Emotional Support Cat Rejected by Air Canada

Woman with mental health disability told her support cat would not be allowed to travel with her

By Jon Nelson

Kate Skywalker - Get Leashed Magazine

Originally reported by CBC News Go Public

Pet owners know that, among many benefits, pets calm us down and reduce anxiety. This is true for everyone but for some, it takes on extra importance. For some people with mental health disabilities, pets can serve as an anchor and calming mechanism during stressful situations. Dogs can remind their owners to take their medication, while others are trained to recognize an anxiety attack and take measures to calm their owners by nuzzling up to them until the attack passes. Other animals require no training but are important nonetheless. Cats, for example, can give their owners relief from stress-inducing scenarios like moving through crowded areas and traveling – a stressful occasion for anyone but a bigger ordeal for anxiety sufferers.

Service dog - Get Leashed magazine

Photo credit: National Service Dogs

Now imagine your emotional support animal wasn’t allowed to travel with you. That’s what happened to Kate Skywalker, a member of the Canadian Armed Forces for 10 years. Skywalker suffers from depression and anxiety caused by her time spent serving her country. This past October, she planned to fly from London, ON, to her hometown of Halifax along with her cat, Saphira. She had the necessary documentation, had called the airline ahead of time to confirm they were expecting her and her cat, and took all the proper steps to ensure her trip would go as smoothly as possible. But once at the airport, Air Canada refused to recognize her cat as a support animal.

Air Canada has made little effort to reprimand the situation and the only comment at this time reads: “We do not accept emotional support animals on domestic or international flights.”

However, Air Canada does accept service animals, free of charge, on flights between Canada and the US. Why? Because the US has a law in place supporting emotional support animals and Air Canada must abide by it. So what’s up with their discriminatory policy in Canada? That’s what Kate Skywalker would like to know. Thankfully, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is standing by her in her battle to get Air Canada to change their policy.

Another Canadian Airline, WestJet, accepts emotional support animals free of charge according to its online policy. Animals used for emotional support don’t always require professional training.

This anti-pet sentiment adopted by Air Canada is a travesty that puts some people at risk. We’re aware that it’s not always possible for to fly the most pet-friendly, savvy airlines that we’ve ranked in the past. But what we can all do is support Kate Skywalker, the CMHA, and all those with mental health disabilities who are assisted by service animals by sharing stories like this one. Hopefully the Canadian government will step in and make our laws for traveling with pets as progressive as our neighbors to the south.