Another Example of Why People Register Their Pets as Emotional Support Animals

Like it or not, some people travel everywhere with their pets. The thought of leaving them home alone or cooped up in a kennel and wanting to reunite with their owners as soon as possible is a thought which can be sad and heartbreaking…

Another Example of Why People Register Their Pets as Emotional Support Animals

…but traveling with a pet can be expensive. Not only do airlines charge extra to transport a pet; but hotel and resort properties may also levy a fee in addition to the room rate if a pet is expected to stay in the room with its owner.

For example, the Home2 Suites by Hilton Pittsburgh Cranberry, PA hotel property is pet friendly and offers the following options under the heading of special requests…

Click on the image for an enlarged view. Source: Hilton.

…with which you can either pay a fee of $75.00 for a pet which weighs up to 55 pounds to stay in the room with its owner; or just check off that you are traveling with a service animal, of which no extra fee is charged. The fee cannot be refunded once it is paid.

Although one of the choices clearly states “traveling with a service animal”, the problem is that many people still do not know the difference between a legitimate service animal and an emotional support animal. All a pet owner has to do is purchase one of those bogus emotional support animal vests or harness and leash sets to bypass having to pay a fee — unless the employee behind the front desk at the hotel or resort property is alert and aware enough to recognize that the animal is nothing more than the pet of the guest.

That is not to say that some emotional support animals do not serve a vital and legitimate purpose for their owners — but emotional support animals are of a different class than officially designated service animals; and this article pertains to people who are simply trying to save a buck when traveling with their pets.

A Reminder of the Definitions of Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

The official definition of a service animalaccording to the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice of the United States pertaining to the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA — is as follows:

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act.

Some State and local laws also define service animal more broadly than the ADA does. Information about such laws can be obtained from the State attorney general’s office.

Additionally, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered — unless these devices interfere with the intended work of the service animal or the disability of the individual prevents using these devices. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.

An emotional support animal is a companion animal which provides therapeutic benefit to an individual designated with a disability — such as depression, bipolar disorder, panic attacks or anxiety as only a few of many examples. While only dogs — and, in a separate provision which need not be discussed here, miniature horses — can be officially designated as service animals, emotional support animals can also be cats and other animals as prescribed by a physician or other medical professional if the owner of the animal has a verifiable disability in accordance with federal law of the United States.

In order to prevent discrimination by commercial airlines — based both within and outside of the United States — against passengers on the basis of physical or mental disability, the Air Carrier Access Act was passed by the Congress of the United States in 1986; and here are where complaints may be registered against an airline via the official Internet web site of the Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforcement division of the Department of Transportation of the United States.

Employees of airlines are limited by law to the questions they are permitted to ask owners of animals brought aboard airplanes. Only two questions may be asked by employees of an airline — or of any other company, for that matter pertaining to service animals…

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
black dog matthew

Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

…and when the service an animal provides is not obvious, an employee of an airline or other company cannot do the following actions without violating federal law:

  • Ask about the nature of the disability of the person
  • Require medical documentation
  • Require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog; or
  • Ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task

Summary

Unlike airlines — which have blanket policies pertaining to the transportation of animals — the acceptance of animals in rooms with their owners is left up to the policies of the individual hotel or resort property. Some do not allow animals at all. Some are pet friendly and do not charge extra for animals to stay at their locations. Some charge a fee for pets with no fee charged for service animals.

People who travel with pets should do what they can to stay at hotel and resort properties which are pet friendly — but they should not attempt to pass off their pets as service animals solely for the purpose of saving money in what some people would call a fraudulent manner.

I have written extensively over the years pertaining to service dogs and emotional support animals in the form of articles posted here at The Gate — including:

All photographs ©2013 by Brian Cohen.


 

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2 thoughts on “Another Example of Why People Register Their Pets as Emotional Support Animals”

  1. Christian says:

    As long as the government allows exceptions that you can drive a truck through to laws requiring documentation, no wonder abuse is beyond rampant. There’s simply no repercussions to violating the law and businesses can’t gather enough information to see that the animal is valid. The whole situation is nuts. Besides holding the animal owner accountable for fraud if the animal is just a pet, holding any vet’s license responsible for incorrectly listing any animal as either a service animal or emotional support animal should fix the abuse in a hurry.

  2. Willy says:

    Brian, thanks for doing some great research on this topic.

    The original ADA laws were basically written by the disability lobby so whatever “loopholes” were created flow from that. Whoever might have opposed the original legislation because they knew the thing would turn into a giant mess would have been deemed insensitive to the needs of disabled people, so this is what we get love it or hate it.

    I have said it before that when the government seeks to create classes of people with special rights and privileges not afforded the general population you cannot blame people for seeking to also find a way to join that class to enjoy such privileges. Since the ADA makes it explicit that requiring proof of disability is a form of discrimination then barriers to joining that class are low.

    When combined with the travel industry’s current obsession with “fee” revenue the incentive to join a class that is, by law, excluded from such fees is both natural and desirable.

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