Flying PomAm: Me and My Emotional Support Animal

Dogs will solve almost any stress issue.

I have a 10-year-old Pomeranian-mix named Jennifer. She travels with me almost everywhere I go. Mostly, because it’s more expensive to hire a dog-sitter, not just because I’m completely obsessed with my dog.

I finally decided to certify her as an emotional support animal because airlines can go fuck themselves. If I’m going to pay an additional $125 to bring Jennifer as my carry-on, necessitating me to check my bag, Delta can at least create some sort of Frequent Flying Paws program. Jennifer should be collecting miles!

I had put it off for years, the certification. I had this thing about me where I didn’t believe I deserved to utilize the system. When I was 17 years old and living in San Francisco, I’d pay the adult Muni fare. I’d never written anything off for taxes. I’d never logged mileage while working jobs that paid minimum wage…but that was old Danielle.

The new Danielle sends back veggie burgers that for some reason have bacon on them. The new Danielle returns things that she regrets purchasing even after using them for months. The new Danielle thinks it’s bullshit to pay extra to cram her dog under the seat in front of her when flying to Michigan.

So, to get the prescription, I had to fill a long survey about my mental health.

I didn’t lie. In fact, it was jarring how natural my responses came. I didn’t have to exaggerate anything.

A couple of days later, I received an email with my prescription. I was given an emotional support dog allowance because I exhibit symptoms of PTSD. I had been convinced that I was just going to play the system. As it turned out, maybe the system had been just hanging out, waiting there to help me all along.

I felt self-conscious. I hadn’t thought I’d actually be diagnosed with something. I was just being a bad girl, an activist stickin’ it to the man with his rising travel costs. That Holden Caulfield quote came to mind, “Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.” Don’t ever fill out a survey to scam a prescription for an emotional support animal so that your dog can fly with you for free. If you do, be prepared to question your entire modus operandi.

I booked a last minute flight to New York and headed to the airport with my emotional support animal. When you travel with an in-cabin pet, you have to hold the animal and walk through the old-school metal detector. Then you stand to the side until someone decides to acknowledge that you’re a living, breathing person who is trying to make a flight. Once acknowledged, you’re taken to the side and someone who isn’t really into eye contact and can’t wait for their cigarette break swipes down your hand to test it for explosives. Usually this process goes off without a hitch.

However, this time, my hands tested positive for explosives. No idea why.

To ensure that I wasn’t a threat, TSA searched through all of my carry on luggage and tested it for explosives. I began to panic as I realized that in my rush, I didn’t empty out my purse before I headed to the airport. The likelihood of me having a King Pen or the remnants of a joint in its little green tube mixed in a pile of receipts and parking tickets at the bottom of my purse was… high. If the TSA found my weed, could I just show them my prescription? Is the crappy little card I paid extra for at Nirvana Clinic enough to get me off the hook?

They didn’t find anything in the purse. Then it was time to search me and Jennifer. I had a few old Klonopins tucked in my front pocket, a gift from a friend last year. I pretended to itch my crotch and grabbed the pills out of my pocket. Then I squatted on the floor to pet Jennifer and hid the pills under a low table, safely out of reach from any animal or child. I sound like a badass VICE writer circa 2003, but I gotta tell you, I’m really just a nice midwestern girl who likes to relax.

A few days later, back at LAX, while waiting for the baggage carousel to move, I took Jennifer on a walk outside. The airport was busy, and Jennifer was pissing everywhere. I was a hot mess in a fake fur coat carrying a backpack, a mini backpack, and a dog carrier.

I know this sounds totally crazy, but I swear it’s true. While walking, I heard screams. Like, horrible screaming that couldn’t be anything other than indicative of something awful. No one else seemed to notice. I followed the screams to a little doorway and popped in my head.

I yelled to them, that I was going to stop it, they should hang on. They kept screaming.

I found a bunch of luggage strewn on the ground at the base of an up escalator. An elderly man and woman were stuck on the thing, rolling down it. They had fallen and were trying to desperately get up, while being carried up, with their clothing caught into the grooves and sides. They thought they were going to die. I thought they were going to die. They were screaming and screaming, in a panic, terrified.

I yelled to them, that I was going to stop it, they should hang on. They kept screaming. The goddamn stop button wasn’t big and obvious, like I imagine it usually is. At the bottom of the handrail was a tiny red button. I got on all fours and jammed my knuckle into it. After a couple of moments, the escalator stopped. They kept screaming.

While juggling Jennifer on a leash, I popped back outside and grabbed two men in suits and begged them to come help me. I looked insane. I could just barely communicate what I had seen. They helped the couple up and out of the escalator and sat them down on a bench. The old people were fine, just some messed up clothing and scrapes and bruising.

My heart was racing. My phone was dead. I had no one to talk to, no one to help me process the series of events. I clutched at my chest and paced around the airport, looking for someone to acknowledge what had just happened. The men in the suits were long gone, and the old couple were shuffling off with their luggage, toward an elevator.

I looked down at my feet.

There was Jennifer. Looking up at me, smiling.

She had seen everything.

I collapsed onto a bench and hugged her until my heartbeat and breathing returned to normal.

Danielle Leibowitz is a writer and artist who cracks herself up in Los Angeles.
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