Shih tzu stinky face dog
Photograph ©2006 by B. Cohen.

Confession by Pet Owner: “Emotional Support Dogs” are “B.S.”

“S o who am I ruining this for? The passengers to whom Delilah brings joy? The flight attendants who take photos of my pet and seem more gleeful when they walk down the aisles? Myself, saving thousands of dollars a year for a fee that makes no sense for an airline to charge? Or the airlines that nickel and dime you for everything you bring onboard?” asked an anonymous person who confessed that “‘emotional support’ dogs are B.S. — I know because I have one” in this article, which ends by answering those questions with “I thought so.”

After spending hundreds of dollars in fees to travel with a small dog via commercial airplane, the mother of the confessor suggested the idea of passing the pet as an “emotional support dog.” One note from a doctor and a phony certification is all it took for the dog to travel for free under the guise of an emotional support animal.

“I’ve seen faux honeymooners get upgraded to business class; I’ve witnessed passengers sneak several pieces of luggage onto a plane to avoid fees, and I’ve seen people flirt with the flight attendants for free drinks. And besides, who, other than the doctor, can prove I don’t have emotional disabilities? (As a matter of fact, I am still reeling from a bad breakup). And no one’s getting hurt.”

Sure. Let’s rationalize the exacerbation of this controversial issue of emotional support dogs and other animals by comparing one dishonest act to others; but for people who can put their heads on their pillows and sleep at night traveling with their pets coming along for the ride, can you blame them?

Unfortunately, airline personnel must abide by federal law in the United States, as I wrote in this article pertaining to a disruptive pig and its owner who were banned from being passengers on a flight recently:

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.

…and 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


It appears that the only way the controversial “emotional support animal” issue will ever be resolved is if there is a change to the federal law which would render exploiting it by dishonest people who choose to cheat the system significantly more difficult.

Which is more egregious, in your opinion: the airlines charging the ancillary fees for animals who travel with their owners — or the owners of the supposed “emotional support animals” who exploit the system by using a federal law of the United States in their favor to transport their pets free of charge? Is this a problem which should be fixed? If so, how — other than a change in the Air Carrier Access Act pertaining to emotional support animals?

Photograph ©2006 by B. Cohen.

  1. It’s not all about the money. The ESA is allowed out of the bag , off the floor, and in the passengers lap during takeoff and landing. For some , that’s more important than saving a few hundred dollars on an annual vacation.
    Don’t assume everyone is faking. Some have stacks of physiatrics bills that could support their claims. Even some who uncomfortably minimize their genuine need for the ESA, could just be a little embarrassed about discussing their real Mental Health issued.

    1. I agree that there is absolutely a need for emotional support animals as well as service dogs, Beach Miles.

      As for the assumption that someone might be faking it: that is exactly why the portion of the Air Carrier Access Act which pertains to animals exists and why only two questions may be asked of the owner of the animal.

  2. The sole purpose of an “emotional support animal” is to make the owner feel special by getting special treatment regardless of the comfort of the other passengers.

    If that ain’t emotional support, I don’t know what is.

  3. Emotion/Comfort Pets? Spare me. Was on a flight this week with two of these types. What kind of man brings plays this game? I’m sure pets appreciates being schlepped across the country/world on a regular basis.

  4. I would guess that the vast majority of people are cheating the system. If I ruled the world (and unfortunately, I don’t), I would require more stringent verification of emotional or physical disability. If needed, people should be able to have a support animal with them, but the law does not thwart violators.

  5. Emotional support animals are not service animals, they are two very different things. It is only because flight attendants are confused about the difference, that people with ESAs are given special treatment.

  6. I have obtained an ESA dog, she is small, and she helps me get through the day and thru thunder storms. I havent been too a 4th of july in 7 years and dont like growds .She has helped me to back off some of the medications that the VA gives me for anxiety attacks and my PTSD. I did 5 years in iraq and 23 years in the army. And at this point I dont really know if I could be without her, she is registered thru NSAR and I had to give medical proof of my problems, actual documents signed by a few different doctors…she goes everywhere with me but we haven’t flown on a plane yet but I don’t think I want too, cause I after iraq i just dont care much for planes anymore.. it’s the people that all out lie to get their dog registered, Hell I had to tell, actually tell and prove that I have a problem, and i think that if she wasn’t in my life right now I would have already ended my life awhile ago……

    1. You sound like you are one of the rare exceptions of people who legitimately need an emotional support dog, Dave SGT RETIRED; and — I hope you do not mind me saying this — please do not even think of ending your life under any circumstance. I hope your dog lives a long, happy and healthy life with you.

      For what it is worth, thank you for your service. I personally appreciate it.

  7. I would encourage those annoyed by this to write to the DOT. I did here:

    Here is what I wrote:

    I am writing today to submit feedback on the well-intentioned, but severely abused rules codified in the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) that require airlines to allow passengers to bring dogs and cats onboard an aircraft.

    Someone with a ADA-recognized disability, such as blindness, clearly has a well-defined and legitimate need, and uses a well-trained dog. However, this notion of a “emotional support animal” is absurd and abused. Passengers may follow the letter of the rule, but clearly violate the spirit. You need to tighten the rules.

    Passengers simply need to search online for “Emotional Support Dog” to receive links to dozens – maybe hundreds – of services that will register your dog for a fee. It is as little as $59! The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) include things like:

    * Are there any restrictions? NO.
    * What kind of training is required to be an Emotional Support Dog? NONE.
    * Is there any application? NO APPLICATIONS AND NO DOCTORS NOTE NEEDED.

    Websites clearly support this sham, going as far as providing links if your personal healthcare professional will not participate in the charade: “(you will need) A letter from your therapist, psychiatrist, or other licensed mental health professional that prescribes or endorses you to have or obtain an emotional support animal to ameliorate the symptoms of your emotional, psychiatric, or mental disability. If your therapist is unwilling to write a qualifying letter of prescription for you to obtain an Emotional Support Animal, or if you don’t currently have therapist, click here to obtain a letter of prescription from a licensed mental health professional.”

    This is not a victimless problem. Those who utilize this scheme create uncomfortable situations for those around them, who may be allergic to these pets, or can also be afraid of these pets. And it’s not the perpetrator that is impacted; it’s the victim that needs to accommodate! It is the victim that needs to give up their seat and relocate, or the victim that might need to wait for another flight.

    I cannot imagine reasonable people objecting to service dogs for those with ADA-recognized disabilities. Please consider adding that requirement that only service animals for ADA-recognized disabilities be allowed into the passenger compartment.

  8. Herein lies the real issue:
    The airlines charge up to $100/dog to count as 1 of your 2 carry-ons. The “dog” carry-on fits under your seat as would your bag carry-on. Most of the time the “dog” carry-on sleeps through the flight and never makes a peep. So, not only do you not get a free second carry-on as others do but you pay for that 2nd carry-on. Now that makes that consumer annoyed as the airlines build up their revenue and scam the passenger. So… the only revenge is the ESA. Many of these dogs are hypo-allergenic and quieter than a piece of luggage under the seat. What has to happen is a relaxation of the price of the “dog” carry-on. Until then passengers will be legitimately or illegitimately using the ESA!

  9. Children get to ride for FREE when they are young. They make far more noise and cause a bigger disturbance. When I have travelled with my dog, most riders had no idea there was a dog present, but everyone would know if there is a baby present that gets to ride for free. Plus they have all kinds of extra luggage like foldable strollers that don’t seem to get charged for.

  10. I’m impressed, I must say. Rarwly do I encounter a blog that’s
    both educative and engaging, and without a doubt, you have hit the nail
    on the head.The problem is soething too few men and women are
    speaking intelligently about. I’m very happy that I found this during my hunt for something
    relating to this.

  11. I don’t fly nor will I ever but ima just say this…
    I have 6 mental illnesses and my dog becoming an ESA is well on legit and I don’t owe anything to anyone including an explanation.
    It’s a mental warzone in my head daily and my perception of reality is distorted.
    My dog is my best friend. She’s there for me at all times. So those of you calling B.S.. you have obviously ni idea what it’s like to be burdened with mental illness!!!

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