Dr. Patricia Farrell on Medika Life

Self-indulgent Are Scamming the System with “Emotional Support” Animals

A real need and benefit exists for those who use the services of emotional support or service animals, but a surge of fraudsters seems to be on the rise.

The smiling older woman proceeded to briskly walk through the automatic doors of the pharmacy, her tiny dog wearing a red vest, bravely attempting to keep up with her. A brief conversation revealed that the woman, who takes pain medication, uses this tiny dog for emotional support. Not a service animal, but emotional support. Therein lies the question that requires a re-evaluation by all of us.

No one wants to deny anyone with an emotional or physical handicap/disability the aid they need to meet the challenges in their lives. None of us want to be scammed, either, by people who are so self-indulgent that they are using the system. How difficult should it be to receive certification for emotional support animals, and should there be a limit to what types of animals may meet this certification? Do animals require certification of any kind?

Is the certification limited to dogs and cats, or can it be extended to peacocks, miniature horses, and other small farm animals? No, it’s not ludicrous because their owners have brought all of these animals to board passenger planes. However, these are the ones that make your eyes bug out as you murmur something indistinguishable and probably censorable under your breath.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has specific guidelines for what constitutes a service animal and whether or not emotional support animals meet the requirements. Let’s review them, shall we?

A service animal is: “…defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.” But it should be noted that this is not limited to dogs.

An emotional support animal does not perform any specific task and does not require training. Here the guidelines become open to interpretation and, possibly, lawsuit. The description of these animals by ADA indicates they are “…animals that provide comfort just by being with a person. Because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. However, some State or local governments have laws that allow people to take emotional support animals into public places. You may check with your State and local government agencies to find out about these laws.” The words “into public places” may be the loophole here.

One other comment may be helpful. Neither service nor emotional support animals require a vest, special harness, or tag on them. Anyone wishing to inquire is limited to asking:

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?

2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

3. Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability.

How do you determine the limits of “public places” for these animals? Does a plane fall under this rubric, or is it a “private place?” What about a food market, restaurant, or hospital? As such, can animals be denied?

Many small dogs and cats (I did see a monkey) are taken on planes with their owners. Oh, the monkey was trained to be a service animal and was being taken to its new owner in another state.

The portion of the law that denies anyone asking for either certification of an emotional support animal or the person’s handicap is where the scammers make hay. Rules under the ADA do not require certification, but some entities offer unneeded certification. Any therapist or physician can prepare a document regarding a person’s need for these animals. How many healthcare professionals would refuse the request?

People will avail themselves of emotional support animals when they don’t have any emotional or physical disability; some get disability placards without any disability. When asked, I knew a physician who said, “Of course, I give a note saying any of my patients needs a disability placard. Why not?”

The reason why not is simple. They are taking parking spaces needed for individuals with actual disabilities; it’s not a convenience but a necessity for them.

I know someone with several serious disabilities who, for years, refused to get a placard because she said others needed it more than she did. Of course, she was wrong, and she did eventually agree to the placard.

Those abusing the accommodations intended for persons with disabilities probably feel no shame in their actions; they should.

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Pat Farrell PhD
Pat Farrell PhDhttps://medium.com/@drpatfarrell
I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.


Medika Editor: Mental Health

I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.

Patricia also acts in an editorial capacity for Medika's mental health articles, providing invaluable input on a wide range of mental health issues.

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