Emotional Support Animals: The new debate

By Donna Stanley
In March 2, 2018
3937 Views

 

After a week traipsing in and out of airports and terminals and a cruise ship, I saw more ESA dogs than ever. I’ll be the FIRST person to say I’d love to take my Labrador everywhere (and have!) but my experience stirred up some concerns that I’d like to address. I also found the latest article about a 7-foot long peacock being denied entry to an airplane recently both hilarious but disturbing. In my mind (yes it works this way to entertain myself when I’m bored) pictured us 5 years down the road looking like a bus in some third world country with chickens, dogs, goats, pigs and all sorts of critters crowding the laps of fliers and lining the aisles on airplanes.

While leaving our local airport a young girl with an ESA was in line behind us. The curly-coated puppy kept jumping on my back and scraping the back of my legs—mind you, I have serious back and neck injuries and was quite concerned, but being the non-confrontational person that I am I literally ‘grinned and bared it.’ My husband, Jonathan, kept saying how much he hoped we wouldn’t be seated next to this out-of-control dog.

Amongst our travels we encountered a Great Dane, slobbering because of stress, being taken on the cruise ship we boarded—where the heck did that big thing poop?? In addition, we noted a dachshund peeing and whimpering in fear as it was dragged through the airport parking lot and into the terminal where it lifted its leg—and who knows what else. The latter dogs had no vests for me to know their purpose of being there.

All I could think of was, “How long it will take for someone to bring their emotional support SNAKE on board??”—we’d have our own, real, living, breathing version of the movie, Snakes on a Plane!!! Are you “feelin” me yet???

Currently, I know of no requirements that an ESA dog (or pet)  be well-trained (CGC, Therapy pet, or other certification) or have any manners at all. Nor or is there a restriction on what type of animal it can be. To learn more about the ESA program, follow this link: https://therapypet.org/emotional-support-animal-information/#ESA_vs_service_dog

Lately, the government has been releasing new laws and penalties for bringing dogs into service dog situations with “fake” or non-existent certification. In fact, anyone can buy a service dog vest on Amazon, slap it on their dog and go anywhere claiming that it’s their “right” and even faking a service dog categorization (such as balance or auditory assistant dog) and with laws not allowing a person to discriminate against you regarding your disability—nor ask what it is—they get a pass. And many of these dogs are not even worthy to be taken into public areas.

Additionally, you should consider your pet’s comfort and safety as well. A pet who is as scared in public spaces– as you are likely– isn’t the best choice to help you come out of your shell and feel more comfortable in public. Likewise, if you feel stress when your pet acts up or if you feel unable to control or train your pet, that’s something to think about when considering whether ESA status is right for you. The goal of this certification is to provide greater comfort and freedom for you, not to add another element of worry into your life. What about the stress or phobia of people around you who either dislike animals or are flat out allergic to your pet??

Delta Airlines came out with new guidelines this past week (Feb 2018) saying that you must sign a waiver now when bringing your pet onboard in case there are any liability issues with other flyers.  Click here for article (I wonder about those that may have pet allergies and now that your pet has a “right” to sit beside them they then go into an asthmatic fit –and possibly stop breathing! God forbid! ) What about the person who was attacked by a dog as a child and is now forced to sit by your pet—who you think is an angel—but they are having serious psychiatric panic and stress—the very thing your pet is supposed to relieve for you?

I feel my concerns are well-founded. And while writing this blog, I am still getting notifications from an ESA website daily, several times by email and in my facebook feed, and also appearing while browsing other websites. I won’t put the link here—my fear is that someone out there will take advantage—especially since all you have to do is fill out a psychiatric evaluation survey—which is supposedly then reviewed by a physician- and then you are informed if you qualify for an ESA pet—in less than 3 minutes??? Seriously?? Well, I decided I’d fill it out as the most psychologically healthy person possible, just to see what result I’d get. You guessed it—YOU QUALIFY!!!! (haha…yeah, no surprise!) Just give them $175 and you can take your dog anywhere. Cha-CHING!

I’m sure I’ll get feedback from both sides of the controversy, and that is what I am looking for.

Please, if you are considering an ESA animal, do the public and yourself a favor and get some basic obedience classes, then a CGC certificate (http://www.akc.org/dog-owners/training/canine-good-citizen/) then either get a therapy dog certification or some other extensive training. And consider a hypoallergenic dog that won’t distress those around you that are allergic. Also keep the size of your pet reasonable.

 

>