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Why Emotional Support Animals Should Be Required To Wear Muzzles

Updated: Jan 29

Spoiler alert: Muzzle the dog; solve the problem.

Yup, I said it. I believe that all emotional support dogs (ESAs) should be muzzled. It would solve a ton of problems like the one reported last week.

The entire issue really makes me angry on multiple fronts. Here is why:

Pitbull “mauled” girl: Have you noticed that in every dog story that is not about a pitbull, the dog is just called a dog? But when it’s a bully breed they are called out as if they are some sort of monster. I get it, bad news sells and the campaign to vilify pitbulls has been such a successful one so why not perpetuate it? It’s also highly detrimental to the breed. However, that’s a minor issue compared to a 5-year old girl getting seriously bit in the face by a large dog.

You know what would have stopped this pitbull from “mauling” this little girl? That’s right, a $10-$30 piece of equipment called a “muzzle” easily available at all the pet stores.

Aside from how this dog became an Emotional Support Animal – yes, there are plenty of legitimate cases and there are also plenty of folks who buy their ESA letter from the internet so they can take their dog on the plane – had it been muzzled, the little girl would not have been injured.

Picture this: you’re a dog and you’ve never been to the airport before. You have no special training to be an Emotional Support Animal but somehow you ended up one. On your first trip to the huge, noisy, people-filled airport you are expected to wait in long lines and get on an enormous flying machine where you are pressed in on all sides by more people. Random strangers pet you, babies are crying, people are complaining and all you want is to curl back up in your cozy bed at home and forget this ever happened. You try to let your human know you are distressed but they don’t seem to notice. You keep trying to tell them but they are busy or they don’t want to step out of the line. Hours later, one more child decides to give you a poke and you snap. You bite that child in the body part closest to your mouth: her face. Now things go even more sideways for you.

Pretty sure I would bite someone, too. Pitbulls have a slightly higher than average bite per square inch so, although they don’t bite more than other breeds, when they bite there is potential for more damage. But that is just another reason to muzzle ESAs, not to ban pitbulls.

You know what would have saved everyone all the pain and anguish, including the dog? Yup, a muzzle.

We can blame the adults who do bear the responsibility for what happened. The dog owner for not training their dog to be calm at the airport (and yes, I believe Emotional Support Dogs should be trained to be able to stay calm at the airport although there is currently no such requirement) and not for telling the little girl not to approach the dog. The girl’s parents for not keeping her a safe distance from the dog are also at fault. However, at the end of the day no matter who was at fault this child got bit in the face by a large dog, a painful and I’m sure terrifying event that may traumatize her for the rest of her life. Even if the adults were only distracted for a moment, it only takes a moment for a bite to happen. A muzzle could have saved all of these people so much pain and anguish and freed the dog from the burden of being labelled a biter and possibly even getting euthanized.

This is not the first bite incident involving an Emotional Support Dog at the airport and, until people wise up, it probably won’t be the last.

What upsets me the most is that the simplest, most immediate and easiest to implement solution to the problem was not mentioned a single time in all the news coverage of this story. Ideas such as banning Emotional Support Animals altogether or just pitbulls from being support animals were mentioned along with limiting people to two ESAs each.

I actually think Emotional Support Animals are a great idea and can make people’s lives better. I also believe we need to take actions to keep those animals, their handlers and everyone else safe in high stress situations.

What I want you to take away from this article isn’t that ESAs are a bad idea but that muzzles are a great one. We need to end the demonization of muzzles (let alone pit bulls). Bites wouldn’t occur if ESAs were wearing basket muzzles that they were trained to wear comfortably. Problem solved, right?

Why haven’t we done this already? Because people don’t want to muzzle their dogs. They find it embarrassing and don’t want others to judge them. What needs to change in society is our attitude toward muzzles on the one hand and dogs on the other. Dogs are not robots that romp around happily never getting upset that strangers pet them or loud noises scare them. Dogs have the same ability to get nervous and cranky as people do. Protect the dogs and the children by training ESAs to wear muzzles.

Muzzles aren’t just for ESAs either, dog parks, dog walks, the vet’s office, etc. There are lots of occasions where a dog can benefit from being muzzle trained.

Muzzle the dog; solve the problem.

Here is a picture of my Jake wearing one of his muzzles. Jake will bit other dogs so he sometimes has to wear his muzzle. He still loves his walks because he doesn’t see his muzzle as a bad thing, it’s just part of his gear like his harness and his leash.

Have people given me a hard time for having a muzzled dog? Sure. But all that means is that we need to educate people more not muzzle dogs less.

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