A couple of years ago, a reporter for The New Yorker demonstrated just how fuzzy public understanding is regarding emotional support animals by toting five different fake emotional support animals around New York City (though, mercifully, not all at the same time). On her forays, she claimed to be comforted, in turn, by a fifteen-pound turtle on a leash, a four-and-a-half-foot tall alpaca, a turkey, a pig in a stroller, and a snake (insert your own Snakes on a Plane joke here). She brought them into fancy restaurants, through airline security, into a museum, and onto a crowded New York bus. She showed how easy it was, for a fee, to obtain a letter from a therapist, ID cards, and all sorts of emotional support animal paraphernalia.
All this gives a bad name to people who are disabled and need a trained service animal, as well as emotional support animal owners who act ethically. It’s much like people who fake an allergy simply due to personal taste.
No government agency oversees service animals, much less emotional support animals, but several online commercial entities claim to be “national registries,” where anyone with a credit card can outfit a pet with the trappings of either.
So this week, let’s clear the air about emotional support animals versus service animals. Who are they? What do they do? Where can they go?