Jet-setting working dogs, along with small traveling pets, have reason to rejoice! They are on their way to potty parity.
A recent trip took me through several large airports, and I noticed something new in Detroit: A service dog and traveling pet relief area inside the secure area. Update: A new relief area was opened at O’Hare airport in October! From the pictures, it looks a lot like the Detroit one.
Now, according to the law, this should not be a novel find. Air carriers are required to ensure that all traveling service dogs, whether departing, arriving or connecting, have access to appropriate facilities. The relevant law, 14 CFR Part 382 (Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel) Subpart D, 382.51(a)(5) states: “In cooperation with the airport operator and in consultation with local service animal training organization(s), [air carriers] must provide animal relief areas for service animals that accompany passengers departing, connecting, or arriving at an airport on your flights.”
Sadly for all those dogs running between flights with their legs tightly crossed, if these facilities exist at all, they are most often outside the terminal — meaning that they are on the wrong side of security if you are transferring to a connecting flight. Solutions have included teaching dogs to use pee pads, then taking them into the family restrooms that are commonly found in airports to squat alongside their human partners; running them outside — then trekking back through security; or asking airline personnel for an escort to the tarmac, where many a service dog is too distracted by the unusual scents and sounds to, uh, deliver the goods. A tight connection can make either of the last two options impractical. The outdoor pet relief area might be at the very far end of a terminal — or even a few terminals away, making for a very long trek.
The situation is finally improving, though, with a few airports now providing potty facilities inside the terminal.
The first one I discovered was in Seattle; I found it — and I am being very generous — rather disappointing. When I was there, a few years ago, it offered essentially a large litter box, some pee pads, a dirty concrete floor and a trash can. A dog I was traveling with turned up his nose and decided to hold on until we reached our destination where, he hoped, some grass — or even a patch of dirt — might be available.
Detroit’s offering elevates indoor canine commodes to a new level. I hadn’t been through the Detroit airport in a while, and the new facilities, in the center of the main Delta concourse, were quite a pleasant surprise.
First of all, the service dog relief area contains two stalls, each offering the dignified or shy dog a reasonable degree of privacy. A shared hand-washing area, presumably for the humans’ use, divides the stalls. Each stall offers a small fire-hydrant-shaped urinal (female dogs might find these distasteful, but we must all adjust to this dawning era of non-gendered relief facilities, mustn’t we?). The hydrant occupies the center of a smallish patch of fake, very green, grass. Bags and trash cans are also provided. The nicest touch, however, was the built-in sprinkler system. With the push of a button, cleanup is accomplished, leaving the stall fresh and green for the next working dog in need of a restroom.
Let’s hope this becomes the new standard for powder rooms for peripatetic pooches.