The Emotional Support Animal Phenomenon Has Gotten Out Of Control

July 10, 2019

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I understand how therapeutic animals can be. My cat and I get along famously. My wife and her horse have an unbelievable bond. Most pet owners can attest to the same. And for some people who have had traumatic experiences, the right dog can help them cope with daily life, where they wouldn't be able to otherwise.

But when you're trying to get your therapy alligator on-board a flight, or bring your ostrich into a restaurant (both actual occurences), I have to wonder if some people aren't trying to take advantage of the system. In 2011, the National Service Animal Registry, a for-profit company that sells official-looking vests and certificates for owners, had 2,400 service and emotional support animals in its registry. Now the number is nearly 200,000.

Critics say that pet owners are obtaining phony certifications or letters from online therapists to avoid paying fees or to get permission to bring creatures where they wouldn’t normally be allowed. Amanda Gill, government affairs director for the Florida Apartment Association, which represents landlords said, “We’ve seen everything from reptiles to insects.” Adding it's becoming more difficult to accomodate legitimate requests, “Everyone is recognizing that this is a growing problem right now.”

More than two dozen states have enacted new laws to crack down on fraud. People who use service dogs for psychiatric disabilities or intellectual disabilities, are not protected by Connecticut law. You are also not required to have specific training or certification for an emotional support animal, just an ESA letter.