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Emotional Support Dog Bites Girl's Face on Southwest Flight

Kelli Bender

Emotional support animals are at the center of another airline controversy.

According to The Washington Post, a emotional support dog injured a girl on a Southwest Airlines flight from Phoenix to Portland, Oregon.

This is the latest in a string of emotional support animal issues for airlines, which also includes the eviction of an emotional support peacock and the death of an emotional support hamster.

The incident with the dog occurred on Wednesday night during the boarding process for the Southwest flight.

ABC 15 reported that a since-deleted tweet from fellow passenger Todd Rice claimed the girl tried to pet the dog, which boarded the plane as an emotional support animal for its owner, and the canine responded by biting her.

A spokesperson for Southwest told The Washington Post that the girl received a minor scrape on her forehead from the bite. The injury was treated by paramedics, who also cleared the child to return to the flight.

The emotional support dog and its owner disembarked the Southwest flight, which departed 20 minutes late. None involved in the incident have been named.

Issues like this encounter have caused some major airlines to rethink their pet policies. Delta Airlines recently announced it was overhauling theirs after an increase in pet misbehavior incidents over the last year.

As of March 1, passangers flying with an animal will have to provide proof of their animal’s vaccinations or health records at least 48 hours before their scheduled Delta flight. Additionally, travelers flying Delta with emotional support animals will need to sign a voucher before boarding the plane that states their pets can and will behave on the flight.

The first part of this new rule also applies to service animals as well, something Brad Hibbard, Director of Training at both the Guide Dog Foundation and America’s VetDogs, says is unfair and disruptive to those with trained, certified service animals.

“There are issues there for our graduates and graduates from other assistance dog programs. You’re making things onerous for them. They have to upload documents for Delta for their trip 48 hours prior and provide all this paper work that they have to keep with them,” Hibbard explained to PEOPLE. “If they are in a situation where a flight gets cancelled, now they have to work with the airline to figure that out.”

Hibbard said that he and other representatives from service dog associations are working with Delta and other airlines to find something more balanced that allows the airlines to keep unruly, untrained animals in check, while allowing service animal graduates the ease of travel they are used to.

Southwest Airlines currently has a more lenient pet policy than other airlines regarding emotional support animals. According to their website, Southwest allows service and emotional support animals to fly on flights. The animal can be no larger than a child the age of two, and has to be able to be placed on the passenger’s lap or on the floor in front of their seat. Those flying with emotional support animals will need to bring a letter from a medical health professional that meets the requirements of Southwest.

Emotional support animals can be any pet (though rodents, reptiles and birds are often prohibited from air travel regardless of emotional support status) that a doctor or mental health professional has deemed beneficial to the treatment of the owner’s mental or emotional condition. Emotional support animals do not require any training, only a letter from a doctor or mental health professional.