Have you ever been a roller coaster? Have you ever felt that sudden rush of butterflies up to your throat and the pit of your stomache dropping as your knuckles whiten while gripping the safety bar as you're about to drop to sudden doom? It's a fun feeling for that split second, as you're about to enter the unknown, and feel an exilerating rush. Now picture that same feeling, but imagine it never going away. Imagine feeling that rush of emotion; always. That's what life can be like for me. I have post traumatic stress and severe anxiety. It is an invisible disability. It is usually something I can control, and talk myself out of, with the help of my emotional support dog Frankie. That is until Lufthansa German Airline, stripped me of my prescription dog for the next 7 months. Breaking multiple provisions in the Air Carrier Access Act, and discriminating against my mental and emotional disability. The past 3 days without him I have barely eaten. It is 7:30pm today, and I haven't eaten once. I have only gotten out of bed when my 15 month old is awake. When she naps, or the minute my husband walks in the door from work, I go back to bed. I sleep as much as possible during the day, and stay awake all night. I'm numb. I keep it together in front of my daughter, but the minute I'm alone, all I do is cry.
If you're unfamiliar with what an emotional support animal is, I'll give you a quick breakdown. Dogs are unconditional love, they are always there to lend an ear, they are there to comfort us in times of need, especially for someone like me, who requires the support and love of my canine to concur everyday life, not to mention major life events like long haul flights over water. An emotional support animal increases oxytocin production, increases endorphins, reduces anxiety, lower blood pressure, and lower levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine. He is medication without being medicated. Lufthansa has stripped me of my medication cold turkey. You could say I'm going through severe withdrawal.
Emotional support dogs, and mental/emotional disabilities have always been a touchy subject. Some people don't believe you can be emotionally impaired. But that is ok, because the Department of Transportation, and Fair Housing Act think otherwise. Under these acts, an emotional or mental disability is viewed just as seriously as a physical one. We have rights, and there are laws. Lufthansa broke these laws, and took away my rights. Here's what happened. My husband has to move to Croatia for work, so, of course my daughter and I are making the trip with him for the next 7 months. While most families would leave their dog behind for 7 months, mind needed to come. Because of this I was prescribed a letter from my mental health professional, to take him on the plane with me to Croatia. I followed protocol and sent the prescription letter to the Lufthansa medical desk for approval, where they could call my doctor to confirm I am under her care.
There was one hiccup, this is an American law and I needed to have an originating city in the USA to be able to have an emotional support animal in the cabin with me. The airline would honor all connections on my way to Croatia, but I still had to be originating in the US. No problem. Thank god I live in Vancouver and could easily fly out of Seattle. Once I spent the $400 to change my itinerary, the medical desk approved my emotional support dog to travel in the cabin with me. I got to Seattle and things went great. My flight attendants and gate attendants were wonderful. They didn't ask for any confirmation of Frankie's letter, because it had already been in their system. They welcomed us with open arms. We get to Vancouver and this is where things go south. When arriving July 26th 2014 at gate 55 for flight Lufthansa flight 493/ Air Canada flight 9100, out of YVR, I'm called to the desk and told when the crew arrives they need to see my dog. I ask why? She says it's protocol. That's odd because this wasn't protocol in Seattle. When I see the crew approaching the gate I rush over and wait to be spoken to. I hear the captain and the gate supervisor mumble to each other there are too many dogs on board for their liking. There are two other crated dogs on board and then my dog. Now under the ACAA they cannot deny me boarding simply because I have an emotional support dog, even if there are other animals on board, denying me would be disability discrimination. The crew continues to glare at me and my dog as if they hold something against us, and walk away. The supervisor says to me, that dog won't fit in a crate under the seat. I tell him you're right, but he doesn't have to be in a crate he is my ESA. He simply needs to fit at my feet. He then proceeds to tell me that the airline doesn't accept ESAs on Canadian flights. I explain that this is true if I'm originating out of Canada but I'm originating out of Seattle and this is a connection. He says I've been misinformed. This is odd because I have an email from the lufthansa disability specialist and certified resolution official Linda Steine, expressing that what I am saying is correct and what he is saying is wrong. (click image to enlarge, bottom paragraph states I am allowed to take my dog since I changed my reservation)
I attempt to show him the email, he refuses to read it, and even rolls his eyes and looks away from me while I try to read it to him. I then show him my approval email from the medical desk stating my dog is confirmed. He again refuses to view the email and says that's only a flight confirmation, not one for my dog. Sir, if you look at the email you will see it's for my dog.
He then takes me phone, with the emails, to the captain, for the next hour. The plane boards, he still has my phone, and has not spoken to me. Once the plane had boarded, and was ready to leave, he finally approached me and said I don't have the correct paperwork. Ahem? It's PREAPPROVED paperwork. The medical staff at lufthansa had approved it, and they would know more about disability approval then this man. Besides I brought all the necessary paperwork with me regardless. He says they obviously made a mistake. My dog needed to be trained as a service dog and I needed proof of his certification. Wrong. He is an emotional support animal, not a service animal, he requires no special training, simply the garauntee of good behaviour and my prescription letter. Or else the airline wouldn't have approved him in the first place. (following taken from Lufthansa.com)
We went back and forth for a while, him not really allowing me talk without him talking over me, or looking up or at the ground ignoring everything I was saying. Either this man had no idea of the laws of the ACAA, or he was deliberately pretending not to. (following taken from http://www.disabilitytravel.com/airlines/air_carrier_act.htm )
After much dispute, I asked to speak to a certified resolution officer, he denies me this. I ask to be notified in writing why I'm not able to board. Again, I am denied. (following from http://www.disabilitytravel.com/airlines/air_carrier_act.htm )
I then go into a full blown anxiety attack. I start bawling uncontrollably. Holding onto my dog for dear life. He says since we already missed our flight to Frankfurt, he can move us WITHOUT, our dog to a Munich flight. My husband had to be in Croatia for work that day, and can't go by himself with our daughter, and I can't go myself with a 15 month old and dog if things worked out. So we had to get on that flight. Thankfully my parents live in Vancouver and were able to pick my dog up. Things could have been way worse. What if my connection was in Toronto? Where would my dog be now? To board the flight to Munich I had to be medicated to be able to handle the flight. But now here I am, in Croatia, feeling paralyzed without my prescription dog.
I called the airline and spoke to a wonderful supervisor named Megan. Who agrees with me 100% that I am a victim and what the supervisor did was wrong. But didn't know how they would get the dog to me. Perhaps they would ship him in Cargo she said. It's of course not up to her but up to her superiors. This is completely unacceptable as if shipping him in cargo was safe, or an option, I would have done so in the first place. He is a snub nosed dog and the airline actually has an embargo on flying snub nosed breeds in cargo to or from locations with a temperature exceeding 75 degrees Fahrenheit. It is the middle of summer and I am 1.5 hours inland from the Mediterranean. Flying him in cargo is extremely dangerous. What if something happened to him? Worse case scenario, Not only did the airline break MULTIPLE provisions in the ACAA and took the dog away from me, only offered to fly him i cargo and then they killed him too? Then where would I be? My health would plummet. And I assume so would their stocks. What if the airline did this to someone who was physically disabled? Would they not replace a wheelchair or an oxygen tank immediately? Obviously they would. But because I have an invisible condition they are brushing me off. I haven't heard from the airline in days, and have emailed every figurehead at Lufthansa that I can, without repsonse. Please help me make this viral, please post this to facebook, twitter, whatever and request your friends to do the same. Help me get my dog back. Help hold Lufthansa accountable for the actions.