My Emotional Support Rock

Patrick O’Connell
Staff Writer

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PC: Patrick O’Connell

Animals on planes. Putting a confused animal in a pressurized metal tube filled with weird smelling people and launching it thousands of feet in the air. Some call this a bad idea, and for others it is a medical necessity. It sounds strange but, for quite a few people that suffer from PTSD or similar mental disorders, having an emotional support animal can make a major difference.

However, a growing problem with emotional support animals is that anyone can get one. In order to protect those who need emotional support animals and to prevent people from taking advantage of this system, I believe there needs to be a legislative change.

Recently in the news there was a story about a woman trying to bring an emotional support peacock onto a plane. United Airlines told her she couldn’t for obvious reasons. There have been other cases as well of passengers bringing emotional support animals of unusual breeds such as snakes and spiders.

Along with this incident, Delta airlines has reported an 84 percent increase in cases of emotional support animals biting other passengers or defecating in the cabin. While this seems like a risk that  anyone bringing an animal on to a plane should expect, it is significantly less common among service animals.

The difference between emotional support animals and professional service animals is their level of training. For an animal to reach the status of a service animal, it is required to undergo years of obedience training so that the animal will behave properly in public. Service animals are also trained for specific tasks such as helping the blind navigate. An emotional support animal needs no training at all. There are dozens of websites that offer emotional support animal registration for free without anyone actually seeing the animal.

To see just how easy it is, I decided to get an emotional support animal for myself. So I painted a face on a rock and named it “Rocky” (original, I know). After taking a picture of Rocky I sent it to ESAregistration.org, a website claiming to be the “official website for emotional support animal registration.” Within five minutes, my pet rock was now my emotional support animal with documentation and everything. The reason this website and other ESA websites exist, however, is to sell the various “kits” and “certificates” ranging from $54.95 all the way to $250.

For many people suffering from mental illness, emotional support animals are crucial. Unfortunately, there isn’t really anything to stop someone who is healthy from registering their “precious pooch” so they can take them on a plane for free. The reason people with ESAs have them is because they need them for a real psychological purpose. That’s why they’re granted extra privileges, but it is obvious that this system can be taken advantage of.

For those who wish to take the animal on a plane or keep it in an apartment that doesn’t allow pets, there is a hurdle to jump over, but it’s easily jumped nonetheless. The law requires a note from an actual licensed therapist recommending that the pet owner keep their animal with them at all times. On the websites mentioned before, they actually have hotlines to call with therapists that make it their job to write these notes for a small fee. A similar system actually exists in medicinal marijuana states to get a weed card.

There needs to be some standard for emotional support animals if they are to be given the same respect that service animals are given. In our current system, any Joe Schmoe with some money and a dog can go on one of these websites and claim that he needs to bring his dog on a plane for “emotional support.” This shouldn’t negate the benefits and necessity that some people find in emotional support animals. For people who actually need them, they’re a fantastic way to deal with stressful situations. But it’s just far too easy for this system to be abused.

It’s becoming apparent that if the usefulness of these animals is to be maintained then a new set of regulations should be put in place. With the problem of animals misbehaving, there should be a requirement of at least some obedience training.

Even if a dog helps to keep a patient calm, it could still cause problems for the people around it if not properly trained. Obviously, it wouldn’t be reasonable to require the same training as a service animal, but there should be enough training that the animal in question can stay calm when in a stressful situation. It’s also imperative that we establish a more realistic standard for what constitutes an emotional support animal so that help can be given to the people who really need it.



Categories: Columns, Opinions

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