Bellerophon and the Hound of Dax

An Epic of an Emotional Support Animal

I recently read some articles positing a controversy surrounding emotional support animals on flights. One mentioned some examples of unusual support animals, while a New York Times piece described how states were “cracking down” on people taking them “everywhere.” And so I had them on my mind as I boarded my flight the other day, and saw a sequence of events that left me wondering if, between those who favored and those who opposed these animals on flights, there wasn’t a third position.

The Flight

It was on the last leg of my last set of flights, I was very tired and looked to my left to see an adorable little face looking nervously up from the seat beside me. It was a little dachshund with an expression of what looked like deep concern, and pleading eyes, staring at me as if to cry for help (or perhaps it was just making a compelling case for a treat, I could not tell, as I am not fluent in dachshund). I then looked beyond the adorable creature, and saw its owner, engaged in an epic battle. It was a Bellerophon tangling with a chimera. But instead of a chimera of lion, goat and serpent, our in-flight hero was battling a chimera of Coach, Samsonite, and Pet Carrier, as she valiantly struggled to stuff every cubic inch of this writhing mass of hand-luggage into the diminutive overhead compartment. A slightly greater understanding dawned upon me as I realized this dachshund must have just escaped from the very pet-carrier bowels of this monstrous beast being stuffed overhead. Perhaps it feared a return should her companion be unsuccessful in her struggles? Perhaps it wanted me to lend aid? Whatever intentions lay behind its pleading eyes, these questions were rendered moot by the victorious click of the overhead latch.

I exchanged smiles with Belle, and gratefully noted the post-battle relief and calm that had descended upon her. I mentally thought “Belle” because she had not yet been introduced, and so this was the temporary name I mentally assigned to the dachshund’s companion. But of course I was just adding presumption upon presumption to the scene before me. I had, for example, presumed that the little Dachshund was an emotional support companion for Belle. I had no evidence for this beyond the exaggerated sense of urgency that accompanied the battle of the pet carrier. I presumed that I could understand this fellow passenger’s need for a companion animal, and that the emergency was over. But from the corner of my eye, the dachshund’s pleading nervousness re-caught, and then fully commanded, my attention.

The pleading nervous look on its face had not been diminished, but rather it seemed to intensify. It looked almost as if the calm that had been gained by Belle had been drained from her canine companion, leaving it a nervous elongated canine body of tension and apprehension, seemingly about to explode. What was it? What did it want? Did I somehow project an air of one who was withholding treats? Or was some great danger coming our way? I desperately wished I could speak dachshund in that moment. With my attention focused on the nervous little puppy, confused and concerned by its growing distress, I completely missed the approach of the perfectly logical cause for its concern. She came into my tunnel-view as instantly as the poor dachshund disappeared. Bellerophon, still riding the rush of relief from vanquishing her hand luggage to overhead oblivion, had just sat on her own dog.

The Third Position

Almost immediately after witnessing this dog-crushing yelp-evoking tragedy, the little Dachshund (apparently in possession of the kind of reflexes that would do a ninja proud) popped up from the other side of the seat. Its previous concern, and its current glee, made it clear that this was probably not its first rodeo. Those reflexes may well have been honed over many such near-misses, but I was glad to see my fellow traveler comforted, and relieved to see her supported, but only emotionally, by this brave little creature who had so narrowly escaped its potential fate as canine lumbar support or whoopee cushion.

But I also gained a new kind of respect for emotional support animals. Honestly, I can understand the positions of those who are for and against allowing them on flights. But I’d offer for consideration this third position: allowing more than one emotional support companion per passenger. After seeing what it had to put up with on this particular flight, I wouldn’t begrudge that brave little dachshund its own emotional support companion. But given the obvious affection it had for Belle, and its delight in her company, maybe I had the situation backwards. In that case, perhaps the extra support animal could be a supplement to the emotional support human who had carried (and so valiantly stowed) the luggage.