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Confronting emotional support animals in public spaces

Not long ago a national news story may have come to the attention of Peoria residents regarding serious injuries sustained by a 5-year-old girl. The child was at the airport with her mother and preparing for her flight when she was attacked by an emotional support dog being handled by another airport patron. The pit bull was not in a carrier per the regulations of the airport and was not properly managed by its handler.

As a result of the attack the child suffered serious injuries to her face and eye that required surgery. Her family is seeking more than $1 million on her behalf and has sued the airport and others for the damages that she suffered. They have claimed that the owner of the dog should have known that the animal was dangerous and that it should have been secured in accordance with the policies of the airport.

This story raises a multitude of questions regarding animal attack liability in the age of emotional support care. Emotional support animals are not service animals: while service animals may be trained to open doors, answer phones, and do other tasks for their disabled handlers, emotional support animals are used by their handlers to calm their moods. As more and more people are claiming to need emotional support animals to handle everyday stresses like flying on airplanes, more of these attacks may become publicized in the news.

The injuries sustained by this child are terrible and her suffering may last a lifetime. As dog attacks involving emotional support animals increase, greater regulation regarding their presence in public spaces may be necessary to prevent future attacks. Until then, victims may pursue their losses through personal injury claims.

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