This new proposal could stop your cat from flying with you

Soon, you might not see as many pets in U.S. airports. According to a statement released by the U.S. Department of Transportation on January 23, the proposed new regulations would strictly limit which service animals are allowed on board aircraft. If the new rules are passed, airlines will ban cats, rabbits, peacocks and other animals that accompany passengers for emotional support. Specially trained dogs will be considered one of the only exceptions.

The proposal is in response to concerns raised by airlines, flight attendants and people with disabilities, a statement from the U.S. Department of Transportation said. The department clarified that the new regulations recognize that "service animals play an integral role in the lives of many people with disabilities." It also appears to be a response to the growing number of passengers using exotic pets such as peacocks, reptiles and sugar gliders as emotional support animals. The department said the proposed rule is intended to restrict people who "falsely claim that their pet is a service animal."

In other words, it sounds like they're trying to crack down on people using pets as emotional support animals as a means to avoid travel costs — something that ultimately harms people who have physical or mental disabilities and need service animals to take care of their lives. Welfare.

Christian Science Monitor/Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images

The newly proposed regulations would counter previous regulations that prioritized animals such as cats and miniature horses as service animals in addition to dogs. If the proposal passes, any passenger with a disability who wants to bring a dog on board as a service animal will need to fill out a federal form, The New York Times reported. The form will demonstrate the dog's training and ability to perform tasks based on a person's specific needs. While the new plan would limit service animals to dogs, it would prevent bans on specific breeds of dogs, such as Delta Air Lines' current ban on pit bulls.

Several airlines have seen an increase in the number of emotional support animals, the Associated Press reported. Companies such as Southwest Airlines and American Airlines handle more than 190,000 and 155,000 emotional support animals each year, respectively. AP News also reported that the number of emotional support animals accompanying passengers on American Airlines increased 48% between 2016 and 2017. During the same period, the number of pets in checked baggage fell by 17%.

Newly proposed regulations raise some concerns about the distinction between service animals and emotional support animals. The plan specifies that the department will "no longer consider emotional support animals to be service animals." The use of emotional support animals is often met with ridicule or abuse, such as when someone registered Beer as an "emotional support animal" — as a man in Brooklyn recently did, according to the New York Post . Likewise, emotional support animals do help people when trained, and misappropriation of the label harms those who need such services.

Reaction to the plan appears to have been mostly positive, although it does raise some questions about additional barriers for people with disabilities who need service animals. As mentioned in the blog statement, the U.S. Department of Transportation is seeking public comment on the new service animal amendments for 60 days. Thereafter, the department will make a final decision on the proposed new regulations.