Litigation: Is Your Child A Runner?

a little girl and an adult woman smiling next to a yawning dog
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Some children with autism, developmental or intellectual disabilities may wander off without any comprehension of possible danger.  This might include running off from adults at school or in the community, leaving the classroom without permission, or leaving the house when the family is not looking. While most children are drawn to water, many autistic children seem even more fascinated by it — and they’re also fearless.

 

On April 29, 2012, Hannah Sackman, a seven year old Autistic little girl drowned when she eloped from a housing development at military housing in Fort Gordon.  When Hannah’s mother was concerned with the size of the fens and the locking mechanism of the fence, she asked the management company if she could install additional locks on the doors that were higher up and out of Hannah’s reach. The house had three exterior doors and all of them had a locking mechanism on the knob and a dead-bolt – both of which could be unlocked from the inside with a simple twist and without using a key and Hannah’s mother was concerned she would figure out how to open them. In response to her request, the management said, “no, it was against policy” and would damage the doors. In 2013, Hannah’s parents sued the housing manager under the Fair Housing Act for the death of their daughter, and the case settled for an undisclosed amount in 2015.

What happened to Hannah Sackman is not unique, and the Fair Housing Act requires housing providers allow persons with disabilities or those associated with them to modify the premises if the modification is necessary for the person with a disability, and is done at the expense of the person with a disability.  For residents of public housing or other housing that is federally funded, the modifications must be done at the expense of the housing provider.  These modifications can be as simple as a lock on a front door, or grab bars in a shower; or as complicated or expensive, such as a pool lift, or installing ramps or sidewalks.

Kim Johnson came to Disability Independence Group because she was afraid to live in a home that would not be safe for her daughter.  Kalia is a 10 year old girl who lives with Fabry disease, which is a rare genetic disorder.  Along with a developmental disability, Kalia  also suffers from episodes of pain, is legally blind, hard of hearing, and problems with her gastrointestinal system and a cecostomy.  She requires twice daily flushing of her stoma which takes hours and hours of time.  Kalia is a runner, and whenever she has a chance, she tries to escape.  She knows how to unlock doors and turn handles.

In March of 2016, Kim was looking for a new rental home in Largo, Florida and found

a little girl and an adult woman smiling next to a yawning dog

Kim and Kalia Johnson

perfect home.  During the showing of the home and throughout the leasing process, Kim and Kim’s Mother, Donna, spoke with the leasing agent, and explained how urgent it was that they move and the needs of Kalia’s disability.  Then, with the help of Donna, Kim entered a lease for the home.    After signing the lease, the leasing agent, instructed Kim on the use of the front door lock.  At that time, Kim said that she would need to install a chain lock on the door to keep Kalia inside since she has a tendency to elope.  As with Hanna Sackman’s mother, Kim was concerned with the locking mechanism and wanted a mechanism that was higher up and out of Hannah’s reach.

The leasing agent refused.  Kim explained that a that the chain lock was the most reasonable modification asserted her rights under the Fair Housing Act, in order for her daughter …”to be able to have an equal opportunity to have safe access to the majority of the home.”  The leasing agent and owner refused to allow Kim to install a higher locking mechanism, as they believed that a chain on the door would damage the door.  Then the lessor refused to return the money Kim spent on the home, and refused to allow her to find another home that would be suitable for Kim and her daughter.

Reasonable modification in housing is the law.  A landlord cannot legally deny a reasonable modification to a home.  In 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued joint guidance on the requirements relating to reasonable modifications under the Fair Housing Act.[1]

Adding a chain lock to the front door is the most reasonable, most effective modification given K.J.’s disability.  The chain-lock modification is the most reasonable modification because the chain lock would be out of K.J.’s reach and would successful prevent K.J. from eloping. Pursuant to HUD’s guidance, adding a chain-lock to the front door is necessary because the other suggested modifications will not be effective.  By denying Kim and her daughter Kalia an accommodation, this landlord denied them a safe home, solely due to Kalia’s disability.

[1] Joint Statement of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice: Reasonable Modifications Under the Fair Housing Act (March 5, 2008),  http://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/disabilities/reasonable_modifications_mar08.pdf (last visited May 10, 2016).

Summer Fun and Discrimination against Kids (with or without disabilities)!

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By: Matthew Dietz

A graphic with a white background and black text that reads keep calm and no kids allowed with a crown above it

Unless the housing facility is a qualified 55 and over housing development, a housing provider cannot have rules that treat children differently, and less favorably than adults. When the US Congress amended the Fair Housing Act in 1988, it prohibited housing practices that discriminate on the basis of familial status.When it amended the Act, Congress recognized that “families with children are refused housing despite their ability to pay for it.” In addition, Congress cited a HUD survey that found 25% of all rental units exclude children and that 50% of all rental units have policies that restrict families with children in some way. The HUD survey also revealed that almost 20% of families with children were forced to live in less desirable housing because of restrictive policies. Congress recognized these problems and sought to remedy them by amending the Fair Housing Act to make families with children a protected class. So any rules, that do not have a legitimate safety justification, cannot indicate a “preference, limitation, or discrimination” against children under the age of 18. This includes rules that prohibit children from common areas in the facility with or without supervision, or limit the facilities of the housing development to adults. All rules must apply to children and adults equally, and cannot solely target children’s behavior.

If rules have a legitimate safety rationale, then such rules may be legitimate. But, again rules such as all children under sixteen must be supervised by an adult does not have a safety rationale, but a discriminatory basis against loud teenagers. On the other hand, a fifteen year old at a gym may injure him or herself on free weights without having supervision.

Summer camp must be inclusive

Over the past fifteen years, I have had several cases involving children who were not permitted to go to the summer camp of their choice, or were segregated in the summer camp because of the child’s disabilities. A summer camp, like any other public accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, must provide reasonable accommodations for campers with disabilities, and must not segregate them from othJordan4er students. Camps operated by governmental entities or colleges have a broader duty to accommodate campers with disabilities than some private entities that do
not have the same resources as a governmental entity. Examples of situations which I have encountered over the years are as follows:

  • Children who are Deaf – Deaf kids have the right to a qualified sign language interpreter for all programs and services of a camp that involve communication that is long, complex, or important. Examples of this would be instructions on how to play a complicated game, story time, puppet shows, and educational instruction. If there are games that involve communication, then an interpreter would be appropriate so the Deaf child is included.
  • Autistic kids – If a child who lives with autism has a one-on-one aide at school, for the same reasons, that child may need a one-on-one aide at a camp. Further, if a child needs further instruction in a game, or assistance with social interactions, that would be an accommodation that must be provided.
  • Kids who have a medical condition such as Diabetes – If a child has a medical condition, or needs assistance with a medical condition, such as diabetes or HIV, then the question is whether the child poses a direct threat to his or her own health or the safety of others. If a child needs minor assistance with a medical condition, or can manage his or her own medical needs and monitoring, a camp cannot discrimiJordan2nate against these children.
  • Kids with mobility impairments or other physical disabilities – Camps, like any other public accommodations, must have their facility accessible to children with disabilities. Older camps must do modifications that are readily achievable, easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense, and those camps altered or built after 1991 must be constructed accessibly. The camp is also responsible for making reasonable accommodations for campers with disabilities, which may involve some personal services, such as assistance in dressing, if similar services are available for able bodied campers.
  • Kids with allergies – Kids who have allergies cannot be excluded from camps, and camps must be prepared to exclude certain allergens to accommodate a camper, and be trained in the event a camper has an allergic reaction. It would not be unreasonable to expect camp counselors to learn how to administer epinephrine auto-injector (“Epi-pen”) shots and dispense asthma medication, assist in administering Diastat for seizures in emergencies or otherwise teach camp counselors in basic first aid or CPR.

Parents can choose to send their child to a segregated camp, because some camps may provide special skills or advantages for children with disabilities, but the choice of going to a specialized camp is a choice, such as camps where all children are deaf.
However, all children may not be able to go to integrated camps. For example, there may be children with developmental disabilities or intellectual disabilities who would not be able to care for themselves at a sleep-away camp, and it would be a fundamental alteration of the camp’s programs to develop a program for one child’s disability. Further, if a child is dependent on mechanical supports, a camp would not be required to hire medical personnel to accommodate medically complex children. For these kids specialized camps are a phenomenal way to get out and enjoy the community. For example, Nicklaus Children’s hospital operates the VACC camp for technologically dependent children which includes swimming, field trips to local attractions,campsite entertainment, structured games, “free play”, to promote family growth and development while enhancing these kids’ self-esteem and social skills.

It’s so damn hot – my kid has asthma and needs an air conditioner

Last year, we represented a mother who had a child who lived in HUD-subsidized low-income housing. Asthma is often triggered by inhalation of air particles that contain allergens such as pollen, mold spores, dust mite droppings and animal dander. Air conditioners contain filters that collect and store these particles, keeping intake to minimum. Air conditioning also helps eliminate humidity on hot Florida nights which enables mold and algae to grow much more rapidly than it could if it were living in dry air. Some children and adults suffer from asthma to the degree that not having air conditioning may result in serious harm and hospitalization. Requesting to install an air conditioner unit in a home or apartment would be a reasonable accommodation for a person with a disability.

According to the Fair Housing Act, a tenant with a disability can request a reasonable modification. According to HUD Guidance, “A reasonable modification is a structural change made to existing premises, occupied or to be occupied by a person with a disability, in order to afford such person full enjoyment of the premises. Reasonable modifications can include structural changes to interiors and exteriors of dwellings and to common and public use areas.” Under the Fair Housing Act, a housing provider must permit the modification, the tenant is responsible for paying the cost of the modification. If the housing provider is a public housing authority or a housing provider that receives federal financial assistance, the modification must be paid for by the housing provider unless providing the modification would be an undue financial and administrative burden.
Another example modifications can be a pool lift!

Discrimination in Pool Rules

  • No inflatable flotation devices.
  • Water wings, swimmies, floats, bathing suits rings, and other inflatable devices are not permitted in the pools.
  • Absolutely no dogs allowed in pool area

Also, under the Fair Housing Act, persons with disabilities can ask for “reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford … person(s) [with disabilities] equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.” So when a person is required to use water wings, floats, special swimming devices, they can do so. In order to request an accommodation, the person needing an accommodation should ask the housing provider, and if the disability is not obvious, then the person may need to obtain verification from a doctor, therapist, or any other provider verifying the disability and need for the accommodation.

In addition, “no dogs allowed” rules do not apply to service or emotional support animals, where their presence is necessary for the person with a disability equal use and enjoyment of the premises. The Fair Housing Act and the ADA does not override public health rules that prohibit dogs in swimming pools. However, service animals must be allowed on the pool deck and in other areas where others are allowed to go.

Kiddle Ordinance passes in Hallandale Beach

Commissioner Michele Lazarow and Honey the Dog
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By: Michele Lazarow, Hallandale Beach Commissioner

I have always wanted to fight for those who could not fight for themselves. Once I realized that putting an official title in front of my name would be the best way to impact change, I ran for political office. I am now a Hallandale Beach City Commissioner.

I fight against all animal cruelty, but mostly I fight against the sales puppy mill puppies in pet stores. On one kiddleafternoon while I was at an event in Miami, I met Debbie Dietz and she told me about Kiddle’s Law. Hardly hearing about it and before I had even read it, I said yes without hesitation. I wasted no time asking our city attorney to a draft a version for Hallandale Beach. I told our attorney that whatever obstacles there were, we needed to make it work. She worked with Matthew Dietz to draft the best law possible for our first responders and residents.

I have three rescue dogs and spend time at the dog park. That was where I first met Polett Villalta and her service dog, Brandi. Polett is a long time resident of Hallandale Beach and is very active in our community. I had asked her what she thought about Kiddle’s Law and that was when Polett told me about a sad and scary experience that had happened to her and Brandi. After hearing about Polett’s experience of her dog being attacked and having to wait for her mother to come to her aid, I knew this was necessary for not only Hallandale Beach, but all cities.

If our first responders are able to take our human family members to hospitals during times of crisis, why shouldn’t our service animals be treated the same? Our animals are just as much a part of our family and no one should have to feel powerlessness when their family member is injured. I know how I have felt when one of my dogs was sick and I am able to drive her to the hospital. The idea that my dog would be injured or sick and not being able to get her to a hospital would be a constant concern. I feel great to know that we have kiddle logo with dog in harnessa law in place that hopefully help protect anyone from experiencing that fear. I knew that my colleagues would support it without hesitation. As a result of our passage other Broward county cities are now considering Kiddle’s Law. If there is ever anyone who would like to pass this in their city, I would be more than happy to help. Please do not hesitate to contact me.

Michele Lazarow,  City Commissioner Hallandale Beach

Polett Villata’s Email:

“In 2007 as I was in my power wheelchair “riding” along Layne Blvd with my Service Dog, a man was rolling down the street in skates with a beautiful Siberian Husky off-leash. The Husky saw my dog and lunged at her, pinning her down and injuring her in multiple places. The dog’s owner ran over, grabbed his dog and took off without saying a word, calling for help or anything.

Now well, as a quadriplegic there was not much I could do to help my dog. She was crying, bleeding and helpless at the end of my leash. Luckily my Mother was a block away and drove over as soon as I called her, taking my dog to the vet for me.

Service animals are specifically trained to release all control to their owners. They trust us to keep them safe. That night I didn’t only lose thousands of dollars in training, plus vet bills, I lost my dog’s trust completely, and even though she still respects my

Polett Villalta

Polett Villalta

leadership, I no longer take her into public places as she’ll bark and try to hide under my chair anytime people approach.

Having 90% of my body not working, sitting in a wheelchair with a leashed dog who is injured, needing help and TRUSTING me to keep her safe and nobody around to assist is an extremely frustrating and powerless experience. I was “lucky” that my Mother was close by that night; this proposal – which I was delighted to hear about – would provide me a sense of relief in knowing that should I ever find myself in that situation again, I can call for help, get my Service Dog taken care of immediately, and focus on keeping her safe, healthy, trusting and working once such ordeal is over.

This would also empower our Police Department and/or Fire Rescue in my opinion, by providing them the legal grounds to assist without risking their jobs. I always say that Hallandale Beach has the BEST PD, and giving them the tools to do good would most definitely benefit us all as a community.

I have resided in Hallandale Beach for over 17 years.

Polett Villalta

Pet-Friendly Hurricane Evacuation Centers in Miami

dogs in raincoats
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By: Monica Sabates


Hurricane season in Miami-Dade County is a force to be reckoned with. The season’s span between June 1st and November 30th leaves a considerable amount of time for a hurricane to strike suddenly and swiftly in one’s vicinity. Being mindful and prepared for what may come is the first step to ensuring one’s safety and the safety of one’s pet or service animal. One option for an individual living in an evacuation area, unsafe structure, or mobile home in Miami-Dade is to pre-register for a Pet-Friendly Hurricane Evacuation Center (PFHEC) before a hurricane announces its arrival.


In order to apply for occupation in a Pet-Friendly Hurricane Evacuation Center, the individual must contact the Miami Dade Answer Center to receive the application by mail. Some of the requirements for participants include residing in one of the mandatory evacuation zones and ensuring their pets’ or service animals’ vaccinations are up to date. The kinds of animals allowed in the evacuation center include: dogs, cats, birds, and other small mammals such as guinea pigs and mice. The application that the individual receives consists of four main criteria: registration for the adult in charge of the pet, the pet’s description, the pet’s medications, and crate/cage specification.

Upon completing the first part of the application, the individual will receive a temporary acceptance letter. Once the mandatory evacuation order is issued, the individual and their maximum of three pets must go to the PFHEC with food, water, and other essentials for both the owner and pet. Admittance into the shelter will be determined by a veterinarian, who upon inspection will deem whether the pet is a health risk to other animals or humans.
Currently, there are two locations that provide the service of a Pet-Friendly Hurricane Evacuation Center (PFHEC) during a hurricane emergency:


E. Darwin Fuchs Pavilion
10901 SW 24th St.
Miami, FL 33165


Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High
1410 County Line Road
Miami, FL 33179


For more information and tips on how to keep you and your pet safe during hurricane season, visit Miami Dade County Animal Services online at: http://www.miamidade.gov/animals/disaster-preparedness.asp

HUMAN-ANIMAL INTERACTION: Can it prevent disease?

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By: Sharon LangerDog paw print

In the past 20 years there have been many studies conducted that measured the therapeutic value of human-animal interaction. A companion animal may reduce anxiety, loneliness, and depression and thus delay the onset, decrease severity, or even slow the progression of stress-related conditions. Pets can stimulate someone to exercise, provide social support, and can help someone socialize in a group setting. They can be our therapists as well as our companions. Pets have been shown to be a source of tactile comfort by increasing sensory stimulation while decreasing blood pressure and heart rate.

In 1990, the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction organizations was founded to gather together national associations and related organizations interested in advancing the understanding and appreciation of H-A interaction. This organization has been officially designated as a working partner of WHO-The World Health Organization.

The Waltham Center for Pet Nutrition, in England, gave a $2 million grant to the Eunice Shriver national Institute of Child Health and Human Development to research further H-A interaction to specifically study on a larger scale how children perceive, relate to and think about animals and how pets in the home impact children’s social and emotional development.

If you have read this far into this article, I suspect you are an animal lover who already understands the power they bring to the human condition. I find it interesting that this power is actually being scientifically tested, and the results should help those of us who work with and for animals to make our case to the rest of the community.

Litigation: Pledger v. SAS Transportation

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By: Matthew Dietz

Litigation – Pledger v. SAS Transportation

Jeff and Suzanne Pledger love to go on cruises. Jeff is blind and Mr. Pledger and his guide dog Joelle he uses a guide dog named Joelle. As an advocate for persons with visual impairment, Jeff is the past President of Verizon’s Disabilities Issues Awareness Leaders (DIAL), which provides support and resources to Verizon’s employees with disabilities. As part of his accomplishments, he was part of the task force to develop the 1996 Telecommunications Act. This Act provided many benefits to people with disabilities. For example, this work force was instrumental in developing cell phones that are easier to use by people who have low vision and hearing loss.

Jeff and Suzanne have been on a number of cruises, and on January 13, 2014, they flew into the Ft. Lauderdale Airport for a five day cruise departing out of the Port of Miami. Prior to the flight, the Pledgers contacted SAS Transportation, Inc. for transportation to the cruise ship and, as a courtesy, they disclosed to the transportation company that there would be a service dog included in the requested trip.

The owner of the transportation services declined the transportation request because there is no room on the vehicle for a service dog and it would make other passengers uncomfortable. He suggested they would need to arrange a private shuttle.  The Pledgers attempted to educate the owner of SAS regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act and state statutes requiring equal access to individuals with disabilities with service dogs, but the owner would not bend, and wrote back:

“I respectfully decline your request as my vans are not set for animals even service dogs and with how heavily reserved we are and the vans being full it is not in the best interest of my vehicle to transport your request. I apologize but I do have the choice if I decide to turn down a request especially if I feel the situation is uncomfortable for all of my passengers. There is just no room for a dog in the shuttle vans because our vans are full and the vans have no extra room for a dog.”

The Pledgers requested assistance from Disability Rights Florida, Florida’s federally-mandated protection and advocacy system that provides legal and other services to persons with disabilities. An advocate reached out to the owner and attempted to educate on the requirements of the ADA, but again was ignored.

On June 17, 2014, Disability Independence Group joined Disability Rights Florida to sue SAS Transportation on behalf of Jeffrey Pledger to ensure that SAS Transportation would not discriminate against persons who use service dogs, and just four months later, obtained a settlement agreement that ensured adequate policies, training, and notice to customers that SAS was going to allow persons with service dogs to travel in their vehicles.

Flying with your Service Animal or Emotional Support Animal

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All Air Carriers are legally required to allow both emotional support animals and service animals on flights without charge. However, it is always good to review the requirements for service animals for your particular airline, and whether there are any conditions that need to be met. In addition, some international destinations and Hawaii provide additional qualifications for transportation of any animal.

TSA Checkpoints

Upon arrival at the TSA checkpoint, advise the officer that your animal is a service animal. At that time, you can use the disability or family lane to expedite the screening process. If the passenger and service dog are screened by a metal detector, they can proceed one of three ways:

  • The passenger can walk through first with the animal following behind on its leash;
  • The animal can walk through first on its leash with the passenger following behind; or
  • The passenger and dog can walk through at the same time. If the passenger and the dog walk through at the same time and the metal detector alarms, both the passenger and dog are subject to additional screening, including a thorough pat down.

Airlines

Where does the dog go in the airplane?

When making reservations, a passenger with a disability can request either a bulkhead seat or a seat other than a bulkhead seat. A dog or other service animal may accompany a passenger with a disability to the passenger’s assigned seat and remain there as long as the animal does not obstruct the aisle or other areas that must remain unobstructed for safety reasons. If a service Bulldog lounging on a leather airplane seat with the dog's leash in the hand of a woman in a purple dressanimal cannot be accommodated at the seat of the passenger with a disability and if there is another seat in the same class of service where the passenger and the animal can be accommodated, an airline must offer the passenger the opportunity to move to the other seat with the service animal. Switching seats in the same class of service must be explored as an alternative before requiring that the service animal travel in the cargo compartment. However, if the service animal’s behavior in a public setting is inappropriate or disruptive to other passengers or carrier personnel, an airline may refuse to permit the animal on the flight or offer the passenger alternative accommodations such as accepting the animal for carriage in the cargo hold.

Is it required to give advance notice?

It is not required under the law to provide advance notice if you are traveling with a service animal. However, in order to guarantee your seat assignment, you should be aware that, depending on whether the carrier provides advance seat assignments and the type of seating method it uses, it may have a policy requiring passengers with a disability (i) to request a particular seat assignment 24 hours in advance of the departure of the flight or (ii) to check in at least an hour before the departure of the flight.DOG

What proof is necessary to prove that the animal is a service or emotional support animal?

For a service animal who’s use is not obvious, as with any public accommodation, the airline agent may ask (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. According to DOT regulations, an airline must accept the following as evidence that the animal is indeed a service animal: (1) the credible verbal assurances of a passenger with a disability using the animal, the presence of harnesses or markings on harnesses, tags, or identification cards or other written documentation.

For emotional support animals, the documentation required is different, and most airlines require current documentation (i.e., dated within a year of the date of travel) from a mental-health professional stating that: (1) the passenger has a mental health-related disability; the passenger needs the animal for the mental-health condition; and the provider of the letter is a licensed mental-health professional (or a medical doctor) and the passenger is under the individual’s professional care. Most airlines have specific forms that are found on their website.

How do you get problems resolved – the Complaints Resolution Official

Each Air Carrier has designated at least one Complaint Resolution Official under the Air Carrier Access Act to handle disability-related matters at each airport that carrier serves. Each CRO must be trained and thoroughly proficient with respect to the rights of passengers with disabilities under the ACAA and accompanying regulations. Whenever there is any disability related problem involving an air carrier, the first person to request is the airlines CRO, and the CRO has the ability to resolve the complaint. If the CRO does not resolve the situation or take a complaint, the Department of Transportation has an aviation consumer disability hotline for resolving issues related to disability accommodations. The toll-free number for the hotline is 1-800-778-4838 (voice) and 1-800-455-9880 (TTY).

References for specific Airlines

  1. United Airlines: http://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/travel/specialneeds/disabilities/assistance_animals.aspx
  2. American Airlines – http://www.aa.com/i18n/travelInformation/specialAssistance/serviceAnimals.jsp
  3. US Airways – http://www.usairways.com/en-US/traveltools/specialneeds/animals.html
  4. Delta Airlines – http://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/traveling-with-us/special-travel-needs/disabilities/service-animals.html
  5. Alaska Airlines – http://www.alaskaair.com/content/travel-info/accessible-services/specialservices-support-animals.aspx
  6. JetBlue – http://help.jetblue.com/SRVS/CGI-BIN/webisapi.dll?New,Kb=askBlue,case=obj%281095%29
  7. Southwest Airlines – https://www.southwest.com/html/customer-service/unique-travel-needs/customers-with-disabilities-pol.html#unique_travel_needs_allergies_disabilities_pol_tab_list_tab_10

Department of Transportation FAA regulations regarding service animals- http://airconsumer.dot.gov/rules/20030509.pdf

TSA for service animals and monkey helpers – http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/service-animals