Support dog injures young girl on Southwest Airlines flight from Phoenix

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A man says a service dog onboard a Southwest flight from Phoenix to Portland last night hurt a child. (Source: Todd Rice) A man says a service dog onboard a Southwest flight from Phoenix to Portland last night hurt a child. (Source: Todd Rice)
Todd Rice was flying out on Southwest flight 1904 late Wednesday night when he took to Twitter about an incident on his plane during boarding in Phoenix. (Source: Todd Rice) Todd Rice was flying out on Southwest flight 1904 late Wednesday night when he took to Twitter about an incident on his plane during boarding in Phoenix. (Source: Todd Rice)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5/AP) -

A man says a support dog onboard a Southwest Airlines flight from Phoenix to Portland Wednesday night hurt a child.

Todd Rice was preparing to fly out on Southwest Airlines flight No. 1904 late Wednesday night when he took to Twitter about an incident on his plane during boarding in Phoenix.

@SouthwestAir flight 1904 allows a support dog on the plane, bites kid, paramedics now on plane. Why are dogs on the plane?! Never again will I fly SWA.

Rice says a 6-year-old girl crossed the aisle to pet the animal as passengers were boarding and the dog bit her across the forehead.

[RELATED: Arizona lawmaker proposes bill to crack down on fake service animals]

She was taken off the flight to be evaluated by paramedics and shortly after, returned to the plane with a bandage on her forehead.

Southwest spokeswoman Melissa Ford said the dog was in the plane's first row of seats with its owner, who said he warned the girl not to approach his dog.

Police interviewed the girl's family and the dog's owner. The family decided to remain on the plane, while the dog and its owner left and took a later flight, Ford said.

The flight was delayed approximately 20 minutes.

[READ MORE: Delta is changing the rules on service animals]

Southwest Airlines responded to Rice's post, stating that safety is their top priority and they are addressing the situation.

Southwest Airlines provided this statement to Arizona's Family:

During boarding of flight #1904 from Phoenix to Portland, Ore. Wednesday night, our initial reports indicate a support dog's teeth scraped a child's forehead as the young passenger approached the animal, causing a minor injury. EMTs evaluated the child, who was cleared to continue on the flight. The dog and its owner remained in Phoenix as the aircraft departed approximately 20 minutes behind schedule. As always, the safety of our customers is our highest priority.

The event will likely fuel the debate over the growing number of emotional-support animals on planes.

Unlike service animals such as guide dogs, support animals need no training. However, passengers can be asked to show a medical professional's note explaining why they need the animal to travel.

Southwest started reviewing its policy even before Wednesday's event, Ford said. Starting next week, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines will require more paperwork and assurances from owners of support animals.

[RELATED: United says no to emotional support peacock]

Both Delta and United said they have seen a sharp rise in the number of support animals in the last year or so. Last June, a 70-pound (32-kilogram) dog flying on Delta as a support animal bit a passenger in the face severely enough that the man required hospital care.

Delta had planned to require owners of both service and support animals to submit health forms filled out by a veterinarian at least 48 hours before a flight. On Thursday, however, Delta softened the provision for service dogs after running into opposition from advocacy groups for the disabled.

People who use service dogs said Delta's original 48-hour requirement would have made it impossible for them to take last-minute, emergency flights.

[READ MORE: Should emotional support dog be allowed on campus?]

Delta said it won't require customers to submit veterinarians' forms in advance for trained service animals but might "in some cases" ask those customers to show their animal's vaccination records.

None of the new rules for support animals would apply to pets small enough to fit in carriers that go under airplane seats. Airlines charge up to $125 each way to carry a small pet in the cabin. There is no charge for service and support animals.

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