Charlotte County vet worries about getting emotional support dog home after ban

Reporter: Erika Jackson Writer: Jackie Winchester
Published: Updated:
For veteran Russell Soffredine, Daisy is more than his best friend: She’s his emotional support dog. (Credit: WINK News)

Flying with an emotional support animal is now a thing of the past.

WINK News investigated how easy it is to abuse the system and get paperwork for an emotional support animal. Then, the federal government changed the rules: effective Jan. 11, emotional support animals were no longer allowed to fly.

For veteran Russell Soffredine, Daisy is more than his best friend: She’s his emotional support dog.

“I have a lot of anxieties since I was in the military. And she just gives me a lot of comforts.”

She comforts on the ground and in the sky. She sat at his feet when he flew Allegiant Air to Punta Gorda in the fall, but the U.S. Department of Transportation has changed the rules since then. Service animals are still allowed on planes, but emotional support animals are not.

Soffredine doesn’t know how he’ll get Daisy back up north.

“They’ve said that she no longer can fly with us because she doesn’t perform any particular service.”

You have to pay a fee to bring a small dog or cat on an Allegiant Air flight. The pet must fit in a carrier that will fit under the seat in front of you. It’s safe to say 80-pound Daisy won’t fit in that space.

I saw other dogs come down here also when we came down. And I’m sure those people are in the same position we are,” Sofferdine said.

Allegiant Air said they will give travelers with emotional support animals a grace period through April for customers whose travel was booked as of Jan. 11. Sofferdine’s set to head back to Michigan in May, so he falls out of that grace period. His coupe is too small to drive back and renting a car will be costly.

Soffredine wants the airlines to make an exception for snowbirds like himself.

“I don’t think that’s fair that we’ve gotten down here, now they’re going to change the law.”

The DOT said it changed its policy to make sure people with disabilities can travel safely.

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