Emotional Support Animals: More Evidence of Faking

ir travel is apparently going to the dogs — and cats, monkeys, birds, turkeys, pigs, miniature horses, kangaroos and anything else which can “qualify” for an emotional support animal; and that trend seems to be increasing every day.

In other words, travel by air is literally becoming a zoo.

Emotional Support Animals: More Evidence of Faking

In addition to one piece of luggage, Alyssa Ramos — a travel “blogger”, no less — also has a carrying bag for Oscar de la Ramos and a knapsack filled with toys and treats to keep the ears of the Pomeranian dog who weighs seven pounds from popping, according to this article written by Beth Landman of the New York Post which claims that some pet owners feel that the high prices and a stressful travel environment justify bending the rules a bit.

“I first applied for support papers online to avoid the airline pet fee,” Ramos — who is based in the Los Angeles area — admitted, according to the article. “But I had just gotten into a motorcycle accident and had emotional stress, so my regular doctor wound up writing me a letter.”

You might remember this article which I wrote back on Friday, December 5, 2014 pertaining to the confession of a pet owner that emotional support animals are “B.S.”

A Legitimate Case Which Was Initially Denied

Meanwhile, the case over emotional support animals is not confined solely to the United States, which has laws protecting those who claim their need for their pets to travel with them as a disability: Kate Skywalker — who is a former soldier of the Canadian Armed Forces for greater than ten years and was given a medical discharge after being diagnosed with depression and anxiety related to her time in the military — is taking on Air Canada over a travel policy which excludes service animals that offer emotional support to people with mental illness, according to this article written by Rosa Marchitelli of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Representatives of the airline would not permit Skywalker to travel with her cat, whom she claims calms her down: “… sometimes when I travel or even when I’m in crowds, I have severe anxiety, so having her with me comforts me.”

After she refused to take “no” for an answer, Skywalker said that an employee of Air Canada told her that “she could take her cat into the cabin as a pet if she paid a fee. Skywalker refused, and eventually the employee agreed to waive the $50 fee and Skywalker and her cat boarded the flight.”

Back in the United States, a service dog which saved the life of a veteran of the military and had been named Service Dog of the Year at the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards was denied permission to accompany a member of the military as they were about to board the airplane for their trip home.

Just How Easy Is It For a Pet to Travel For Free?

Swainson Gill — an employee of CBS News — and his family pet dog, Pharaoh volunteered to demonstrate how easily pets can travel for free under the current rules, according to this article from last year.

Swainson logged on to one of the many sites offering counseling services. His reported disability: “a fear of flying,” one of the many reasons given, and difficult to challenge. 

The questionnaire was complete in less than five minutes. Two weeks later a letter confirming his dog as an emotional support animal arrived along with the official-looking vest. 

Within days Swainson and Pharaoh were on their way from New York to Washington, D.C. to take in the sites. 

“It’s amazing how easy it was,” Swainson said.

Reaction by Frequent Fliers

FlyerTalk member txflyer77 observed: “I’ve passed four ‘therapy dogs’ in the last half hour at DEN C concourse.”

More discussions pertaining to emotional support animals have been appearing on FlyerTalk where frequent fliers are talking about the increase in emotional support animals when traveling.

Here is a list of some of those discussions:

Help is On The Way?

The Department of Transportation of the United States sought your input pertaining to exploring the feasibility of conducting a “negotiated rulemaking” — which includes the hiring of a convener to speak with parties who are interested — in addressing the a number of issues which included determining the appropriate definition of a service animal.

It remains to be seen whether or not the input the federal agency received will lead to further defining the definition of a service animal and addressing the increasingly blatant abuse of the qualification of emotional service animals.

Meanwhile, owners of dogs may face a penalty — which could include time in jail — for passing off their pet as a service dog in the state of Florida on or after Wednesday, July 1, 2015.

Summary

I have outlined the distinct definitions between service animals and emotional support animals in several articles — including this one — and while more and more people appear to be taking advantage of the current laws to pass off their pets as emotional support animals, there are cases of other people who are being denied traveling with their legitimate service animals.

That is a shame. The passing off of pets as emotional support animals is a fraudulent practice which needs to be contained — but there is no incentive of that happening anytime soon, as FlyerTalk member 110pgl was rather succinct with this thought:

“With a fake ESA you get…

  1. Pre-boarding
  2. Extra carry-on allowance
  3. Empty seat next to you (where available)
  4. Free upgrade to E+/MCE/etc (where available)
  5. No pet charge

“Why would anyone pay to put their pet in the hold?”

Why indeed…

Photograph ©2006 by B. Cohen.

15 thoughts on “Emotional Support Animals: More Evidence of Faking”

  1. Greg says:

    Brian-

    I was not aware that the Department of Transportation has sought my input on this matter, and appreciate bringing that opportunity to my attention.

    I have a former girlfriend who is a board certified physician and travels with a small dog as an emotional support animal on a regular basis. She admits to doing so to avoid paying the fee and restrictions on the number of pets in the cabin.

    As someone of your ethical standards can understand, that was one of the reasons she and I are no longer in a romantic relationship.

    There is a level of entitlement in our society today which when it leads to the discomfort of other travelers, which many of these emotional support animals cause, drives a need for enforcement and regulation of standard practices.

    Your consistent attention to this policy issue and its consequences is appreciated by this reader of Boarding Area.

    1. Captain Kirk says:

      Me too!

  2. leftpinky says:

    Is there a limit on dog size? this couple next to me had an 80+ pound dog on my AA flight. When I looked it up, it seemed themax was 20 pounds? they moved, so not a big deal in the end, but sucked for me cause the dog was gonna take up half my seat

  3. JRG says:

    Yeah, the authorities need to crack down on this BS. Put the pets in the cargo pit. As an asthmatic, what about my “special needs,” like breathing? No sympathy for these people who flaunt the system……

  4. Tyler says:

    On a recent long-haul across the U.S. from BOS-LAX in X, the large lady in my row also had a “support” dog which she held on her lap. It was clear, this dog wasn’t anything more than her dumb mutt. Stupid thing panted the entire 6 hour flight with horrible breath. Please spare me the privilege of sitting next to another “support” dog in my life. If you see one in your row upon boarding the plane, request to be moved.

    Apologies for the insensitivity of the post. Couldn’t help it given the topic.

    1. Captain Kirk says:

      No need to apologize, the flyer was probably anentitled dumb mutt too.

  5. Nick says:

    This is one of those things that I have decided, that although I don’t agree with what people do, life is just too short to get riled up about some lady bringing her shitzu as a fake emotional support animal to save $50.

    1. Captain Kirk says:

      Until they sit next to you on a transcon flight.

  6. TvlGuru says:

    @Nick, you are obviously very mellow…you must be from California. Some of us, like a previous poster have severe allergies to these “emotional pets.” So cut the BS about getting riled up. Having an asthma attack is much worse than getting riled up and can cause death.

  7. Brian says:

    I am the parent of a son with autism, ADHD, and anxiety. He is high functioning and does not, at present, need a service animal of any kind, including an emotional support animal. But we right now are always traveling with him. Animals do, however, calm him and relieve his fears and anxieties and I could foresee a need for a service animal for him especially if he travels alone as he gets older. I think it a shame that people’s fraudulent claims of need where none exist might make it more difficult for him to have an animal if his condition worsens in the future. People have no shame.

    1. DB says:

      Brian,
      Your son may be a good candidate to be paired with a dog from Canine Companions for Independence (cci.org). We have been volunteer puppy raisers for this organization for 12 years. The service dogs are free but you do have to submit an application, participate in very thorough interviews, and attend a two week, in residence training program on one of their campuses. All have private rooms in a larger training building where you’ll train with others. There’s no cost except for a couple of meals out. Volunteers usually provide meals.
      As puppy raisers, many of us travel by air when we return the 18 month old pups to the regional training campuses They’re not perfect, but they respond to corrections. And we are keenly aware that everyone is watching us! (And yes, they get to play. Every day!)

  8. P T says:

    As someone severely allergic to dogs and cats this whole thing makes my blood boil.

  9. JAXBA says:

    TL;DR: The United Kingdom doesn’t allow animal import with just a doctor’s note or Internet certificate to be a service animal, meaning BA has to turn down most emotional support animal requests, surprising a lot of Americans. One guy just couldn’t grasp this though…

    When I worked for BA we often had requests from Americans for service animals, and emotional support animals. The UK has fairly strict requirements for animal import however, and incoming service animals had to be trained and certified by a recognised charity or training programme, of which there are many, even in the US – but none of those Internet certification places were ever on the UK’s approved list. BA don’t carry pets in the cabin internationally, only service dogs, and so if the animal wasn’t trained by one of these organisations, it wouldn’t be recognised by the UK Government as a service animal. This meant the animal had to travel as a pet in the hold, and not in the cabin, despite the ADA requirements, or the animal would be entering the UK incorrectly. So that prevented anyone who was just trying to avoid the shipping fee, but sadly did cause some anguish to those who truly couldn’t bear to be without their ESA.

    I had one guy whose dog wasn’t trained at all, he just had a doctor letter. When he was informed that the animal had to be trained to UK requirements in order to enter the UK, he wanted to know which approved org would certify his own dog… except all the approved orgs don’t train an animal you supply -they breed and train and place the orgs own animals. Oh, and he was flying in a few days… and why couldn’t he just do an Internet registration thingy? … Well why won’t they train my own dog? (within a week sir??) … Well which org CAN I call? … What do you mean none of them? … What about this Internet place? … well, can you find an organisation who will certify my animal and call me back? And so on. Sorry sir, it’s not ‘computer says no’, it’s government says no! I tried, I really did. I learnt a lot about service animals that day..

  10. Melanie Schroeder says:

    I’m curious for the people who have asthma, how would you feel if it was a blind person bringing their certified seeing eye dog on the plane? Maybe there’s another option. Like having flights where no animals are allowed in order to accommodate people with allergies. Why shouldn’t people with legitimate mental health conditions be allowed to be comfortable flying as well? Imagine the number of people who don’t visit family or friends or travel and see the amazing places the world has to offer because they cannot emotionally withstand the journey. I think it’s worth exploring an option where all people have the opportunity to travel safely and comfortably. It seems the issue here to me is the inability to regulate people’s ethics and taking advantage of a rule which is meant to bring compassion and understanding to people with anxiety. As to the comment about people not dying over getting “riled up” on a flight, as someone with a medical condition that is worsened by any anxiety or stress, to the point where I can’t work for a period of time, the impact may not be immediate but it is devastating.

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