Woman couldn’t bear sitting next to dog on plane. But when she speaks to owner—not what she thought

"Two and a half hours in sealed, cramped, airborne quarters next to a man and his dog called for a sedative"
April 12, 2018 2:02 pm, Last Updated: April 14, 2018 3:58 pm

Emotional support animals have become more common in recent years. While the proof of their efficacy remains uncertain, they nonetheless provide comfort to many people. So, naturally, you’d take them with you when you travel.

But not all fellow passengers might be so enthusiastic about having a furry or feathered travel neighbor.

When faced with that situation recently, one woman felt herself getting annoyed. But doing one simple thing changed her whole perspective.

Mary Schmich is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist at the Chicago Tribune, and she has written a column for the paper since 1992.

The Chicago Tribune building. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

While much of her column covers news, one of her more recent pieces took a lighter, personal approach.

Schmich was boarding a flight and was already irritated, like many of us are, by the sardine-can nature of commercial airline travel.

As she found her seat, her aggravation would only be compounded.

She realized the passenger seated next to her held a bag in his lap. In that bag was a dog.

Schmich was dismayed. All she could think about was stories she’d heard of people abusing the right to have an emotional support animal in order to simply travel with their pet.

“I tried to convince myself that this man truly, really, deeply needed the dog for this flight–in my fantasies I am compassionate–but my mind fixed on all the bad things I’d heard about comfort pets on airplanes,” Schmich wrote in her column.

Schmich worried about the barking, urinating, and defecating that might become the highlight of her flight.

“Was it on this airline that a dog bit a neighboring passenger in the face?” she pondered.

She overheard the man telling another passenger that the dog’s name was Sugar, and began to think about how she could dislike a dog named Sugar.

“In my fantasies, I am not a person capable of harboring ill will toward a dog named Sugar,” Schmich recounts.

Nevertheless, Schmich was finding it hard to contain her disdain for the situation. As she started composing in her mind a journalistic piece about abuse of the comfort-pet policy, her thoughts were interrupted.

“Drugs kicked in just in time,” Schmich recalls the man saying, referring to the effects of the sedative he had given the dog.

Schmich, still irritated, wondered what he was talking about.

“Whose drugs? His? Maybe he could share. Two and a half hours in sealed, cramped, airborne quarters next to a man and his dog called for a sedative,” Schmich thought to herself.

That’s when the man started to open up to her. And she started to relax a little.

He told her that his beloved Golden Retriever had passed away, and that he had told himself he would never own another dog.

However, a friend of his is a breeder. When the friend told him that he had a Golden Retriever puppy that needed a home, he simply couldn’t refuse.

While the man told his story, Schmich began to sympathize.

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He had planned a five-week vacation, and felt like he couldn’t leave the puppy for so long with someone else at such an early age.

So he had taken the puppy with him, and had gently sedated it hoping that it wouldn’t bother the other passengers.

Schmich and the man continued to talk, and she learned more and more about his personal life and his family. She was beginning to get to know him.

“By then, that stick of butter that was my heart had turned to mush. I didn’t even mind–well not that much–when he pulled Sugar out of the container and passed her to a passenger across the aisle,” she wrote.

By the time the plane landed, Schmich had experienced a change of heart.

“Sometimes all it takes is some pleasant conversation, the trading of a few life details, to make you realize that the enemy is your friend. Even though I’d still prefer to travel dog-free.”