Birds Masai Mara safari Kenya
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Can Orphaned Parrots, Crows and Ravens Qualify as Service Animals?

Are service animals going to the birds?

Apparently so, as orphaned parrots, crows and ravens have been helping veterans of the armed forces in the United States both east and west.

“The West L.A. campus of the Department of Veterans Affairs has an exotic-bird rescue facility on its sprawling 387-acre campus. It houses 21 aviaries with nearly 40 parrots that are part of a unique animal-assisted therapy program for veterans coping with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, alcoholism and other ailments.”

The above statement is according to this article written by Sarah Hashim-Waris for the Los Angeles Times, which states that “some troubled Los Angeles veterans are getting help through an unlikely source: orphaned parrots.”

Meanwhile — in Commerce, which is a small city approximately 90 miles northeast of Atlanta — Daniel Walthers is training crows and ravens to be service birds for soldiers with symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, according to Denise Dillon of WAGA-TV Fox 5 News in Atlanta:

You’ve heard of service dogs? Daniel Walthers is training crows and ravens to be service birds for soldiers with PTSD.

Posted by Denise Dillon FOX 5 on Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Walthers reportedly claimed that service birds will not replace service dogs; but they can serve a purpose for veterans of the armed forces of the United States…

…which could eventually lead to them traveling on flights operated by commercial airlines with their service birds — if they are not already doing so — and that would be just fine with me.

Let me officially state for the record that I have never had a problem with service animals — directly or indirectly. They allow passengers with certain disabilities to be able to have better peace of mind with an improved experience while traveling; and I wholeheartedly support it. Let me also state that I rarely see animals in the cabins of the aircraft where human passengers are seated while I am traveling.

The problem I have — when it is proven, of course — is when passengers deliberately attempt to flout the rules as though they do not apply to them and bring their pets aboard commercial aircraft under the false pretense that the animals are officially designated as service animals or for emotional support to their owners…

…or — even worse, in my opinion — that a service animal implies that its owner has a disability which may not even exist.

The state of Florida might have a solution to this issue, for as of Wednesday, July 1, 2015, owners of dogs may face a penalty — which could include time in jail — for passing off their pet as a service dog, thanks to a new law:

Service Animals: Requires public accommodation to permit use of service animal by individual with disability; provides conditions for public accommodation to exclude or remove service animal; revises penalties for certain persons or entities who interfere with use of service animal; provides penalty for knowing & willful misrepresentation with respect to use or training of service animal.

It is important to reiterate that there are distinct differences between service animals and animals used to provide their owners “emotional support” — to which one anonymous person reportedly confessed that “‘emotional support’ dogs are B.S.” as confirmation to what many people seem to suspect. Those distinctions are listed below.

Service Animal

The official definition of a service animal — according 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.

Unfortunately, only two questions may be asked by employees of an airline — or of any other company, for that matter:

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


When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, 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


…but the two permitted questions may be more than enough in some cases to have determined whether or not a dog is a legitimate service animal.

Even if a dog is considered a legitimate service animal, an employee of an airline or other company could still have it removed from the premises if the dog is considered:

  1. Out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it; or
  2. Not housebroken


While not every bullet point found on the following list may apply to airlines, they do apply to such travel establishments as airport lounges and hotel properties:

  • Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals. When a person who is allergic to dog dander and a person who uses a service animal must spend time in the same room or facility — such as an airport lounge or a hotel lobby, for example — they both should be accommodated by assigning them to different locations within the room or different rooms in the facility, if it is at all possible.
  • Establishments which sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas — even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.
  • People with disabilities who use service animals cannot be isolated from other patrons; treated less favorably than other patrons; or charged fees that are not charged to other patrons without animals. Additionally, if a business requires a deposit or fee to be paid by patrons with pets, it must waive the charge for service animals.
  • If a business — such as a hotel property — normally charges guests for damage that they cause, a customer with a disability may also be charged for damage caused by himself or his service animal.
  • Staff are not required to provide care or food for a service animal.


Emotional Support Animal

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.

A commercial airline is permitted to require a passenger traveling with an emotional support animal provide written documentation that the animal is an emotional support animal — unlike for a service animal. A fee does not apply to service animals of passengers with disabilities — not even on airlines such as Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air, which are known for their proliferation of ancillary fees. Here is a list of airlines with links to their official policies pertaining to animals:


Emotional support animals are not subject to the same training requirements as service animals; nor are they required to be caged — meaning that the policies and requirements for the designation of emotional support animals are more lax than those for service animals. There have been reports of passengers who have not been officially diagnosed with a disability and have allegedly attempted to bring their animals aboard an airplane — falsely passing them off as emotional support animals.

Although that statement could be considered harsh, it is not that simple, as passengers who are officially diagnosed as disabled in some way or can provide proof that their animals were prescribed to them by a physician or other medical professional have a right to travel freely; and if they decide to travel, no one can discriminate against them.

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…

…but despite the airlines specifically having their own rules pertaining to service animals, are passengers taking unfair advantage of the Air Carrier Access Act, as rules imposed by the federal government of the United States trump those by airlines? Are pet owners exploiting the service animal provisions of the Air Carrier Access Act so that they can take their animals to places which normally do not allow them? How can anyone tell whether a service animal is legitimate — especially when it is not wearing a vest or other form of identification? Could a dog be trained in detecting epilepsy seizures? If no epileptic seizure had been experienced by the passenger, could it appear as though the dog is not a real service animal?

The distinction becomes even more blurry when the animal is used for “emotional support.” Although a dog wears a vest which designates it as a service animal, it is anyone’s guess as to whether or not it is legitimate. You can purchase a service dog or emotional support animal kit for as little as $49.00 — cheaper than just about any airfare for the animal..

What is the difference between “faking” a service animal and pretending to be disabled to secure a prized parking spot reserved only for people officially designated with a disability?

There are options:

  • Check the animal as per the rules of the airline; although some passengers would be hesitant to do so after hearing about pets which die in the cargo hold
  • Purchase a seat for the animal, if the airline allows it
  • Leave the animal at home


In the meantime, service animals which are considered legitimate — and it seems that orphaned parrots, crows and ravens fall into that group, according to the above reports — and genuinely help their owners deal with emotional and physical issues should be permitted aboard airplanes when their owners travel within reason…

…and what I mean by “within reason” is that I am not sure I would want to see a service crocodile or a service elephant stuffed aboard an airplane any time soon…

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

  1. Would pet owners take advantage of the system and bring pets along as emotional support animals? Of course they would. Just as many travelers bring that carry on bag that will never fit in the carriers size box. Or board with 4 or 5 items hanging off them as the gate agent says 1 bag and 1 personal item. Since it is so difficult to determine a legitimate service/emotional animal, maybe some sort of registry issued I.D. for your animal? And before anyone screams ‘privacy issue,’ I have to prove who I am before I board, why not your pet?

    1. An official legitimate registry may not be a bad idea, TucsonJohn, as there are people who may not qualify for service animals but have a legitimate reason to have an emotional support animal.

  2. I don’t condone lying about whether or not a person has a disability in order to get their pet on board, but part of the issue is the extortionate fees that airlines and hotels are charging to bring dogs on board or letting them stay in the room. Most airlines will allow you to keep a personal item under the seat in front of you for free, but if that personal item has a dog in it they charge over $100. I have also seen hotel fees as high as $200 for a one night stay for ‘special cleaning’. I could understand a higher charge if the dog has an accident in the room or chews up the furniture (which would usually cause another charge to the owner in addition to the fee), but the fees are getting out of control. I can see how this extortion could make it tempting to game the system since service animals and emotional support animals fly and stay for free and are often allowed in places/hotels that normal pets are not.

    1. I do not hold the airlines blameless pertaining to this issue, snuggliestbear. There are times when they seem to be drunk from all of the profits raked in as a result of charging ancillary fees.

      Perhaps they should lower the fees to carry pets while imposing stiff penalties on those passengers who intentionally commit fraud? If it were not for United States federal law, they might be able to implement the latter part of that question…

  3. What moderately frequent flier hasn’t seen somebody with a vicious rat dog that they suckered a doctor into declaring as an emotional support animal. Of course the doctor generally hasn’t seen the horrible animal, so this is all done so somebody can blatantly circumvent rules they find inconvenient.

    1. The problem is significantly exacerbated when the animal misbehaves, Christian — as well as if there are fellow passengers who are allergic to animals aboard the aircraft…

  4. To whom it may concern,

    on the afternoon of 11/20/2017 Animal Control officers accompanied by Santa Monica Police came to my residence and took possesion of my pet crow, Silver, who is 4 years old.
    I need to have confimation of the codes under which she was removed from familiar habitat and caretaker.
    the Crow is not being mistreated or kept in unsafe conditions.
    I need to have official confirmation of the fact that she will not be put down. killed.
    has I was informed of by Santa Monica Police at the time. about 3:45 pm
    I was given no papers only told to get her permit done and I can have her back.
    she is not to be kept near other Birds I will not have her get infected in poor conditions.
    I am taking all legal options to have my Silver returned to me and I to her.
    She is used to getting a piece of baked chicken every day or hambuger once a week and IAMS puppy chow always on hand.
    She likes to bathe everyday and will need a shallow pool availabe in a secure out door area. her wings are not good never have been that is why the hawk got her, her wings were damaged badly by older siblings early on in the nest.
    after the hawk attacked her 2 years ago it took me a year to get her to go out into her aviary.
    And she sees anything coming at her, like with 2 hands has the hawk coming at her, So don’t freak her out any more than she is already just by being removed from me. And you say you are doing animal welfare and protection ,, the officers wanted to put her in a box , not big enough for her in any way, I made them take her in her Cage, I would like very much to please have her return has such asap.

    yours sincerely, Joshua K. Betts
    Viet Nam Vet , USN.

    Apparently so, as orphaned parrots, crows and ravens have been helping veterans of the armed forces in the United States.
    What animals are emotional support animals?
    ESAs are also sometimes referred to as comfort animals, comfort pets, or companion animals. Dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, mini-pigs, hedgehogs, and many more species may qualify as an ESA.
    It is illegal for a landlord to deny housing to a person because that person, or someone associated with that person, has a mental or physical disability. … However, federal laws allow persons with certain special needs, such as the mentally disabled, to keep an animal in a rental unit despite a “no pets” provision.

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