The Humanist Dilemma: Are People Going Too Far with Emotional Support Animals?

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Is This an Airplane or a Zoo? I just heard about someone who tried to fly on an airplane with an emotional support animal (ESA) that happened to be a squirrel. I’ve heard about problems with various ESAs on planes, and of course many humans have allergies or phobias or just don’t enjoy flying with other people’s pets traveling uncaged around them. Nuts have been banned from many flights because they can trigger allergies, but now we have animals shedding fur and dander.

I find myself feeling really unsympathetic and skeptical about all this. All my life until recently, the only service animals permitted anywhere were seeing eye dogs, and they were not only extremely well trained to assist their people, they were also impeccably behaved around everyone.

Why can’t people with emotional needs just carry a scrap of their baby blankie like the character in The Producers, or even a whole security blanket like Linus does in the comic strip Peanuts?

—My ESA is a Gorilla—Got a Problem with That?


Dear Gorilla,

I’m reluctant to dismiss the whole business of emotional support animals—even though I too suspect some are abusing the privilege. I know someone who secured an ESA designation for his dog and took him everywhere. But when the dog died, he seemed just fine (albeit sad, as anyone might be upon losing a beloved pet). So was this person just taking advantage of an accommodation that might be very important for some people, but maybe not so justified for him?

I also suspect the standards to qualify for official ESA designation have become too lax, such that anyone who feels inclined can invoke it to take their dog or cat everywhere, waive “no pets” rules in housing and college dorms, even travel with their pets in airplane cabins without the typical burdens of cages and extra fees.

And that’s too bad. Because it could reach a point where these accommodations are withdrawn or severely restricted, and people who truly need and benefit from having a pet in tow will be the ones who suffer.

Are there any professionals out there who can weigh in on what constitutes a legitimate rationale for ESA status, why the prevalence seems to have mushroomed (or rabbited), and whether the designation has truly gone as rogue as it seems?