exceptions. Owners must also now provide a certified letter from a doctor, proof of vaccinations and sign a contract guaranteeing the good conduct of the animal.

Animals are not to blame

The blame for these assaults rests with owners who have not trained their animal, the businesses that allow customers to bring the animals and municipal authorities who do not have rules in place. Until there are changes, the only recourse those injured by these pets is to pursue damages in a court of law.