GILBERT, AZ — When looking for a flight from Phoenix to Maryland, Richard Shoemaker didn't think he'd have to compare service dog policies the same way he does with prices.
“Maggie is my security," said Shoemaker, a decorated Army veteran. “If she feels something funny, she’ll come by me and tell me when I’m gonna have a seizure.”
Shoemaker planned to book a trip to Maryland to attend Warfighter Advance, a 7-day retreat for veterans still struggling with PTSD.
Shoemaker brought many of his memories from war home with him. He served as an Army Sergeant for more than a decade, deployed seven times, and received a medal for his valor, before his discharge in 1995.
He struggled with medications after his service and says he hit rock bottom until he met Maggie, his six-year-old boxer and pit bull mix.
“She knows when there’s a problem, and I need somebody there," said Shoemaker.
He called Delta Airlines to book the May flight but was told Maggie wasn't allowed on the plane because she's part pit bull.
“I was crushed,” said Shoemaker. Some of his medical issues, including memory loss caused by a stroke in 2014, kidney problems, and claustrophobia from his PTSD make flying alone nearly impossible.
“There’s no way...when I get on a plane, I’m already nervous. She’s gonna be there to calm me down.”
Delta changed its service dog policy in July of 2018. It now states "we are no longer accepting pit bull type dogs as service or support animals." The airline cites potential aggression and biting incidents with past employees.
Shoemaker, upset, filed a complaint with the Department of Transportation, saying their policy is insensitive to all veterans who rely on their service dogs.
“I’m not quitting, they can’t do this," he said. "I have too many brothers out there who can’t speak.”