Airport screening and service animals

Is the security scrutiny at airports of service animals the same before and after 9/11?

Fellow passengers seemed to be quickly sent on their way while my dogs and I had to undergo more lengthy screening. I was afraid we’d miss our flights. We never did.

Before 9/11, I could walk through the metal detector with shoes on. I could have more than 2 ounces of liquid in my possession.

After 9/11, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) staff said — Remove your shoes. Bottles of pop were discarded.

Revised airport security policy requires only up to two ounces of liquid in carry-on bags.

What is this liquid? It is dog ear cleaner. The container exceeds the limit and was confiscated by the TSA.

My carry-on luggage, shoes, belt and fanny pack quickly passed through the electronic security scanning/conveyer screening system. Screening of my dog guides and me took much longer.

Can I pat you down? I was asked. A handheld scanner moved up one side of my body and then the other. Next, I was patted down as I stood with outstretched arms. After that, I was requested to sit down and lift my legs for the TSA to determine I was not hiding something in my pants or socks.

Can I pat down your dog guide? That question was sometimes followed by – will your dog react if I touch him?

No, he will let you touch him without an aggressive reaction.

Between 1995 and 2002, my first dog guide Frisco was with my wife and I on at least nine flights. Frisco was scrutinized pretty carefully even prior to 9/11. Did airport security carefully screen Frisco out of fear he may have been carrying drugs?

My second dog guide Telly came to Minnesota in 2004. He guided me safely on and off at least 13 flights.

The security screening was lengthy. Yet, I did it regardless of inconvenience because I’d rather comply with safety regulations.

I had to sometimes educate TSA about proper protocol between dog guide and handler.

Sir, let me hold your dog while you pass through the metal detector. No. My dog guide had to stay with me.

Why does your dog guide have to stay with you?

I can go through the metal detector before or after my dog, but only the handler can have hold of the dog guide leash.

Frisco or Telly would sometimes go through the metal detector before me. At other times, I’d pass through before my dog guide. Security didn’t challenge my request and the need to keep hold of the leash.

Telly was with me on a recent round trip flight to Ohio. The journey through the Minneapolis and Columbus airports was smooth and quick. What was different about this June 2011 round trip flight?

I stepped through the metal detector while holding on to Telly’s leash.

You’re okay. Now, bring your dog through.

Telly’s collar activated the detector. That was expected.

Neither of us was pulled aside to be patted-down.

One reason for our quicker clearance may have been due to the new full body X-ray scanner. A device like that would recognize anything that was a security risk.

What had taken longer was the repeated screening of two cans of Spam. The TSA removed the cans from a gift box in my carry-on. I’m not sure why and I did not ask the TSA about why he repeatedly put my Spam through the conveyor screening device.

Once my dog guide was cleared, one of the security team would inevitably ask to pet the dog. Typically, the dog guide isn’t to be touched while in harness by anybody other then the handler.

I am confident that the infrequent pet by airport security will not affect the performance of my dog guide. The security team always treated us politely and professionally and in allowing them to pet my dog guide I was hopefully ensuring the same polite, professional treatment to my fellow dog guide users.

We’d love to hear your thoughts. What stories do you have about TSA and your service animal ?

Clarence can be reached at

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