“Turtles are allowed, but no photography.”
August 9, 2015 1:24 AM   Subscribe

What do an alpaca, a turtle, a snake, a pig, and a turkey have in common? They're all animals that New Yorker writer Patricia Marx passed off as emotional support animals, with varying results.
posted by carrienation (67 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
The old New Yorker standby applies: Christ, what an asshole.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:02 AM on August 9, 2015 [23 favorites]


I see the point behind the article, but I really hope it doesn't screw anything up for people with "legit" service animals. An aside - Would it have gone better if I had showed up with an Aibo?
posted by Samizdata at 2:14 AM on August 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


I really hope it doesn't screw anything up for people with "legit" service animals.

People with "fake" service animals have already done that.
posted by ShutterBun at 2:34 AM on August 9, 2015 [45 favorites]


I made it through "snake" which was basically a repeat of "turtle."

I have the same feeling about this as I do about medical marijuana. People adopt an easy pathology (anxiety) to skirt the law. It seems it would be better to just relax the laws.

I don't remember animals being considered unhealthy when I was a kid. My uncle used to bring us and the dog to the bar. It wasn't an issue until sometime in the 80's, when suddenly everything became an issue. And a lot of European countries seem to do just fine with dogs and cats in public places.
posted by kanewai at 3:48 AM on August 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't remember animals being considered unhealthy when I was a kid. My uncle used to bring us and the dog to the bar. It wasn't an issue until sometime in the 80's, when suddenly everything became an issue. And a lot of European countries seem to do just fine with dogs and cats in public places.

Somewhere there's someone saying, "I don't remember anyone acknowledging my animal allergies when I was a kid. My uncle used to have to take me out of restaurants when someone's dog they'd brought made my asthma act up. It was a problem until the 80's, when people finally acknowledged that allergies to cats and dogs can get really severe. I still have to leave some public places if I'm in Europe and someone's brought their cat in."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:57 AM on August 9, 2015 [45 favorites]


Here there are restaurants and cafes that advertise they allow dogs/cats. Idiots can patronise them, and I can avoid them like the plague they are. Win-win.
posted by oheso at 4:25 AM on August 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


I ran up to a guard and started yelling, ‘That guy’s dog is about to pee on the Pollock!’ She looked at me and said, ‘There’s nothing we can do about it.’ ”

It feels like this woman spent a lot of time harrassing a bunch of animals and service staff, and all we have to show for it is a half-formed modern art joke.
posted by Dr Dracator at 5:05 AM on August 9, 2015 [12 favorites]


Here there are restaurants and cafes that advertise they allow dogs/cats. Idiots can patronise them, and I can avoid them like the plague they are. Win-win.

Just like smoking. We don't need to take into account the health or safety or comfort of people who work in those establishments. If they're so put out by it, they can just find another job, right?
posted by Etrigan at 5:22 AM on August 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


Just like smoking. We don't need to take into account the health or safety or comfort of people who work in those establishments.

That's a different kettle of Virginia unfiltered. We've come a long way from the days when the typical hotelier's response to a request for a non-smoking room was, "Sure, don't smoke in it and you're all set."
posted by oheso at 5:36 AM on August 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


As a person who is so severely allergic to most animals that I've been rushed to the ER and intubated after my throat swelled shut from exposure to three cats at once, the idea of novelty service animals terrifies me.

I mean, I can literally die from this. Allergy shots? They triggered an asthma attack and anaphylactic shock, so avoiding pets altogether is pretty much my only option.

Every time one of these types of stories gets published, I worry a bit more that some idiot who just wants to bring his 9 service lemurs "for anxiety" everywhere is gonna win a lawsuit and accidentally kill me.

I already feel like a leper for growing up unable to play with or sleep over at friends' houses who owned dogs and/or cats. Portable nebulizer for the win!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 5:40 AM on August 9, 2015 [13 favorites]


What changed in the U.S. Was an revisiting the ADA after case law essentially boxed it in too completely. Unicorn on the cob's situation would be understood as a potential disability after some discussion of how someone mitigates the allergy. If someone is there with an animal, there will be a discussion with both to work out the situation. The service animal may need to be in an area that does not impact the person with SEVERE allergies.
posted by childofTethys at 6:18 AM on August 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


FYI I have turned down a job at an ad agency that allowed dogs in the workplace and canceled meetings in NYC (which also lost me clients and deals) after reacting to the bed in a "pet friendly" hotel -- both my eyes swelled shut and it took 9 hours to recover.

I do my best to mitigate symptoms when exposure cannot be avoided, but public places are something I took mostly for granted until about 10 years ago. Now, I get unpleasantly surprised sometimes and just end up dealing with the fallout. I'd prefer this ESA scam to not become too widespread for obvious reasons, and both incidents happened in NYC.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 6:24 AM on August 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


The 2010 regs also define service animals as DOGS. There is a small carve-out for miniature horses (balance/pulling wheelchairs, typically for outdoor situations) Emotional support animals are for housing situations, so they may be excluded from areas where service animals are allowed, even if you have a letter. There are air carrier and transportation rules for non-service animals. For those who are wondering why this wasn't around when you were a kid, the ADA was amended in 2008.

Service animals are expected to be housebroken, and the animal may need a day off if they are sick.
posted by childofTethys at 6:44 AM on August 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I was thinking she was an asshole until I got to the bottom. There are organizations that are trying to set up a list of registered service and support animals. Which would probably cut down on this. I honestly don't expect anything to happen until someone gets injured by someone's support animal and goes to the NY Post or the Boston Herald (or pick the conservative rag that publishes in your city) and makes a stink.
posted by Hactar at 6:44 AM on August 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


On a side note, I could see a pig working well as an emotional support animal: they're affectionate, intelligent, they respond to the cries of other animals (including humans) and best of all for folks like Unicorn, they're hypoallergenic, having no fur and little body hair.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 7:08 AM on August 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'm not a fan of emotional support service animals and tend to think it's all BS. BUT, at least where I am there aren't so many it's a problem, so I'm willing to shut up and live with it. Plus, what the heck, maybe they really help some people.

The conflict between people with allergies and service critters? I'm glad I don't have to be in charge of making that call.
posted by cccorlew at 7:16 AM on August 9, 2015


I'm not a fan of emotional support service animals

I'm confused, because the article is about the difference between emotional-support animals and service animals, but many of the comments here seems to be conflating the two. Is there such a thing as an "emotional support service animal"?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:19 AM on August 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


The current obsession about allowimg pets everywhere reminds me of Children of Men.
posted by Nevin at 7:21 AM on August 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


There was a lot of discussion at the time the service animal regs were drafted about this very issue of requiring licensing for service animals, and the reality is most of the people who benefit from them have limitations that make this step very burdensome. Faking is an issue that has horrific impacts on people with disabilities. Perhaps those people should be reported to the location where their animal is licensed and have their animal lose its license? Put the burden on the people who need to be held accountable.

Any pet-friendly hotels should be well-versed on working with people with animal allergies. Pets are different from ESAs which are different from services animals. They should have a few rooms set aside that do not have animal exposure.
posted by childofTethys at 7:29 AM on August 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


“Animals can get as depressed as people do,” he said, so “there is sometimes an issue about how well people with mental illnesses can look after their animals.” He went on, “If it’s really so difficult for you to be without your animal, maybe you don’t need to go to that restaurant or to the Frick Museum. ”

Beyond the danger of it making life more difficult for registered service animals, does your pet really need to be in a crowded mall or restaurant getting stressed out when it could be in it's home environment with access to food and water?
posted by arcticseal at 7:31 AM on August 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


If you'd like a more...immersive experience, Nevin, Might I recommend a trip to San Francisco?
posted by mrdaneri at 7:42 AM on August 9, 2015


I'm allergic to both cats and dogs, but I don't ever say anything about it to people who have their animals in public, because if you say "I can't be around animals, they make me sick" people hear "I am the devil incarnate, I eat children"
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 7:46 AM on August 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


A similar situation exists with disabled parking. It is definitely abused, but how do you stop the abusers without hurting those with legitimate need? I wish people just wouldn't be assholes, but I guess I am just being politically correct wen I think people should be nicer.
posted by TedW at 8:21 AM on August 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


This scam is way out of control and the ridiculous laws need to be corrected. People should have the right to make a decision to allow animals or not in their business or property. Someone who is so dependent on an "emotional support" animal should have the responsibility to find and patronize pet friendly businesses. The idea of being so emotionally dependent on an animal that one can't be parted from it for a few minutes is ridiculous, unhealthy, certainly should not be encouraged by the government in any way, and is condescending to people with a mental illness. This is not the equivalent of a seeing eye dog and the law needs to recognize the distinction.
posted by knoyers at 8:22 AM on August 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Working in a grocery store this drove us nuts. The biggest issue we had was with those little chihuahuas. People seemed to think A) they are dogs so IT IS THE LAW AND IF YOU SAY ANYTHING AT ALL TO ME I WILL SCREAM AND SHOUT ABOUT MY RIGHTS AS AN AMERICAN B) they are small so nobody cares and C) I can set them here on the meat counter/produce stand/bread rack with because my hands are full.

It takes all of 2 seconds to figure out if a service animal is actually a service animal. They usually have little uniforms and service animals are disciplined and extremely well behaved. It really is that simple. Even the emotional supprt animals (and yes that is a thing, at least my company taught us it was) are easy so spot compared to most pets.

Animals of people that I have personally asked to leave a grocery store:
dogs of all shapes and sizes
cats
lizard
falcon (or some other bird of prey I am not an expert)
snake (10ft boa constrictor, 5ft python, 3ft garden)
ferret
rat

The rat incident directly led to the very worst day of work I have ever had in my life. It's owner threatened my life, my family, every employee at the store, went home, changed clothes and stalked me through the store, went home again changed, came back and drove around the parking lot all day waiting for me to come out.

All because I asked "excuse me, is that a pet?"
posted by M Edward at 8:29 AM on August 9, 2015 [17 favorites]


the law needs to recognize the distinction

I feel like the point of the article is that the law does recognize the distinction, and businesses absolutely have the right to refuse service to people with ESAs. The problem is that many businesses don't do so because they don't understand the distinction between ESAs and service animals, and so, under pressure, they make a decision based on a hazy fear of some sort of backlash -- either in the form of bad publicity or an actual lawsuit.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:30 AM on August 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yuck
I am a pet owner, and I strongly support rules to keep pets except service animals out of public spaces.
My lovely pup does a lot for my mental health. But I can manage to enter a store without him. And I know what he does to spaces, even when he is not peeing on everything..
posted by mumimor at 8:35 AM on August 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I know a woman, a former friend, who's pulling this Emotional Support Animal scam with her small, untrained dog (last I heard he doesn't know more than "sit" and spent a recent flight huddled on her lap vomiting repeatedly). I shamed her without naming her on Twitter and she unfollowed me. She has a tiny modicum of fame at the moment, so her followers back her up in fear of being banned from her various websites. She just wants to bring her dog everywhere she goes and anyone who doesn't like it is out of luck. It's depressing. I wish the world would stand up to her and other people with alleged ESAs, because the fallout for people with actual service dogs is unfair.
posted by swerve at 8:54 AM on August 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I like my cat a lot, and he's very important to me, but i am very aware that he does not want to go anywhere. Just going to the vet for day boarding while some work was done in my home stressed him the hell out. Leave pets at home, people!
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:19 AM on August 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I feel like the point of the article is that the law does recognize the distinction, and businesses absolutely have the right to refuse service to people with ESAs.

The article also points out that the only two questions a business can legally ask are "Is the animal required because of a disability? What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?". In particular, businesses can't ask for any kind of certification of service animal status, so if a person just lies about their dog to those two questions the only safe thing the business can do is let them in.
posted by Pyry at 10:44 AM on August 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was in a supermarket the other day and someone with a "Service" dog was ignoring it while it rummaged around the bulk food bins licking up snacks.
posted by boilermonster at 10:58 AM on August 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, as someone who suffers from pretty profound mental illness including OCD and anxiety, and who has looked into registering an Emotional Support Animal because of that, the lack of empathy in the article and in this thread is pretty striking. It's easy to hate people who take advantage of ambiguous or inconsistently enforced laws, and I'm not trying to be dismissive of people who have allergies, but the core message here seems to be that if you suffer from mental illness, there can be no accommodation for you in a public space.*

Here's my own example of why allowing my dog to be an emotional support animal would really make a difference for my mental health. In a typical week, I have at least one mild to moderate anxiety attack a day, brought on either by stress or just because my OCD decides it wants to have one. This is the level that I've been able to bring it down to after many years of personal work, therapy, medication, etc. The difference between being able to simply have my little dog on my lap when that happens and having to suffer in silence at my desk (hiding what I'm going through because I don't know how my boss or coworkers feel about mental illness and don't want to be ostracized or fired) is enormous. The idea that if I can't handle being out in the world without my little dog, I should just stay at home, is such an absurd false choice that I can't even. The choice isn't between staying at home with my dog or going to my job with my dog. That's not a choice that I get to have. I don't have a choice. What I get to do is go to work and make it through the day without letting anyone see what I'm going through, which to be honest negatively impacts my home life since all my issues have been pent up all day.

Am I saying that my little dog should be allowed anywhere, damn the law? No. Am I even saying that my boss should be required to let me bring my little dog to work? No. What I'm saying is that this article, and so much of what I'm seeing here (I'm surprised at you, MetaFilter!), doubles down on the notion of mental illness as this weird and weirdly questionable other to both the "normal" experience and the experience of people with physical illnesses and disabilities (with the usual tired subtext of "why can't these bums just get over it?"). Maybe Emotional Support Animals aren't the answer to helping people who suffer from mental illness (spoiler: they probably aren't), but let's not shit on a whole class of people and an attempt to help them just because because a New Yorker writer (and man, they are just the worst) pretended to have anxiety in order to act like a jerk in public and get an article about it.

* Public accommodation for mental illness, particularly in the workplace, is something I think about a ton, and I have absolutely no idea what could really be offered (although Emotional Support Animals sound pretty good to me). Maybe it's just a failure of imagination on my part, but it's relatively easy to imagine changes to a physical space to accommodate physical difference, and beyond radical cultural change I don't know what to do for us.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 11:06 AM on August 9, 2015 [25 favorites]


So, the author vilifies those who lie to get ESA status...by lying herself to get ESA status?
posted by holyrood at 11:08 AM on August 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


My experience, which sadly I have a lot of, is that the main thing that stops people from parking in handicapped parking spaces is the threat of a large fine. Perhaps owners of fake support animals could be fined also. Of course, that would mean that there would have to be a way of verifying the animal's status without exposing businesses to lawsuits.
posted by rdr at 11:11 AM on August 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think what I object to is the idea that pets (as opposed to certified assistance dogs) should be allowed anywhere and everywhere, notably on public transit, and in restaurants and supermarkets.

Where I live there is already the push to allow leashed dogs onto transit. It makes sense, since pet owners without access to a car have a hard time taking their pets to the vet.

On the other hand, in North America there is quite frankly a cavalier attitude when it comes to pets in public places, notably dogs. There are a lot of us who don't want to be nosed or stared at by an unfamiliar dog (or be told "don't worry, he never bites anyone").

So, as someone else mentioned upthread, while it would be nice to be reasonable about accommodating the needs of pet owners, the unreasonableness of some pet owners have ruined it for everyone else, including those folks who have legitimate mental health issues or physical limitations that can be alleviated by a certified assistance dog.

I also think that time is on the side of pet owners anyway. As our society ages and we have fewer and fewer children, there will be more tolerance of pets in public spaces.

Where I live an entire oceanfront walk of several kilometers has been turned into an off-leash area. Besides wrecking the habitat, it means it's not a place I can safely take my kids (it's in our neighbourhood).

It's not a big deal, and dogs need their off-leash places, but pet owners should sometimes recognize the concessions that have already been made to accommodating their needs.
posted by Nevin at 11:14 AM on August 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


google image search is failing to find me a falcon in a grocery store. That is something I would love to see on the internet but not ever in real life.
posted by bukvich at 11:18 AM on August 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


kanewai: "I have the same feeling about this as I do about medical marijuana. People adopt an easy pathology (anxiety) to skirt the law. It seems it would be better to just relax the laws."

I have trouble making sense of this. What law? The "law" people are trying to skirt is the general rule in public establishments (on trains, in airplanes, in shops) that no pets are allowed. That usually isn't a law; the owners of those establishments set that rule themselves. So you're suggesting - what? - that the law be changed to force owners of these establishments to accept pets? The only way I can think of this applying to actual law is as a suggestion that health codes be changed to allow pets in restaurants. Even that seems like a bad idea to me.

knoyers: "This scam is way out of control and the ridiculous laws need to be corrected. People should have the right to make a decision to allow animals or not in their business or property. Someone who is so dependent on an "emotional support" animal should have the responsibility to find and patronize pet friendly businesses. The idea of being so emotionally dependent on an animal that one can't be parted from it for a few minutes is ridiculous, unhealthy, certainly should not be encouraged by the government in any way, and is condescending to people with a mental illness. This is not the equivalent of a seeing eye dog and the law needs to recognize the distinction."

I'm not sure you actually read the article. The "ridiculous laws" do not need to be changed at all. The "ridiculous laws" do not in any way recognize "emotional support animals" as service animals. This is a scam which preys on people who don't understand the law; it has no legal support whatsoever.
posted by koeselitz at 11:29 AM on August 9, 2015


swerve: She has a tiny modicum of fame at the moment, so her followers back her up in fear of being banned from her various websites.

The struggle is real. Nobody wants to risk being kicked off of VomitingChiahuahua.com.
posted by dr_dank at 11:37 AM on August 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


There are service animals that perform mental health tasks; I've heard of those trained to recognize the signs of a panic attack and prompt their human to take medication, for example. The difference is "a support task they are trained to perform", not "hugging Fuzzy-Lumpkins makes me feel better!" This means they are carefully and precisely trained, including on how to remain calm and inconspicuous when working, and will not be interested in other humans, food within reach, etc.

If you a notice a service animal beyond it performing its trained task or sitting/walking quietly near the human it supports, it's a fake, and people that do it are shitheels. An "Emotional Support Animal" is a pet, not a service animal.
posted by tavella at 11:52 AM on August 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


OverlappingElvis: What I'm saying is that this article, and so much of what I'm seeing here (I'm surprised at you, MetaFilter!), doubles down on the notion of mental illness as this weird and weirdly questionable other to both the "normal" experience and the experience of people with physical illnesses and disabilities (with the usual tired subtext of "why can't these bums just get over it?")

I'm not really seeing any of this here, and I don't think that's what the article is about, either. I think what people are complaining about here is people faking anxiety issues so they can bring their pet along everywhere. As a person with real anxiety issues, you should be more offended at this than anyone. Partly, because it's offensive, but also because if people keep this up, people with legitimate support animals will likely be caught in the backlash.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:57 AM on August 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


I don't have a "legitimate" service animal, I have a little dog who has not been trained for anything more than being hugged to make me feel better. Sure, I'm offended by people who are faking it, but maybe a lot of them aren't technically faking it but can't get the emotional support they need. I often feel bad for them, and I sometimes even give them the benefit of the doubt (even if I'm not bringing my own dog into those settings). My point is that there isn't really an option in between "true" service animal and pet, but there are a lot of people who would benefit from service animal laws that included animals "just" for support, for more than just housing issues. I don't expect this to happen or even imagine that I deserve that kind of accommodation, but man that would be some comfort.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 12:17 PM on August 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


My point is that there isn't really an option in between "true" service animal and pet, but there are a lot of people who would benefit from service animal laws that included animals "just" for support, for more than just housing issues.

Society could do the same for ESAs that it's done for handicapped parking -- people who have a legitimate need can get a diagnosis and register their ESAs. Yes, there would still be assholes getting fake diagnoses or ginning up fake ESA certifications or using someone else's certification, just like there are assholes who play the handicapped parking system. But there are many fewer of those, and we have ways to deal with them.
posted by Etrigan at 12:29 PM on August 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


I get asked to write these certification letters all the time and I hate it. Service animals are one thing, there are clear legal guidelines that I can refer to if I don't think the service animal is really meeting the spirit of the law. There needs to be a disability and there needs to be a task that the animal performs that can not be reasonable accomplished by other means. Pretty straightforward, although there was that one 25 year old who claimed that she had chronic back pain limiting her mobility (for which there was no objective findings) who claimed that her dog performed the "service" of pulling her forward by the leash, thus improving her mobility. In that case, it's pretty easy to say, well a wheelchair or walker are options that improve her mobility so therefore the use of a service animal was not the only thing that afforded her access to all the places non-disabled people can go.

Emotional Support Animals -- at least in our state -- there is little guidance or rules around this. You need an existing diagnosis of depression or anxiety, or something related like PTSD (i.e. almost everyone who has consulted a doctor sometime in their life) and you basically tell your doctor that your pet helps calm you. And as the doctor, how am I supposed to question that? There are literally no limitations in my state as to what kind of animal is allowed to provide the support. You're not required to be doing any other treatments. Yes, there are registration sites and training programs available, but none of that is required by law, and for the most part arguing about it makes me an asshole and I have really no standing to refuse besides "I think you are gaming the system although I have no way to prove it." So really, the best thing for me to do, is write the letter quickly and move on. I've even done it for people whom I questioned were actually able to take care of an animal or control their animal in a public space, because really, how can I assess that in a 15 minute office visit?

And yes, there is clear data that animals do ameliorate anxiety and depression. It would be nice if I knew that people were doing other things to manage their symptoms, like medications and counseling. There are definitely cases where I feel good about helping someone keep a cat in their apartment, or a small dog that makes them get out of the house a couple times a day for a walk.

But I also get a ton of people who just have a pet, they happen to have had depression in the past but they're not on meds, not in treatment, and basically they just want to move into an apartment that doesn't allow pets. Or, we see a lot of homeless kids who are keeping a Rottweiler and they have no place for their dog to stay, so they get it certified as an ESA and now this large animal that is stronger than its owner, and is perhaps not being cared for ideally out on the street, and they're now allowed in grocery stores where they scare the shit out of my small kids.

Just Friday, there were two ESA dogs in my waiting room who got into a barking match in front of the sick children and elderly adults who were waiting to see their doctors. The situation escalated to where the police were called. I happen to know one of the guys with the dog, a huge labrador-mox that goes everywhere with him, and he truly is very mentally ill and when he got his dog it helped him enormously, but we have no way to manage him safely in a crowded room full of sick people.

I suggest that they go through a training and certification program, but my patients are low income, very marginal, and they can barely manage to make it to the food bank or take their meds regularly, so how do we get them to pay $200 and attend classes that aren't mandatory?

I would really like to see a little backlash so that we have some legislation or at least consensus guidlines because untrained ESA animals are public health issue and the number of people walking around with them is rising.

And yes, it is amazing to me how many people who have an ESA who are unable to recognize the distinction between what their comfort animal is and what a true "service animal" is.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 12:31 PM on August 9, 2015 [24 favorites]


I'm hearing that the answer to this is that emotional support dogs should all be Xoloitzcuintli (Hairless dog from Mexico). Bonus: Adorable!
posted by Canageek at 1:17 PM on August 9, 2015


...not sure if satire
posted by bq at 1:45 PM on August 9, 2015


OverlappingElvis, I have OCD. It is bad enough that without CBT and the maximum safe dosage of an SSRI every day I can't function. Before I hit rock-bottom, or close to rock-bottom, I spent a year in my parents house. I left the house perhaps once every two or three months. I feel your pain about how difficult it is, the amount of work it takes, and how stressful "normal" life is, and how perhaps more importantly than anything else, people with OCD work so hard to keep it hidden. I'm not trying to denigrate actual mental health needs, and I don't think anyone else here is, either.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 2:01 PM on August 9, 2015


The class aspect of this article—and the assumption that we're all increasingly encountering this behavior—really got my hackles up.

"As you will have observed, an increasing number of your neighbors have been keeping company with their pets in human-only establishments."

I have not observed that, but I'm willing to guess we have slightly different neighbors! After all, I don't tend to spend a lot of time shopping at Chanel or sitting in the mezzanine at Carnegie Hall or dining at Balthazar or riding the Hampton Jitney.

"I was surprised to learn how many of my acquaintances were the owners of so-called emotional-support animals."

Maybe the issue isn't an overarching trend, but the fact that you need some less-entitled acquaintances.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 2:11 PM on August 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm not trying to denigrate actual mental health needs, and I don't think anyone else here is, either.

I'd disagree with the second half of this sentence, and I'm very surprised by the mocking reactions here to the very idea of the need for one of these or the idea of someone having an animal for this purpose - this being a site where I read a very long thread about the importance of not mocking or brushing off the concerns of people who think they're vampires. I rarely do guess what suddenly appeals to Metafilter's sympathy/empathy, though.

I'm as put off by poorly trained animals being passed off service animals as anyone, but the conflation of all those who use these animals with selfish, arsehole pet owners who just want to bring their pets everywhere and wreak untold harm on people with allergies and phobias, seems a bit strong here.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:46 PM on August 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


I do hear a tone in this thread of disparagement of the very idea of an emotional support animal, and that's ableist and really problematic. These animals can serve an important and legitimate purpose, and that isn't limited to, say, barking twice to say "take your antianxiety meds now!"

But people taking advantage of the ease of getting an ESA letter is also really problematic, and something definitely needs to be done about it. I was in a hotel room recently where a woman in the room next door had brought her pet as an ESA dog, and that dog growled and snapped at children, and barked loudly and anxiously at random intervals, including in the middle of the night. I talked with the woman when we were both in the lobby, and mentioned that I'd obviously heard the barking last night and hoped she was OK. She apologized, and confessed that she had had gotten her dog certified as an emotional support animal because he was a very anxious dog, and being separated from her made his anxiety much worse, so when she traveled she wanted to be able to take him with her.

While I empathize with the fact that some animals are anxious and have separation anxiety, this women's life choice to serve as the emotional support person for her dog and never leave him alone or with others can't magically be transformed into other people's obligation by an ESA letter. I wanted to sleep, not lie awake listening to him bark, and he might have bitten some child. As noted in the article,

People with genuine impairments who depend on actual service animals are infuriated by the sort of imposture I perpetrated with my phony E.S.A.s. Nancy Lagasse suffers from multiple sclerosis and owns a service dog that can do everything from turning lights on and off to emptying her clothes dryer. “I’m shocked by the number of people who go online and buy their pets vests meant for working dogs,” she told me. “These dogs snarl and go after my dog. They set me up for failure, because people then assume my dog is going to act up.”

So I agree: we need more stringent regulations and training for emotional support animals. Not because they're some kind of sham for overcoddled people, but because they are an important resource for people who truly need them, and abusing online ESA certification hurts these individuals, as well as others in the vicinity of poorly behaved animals taken into places where animals are not usually allowed.
posted by DrMew at 4:32 PM on August 9, 2015 [8 favorites]



Like the same people who get handicap tags and don't have a valid need. Also the family members of valid handicapped persons who feel entitled to use handicap parking spots even when the handicapped person is not present.
posted by notreally at 4:33 PM on August 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


It takes all of 2 seconds to figure out if a service animal is actually a service animal. They usually have little uniforms and service animals are disciplined and extremely well behaved. It really is that simple. Even the emotional supprt animals (and yes that is a thing, at least my company taught us it was) are easy so spot compared to most pets.


I saw one of these the other day at the doctor's office and it was so, so obvious it was not an actual service animal.

Sneaking your pet into places they aren't allowed is horrible because it makes it harder for people who need those accommodations to be treated with good faith. You're simultaneously taking advantage of a loophole in the rules because you don't think rules should apply to you and making things harder for people who already have it hard enough.
posted by winna at 4:47 PM on August 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


When i was still a barista, i had an amusing experience that made me lose sympathy for the liars forever.

One day i showed up for my shift, and there was a BIG sign on the front door saying "no pets allowed, service animals only" with a long note underneath about how they're so sorry about the change, bla bla bla.

People with actual service animals(i only saw dogs) just walked in, maybe after glancing at the sign. They'd get in line, and order, and leave.

But, this shop was in the basement of a large high rise condo tower, where the cheapest units were still over $1m.

...So we got a bunch of the worst most stereotypical chihuhua-wielders who were OUTRAGED and wanted to whine or scream at us like it was personally our fault and how this was a great affront. The sign didn't say no pets, just only service animals. But how DARE we tell them they can't take their dog in the shop? And of course, then they'd set their mini-dog on the fucking counter behind the espresso machine, or next to the register, which i'd then have to wipe down and really???

We quickly put up a thing from the health inspector about how we were ordered to not allow dogs, but people never stopped whining. And some people who were outraged at first eventually started lying.


I've worked with people who had actual support animals, and briefly worked in an office where several people including my boss had them. That was entirely different. And although i can see how this could get problematic, yes, you usually can clock a real service animal from a pet. Your mini chihuahua peeing on the floor is not a service dog lady.

Why can't their be a system in place like handicap parking passes? It blew my freaking mind when i found out there's no actual licensing system. The liars are a big part of the reason i feel like i'd snap and kill someone if i ever had to work customer facing retail/foodservice again.

So I agree: we need more stringent regulations and training for emotional support animals. Not because they're some kind of sham for overcoddled people, but because they are an important resource for people who truly need them, and abusing online ESA certification hurts these individuals, as well as others in the vicinity of poorly behaved animals taken into places where animals are not usually allowed.

1000x this.
posted by emptythought at 6:00 PM on August 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Nobody wants to risk being kicked off of VomitingChiahuahua.com.

Bad chalupas, man.

I'm practically Franciscan in my love of pets, but the responsibility of caring for one of my own is itself a degree of stress too far. If I ever feel the need for an emotional support animal I'm going to look for one that's stuffed.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:05 PM on August 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


the lack of empathy in the article and in this thread is pretty striking.

I should clarify my statement at least - I 100% definitely believe in the concept of comfort animals. And I'm in favor of relaxing the laws regarding pets in public places in general (I live in a notoriously pet-hostile city).

But I also know people who will adopt a diagnosis in order to bring their shitty little mean lap dog everywhere, and I don't think this helps anyone - either animal lovers or those with anxiety disorder.
posted by kanewai at 8:23 PM on August 9, 2015


And pardon the tangent: but why are Chihuahuas in the U.S. usually so mean? I was surprised to find that, in Mexico, they're usually fun and playful little things. Same species, but such a different manifestation.
posted by kanewai at 8:26 PM on August 9, 2015


And pardon the tangent: but why are Chihuahuas in the U.S. usually so mean?

Maybe Small Dog Syndrome? If you treat your tiny puppy like a fragile doll rather than a dog to be trained and properly socialized, what you end up with is a monster that doesn't know how to behave or interact with others.
posted by meese at 8:36 PM on August 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


Some of this begins with medical providers reviewing more than one option. Before someone commits to an animal...have they tried other mitigating measures? Have they asked their clients if there are other options such as reading what, say askjan.com says about other ways of mitigating Situations in their family of diagnoses.

The wait for a specific trained service animal - such as one who works with a person who has s vision impairment - can take years. There are dogs who are trained as service animals for people with psychiatric disabilities, and as you would expect, the service animals are extremely well behaved because what person with a disability wants to add to their concerns with a flaky animal?

Emotional support animals are similarly well-behaved- they are oriented toward housing - they do NOT have access to restaurants & movie theaters, for example. Call ahead. Consider what are other options - going early, later, on a different night when it's less crowded? Going with a friend? Asking for a booth or a seating in a more private area? Most places will try to work with you.

Even good pets can be stressful (dog shaming website), so there is often a question of adding an unknown animal to someone's life that may not be able to join the ranks of ESAs. It's ok to have a pet at home & out at pet-oriented places, just know it's not interchangeable with an ESA or a service animal.
posted by childofTethys at 9:21 PM on August 9, 2015


DrMew: "I do hear a tone in this thread of disparagement of the very idea of an emotional support animal, and that's ableist and really problematic. These animals can serve an important and legitimate purpose, and that isn't limited to, say, barking twice to say 'take your antianxiety meds now!'"

You're being a bit vague here, and I don't think that's helping. The essential question is: what is the difference between an "emotional support animal" and a pet? Understand, I'm a guy who cares deeply about dogs and spends every day with a few of them. Every single person in the world who has a pet and cares for it derives emotional support from that animal.

As it stands, "service animals" and "emotional support animals" are completely distinct things. Service animals are trained to provide a specific service to people who qualify as disabled under the ADA. Emotional support animals, on the other hand, sound as though they provide something that every pet in the world is supposed to be providing, so it seems difficult to make a distinction between them. You say that disdain for emotional support animals is ableist; but the concept of emotional support animals doesn't directly imply disability at all. Every human needs emotional support.

Here's what I think: the idea of emotional support animals needs to be abandoned completely. It only hurts those who actually need service animals by giving the animals a vague and weak title - "emotional support" sounds nothing like help with a disability, particularly to most people who have never really thought about what disability means. I am totally open to the idea that some service animals provide help for those with mental disabilities which aren't obvious in the traditional service-animal ways; but if and when that is the case, then those animals are actual service animals, not "emotional support animals" or whatever people call them, and those animals ought to be licensed and certified just like any other service animals.

And then we can do what we ought to be doing now: completely ignoring so-called "ESA letters" and seeing them almost invariably as a sad scam designed to make money for fraudsters on the internet. There are two kinds of domesticated animals - pets and service animals - and anything that isn't an actual service animal should be regarded as a pet, whether it provides emotional support or not.
posted by koeselitz at 11:45 PM on August 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


There are two kinds of domesticated animals - pets and service animals - and anything that isn't an actual service animal should be regarded as a pet, whether it provides emotional support or not.
  • guard animals
  • meat animals
  • therapy animals
  • drug/bomb-sniffing animals
  • shop animals
  • that dog in japan who waited at the subway for someone was never going to arrive
  • dairy animals
  • companion animals for other animals
  • companion animals for companion animals for other animals
  • talking animals?
posted by OverlappingElvis at 8:52 AM on August 10, 2015


Sigh. Well, yes. But in the eyes of the law, an animal you want to bring into a store is either just another animal or an actual legal service animal. And anything in the "just another animal" category is not a service animal. Is that better?
posted by koeselitz at 9:07 AM on August 10, 2015


I guess what I'm objecting to is this:

You say that disdain for emotional support animals is ableist; but the concept of emotional support animals doesn't directly imply disability at all. Every human needs emotional support.

What I'm saying is that some humans maybe need more emotional support than others, and maybe an Emotional Support Animal like we're talking about could provide that, but the definition of "service animal" that I think is in play here automatically excludes an animal whose only service is to provide comfort and support, since that's not a "real" job. There are people, myself included, who believe in good faith that that emotional support could in fact be a legit service and could hugely improve quality of life for a few. I guess that's also what I mean when I say that I can't imagine how accommodation for issues like this could really be accepted without some kind of radical cultural change around mental health/illness.

If your only issue is that the legal category of service animals doesn't include ESAs but that objection would be gone if the definition were expanded, I guess we're on the same page — but it's hard not to hear dismissal of the very idea of wanting something to help relieve a tough situation.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 9:28 AM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, maybe talking about the elephant in the room here will help.

OverlappingElvis: “I don't have a ‘legitimate’ service animal, I have a little dog who has not been trained for anything more than being hugged to make me feel better.”

You mentioned OCD; obsessive compulsive disorder is an ADA-defined disability, so your dog really is "a 'legitimate' service animal," I think.

(As a side-note, this also means that employers and businesses are not allowed to discriminate against you because of your OCD. You talked about public accommodations at one point above; well, the law says that accommodation has to be made for you and for your disability. I know it's hard to sort out what that means sometimes, but I think you should at least know that you don't have to face discrimination alone without legal backing.)

The specifics of the ADA regarding service animals are right on the edge here, though:
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.
See that? Animals that do the work of "calming a person... during an anxiety attack" are service animals. Animals "whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support" are not.

(The law does apparently protect Emotional Support Animals, but only through the Fair Housing Act, not the Americans with Disabilities Act. So a person with an Emotional Support Animal cannot be denied housing because of their animal, but that has very little to do with their animal being allowed into businesses.)

So, in short: if your dog calms you during anxiety attacks brought on by OCD, then I believe that your dog is an ADA-defined Service Animal. You could go buy an orange vest or harness and start presenting your dog as a service animal today if you wanted; certification or licensing is not necessary for service animals, so you can skip the unnecessary fees and hassles. As the article in the post noted, there are two questions that people can ask you when you present your dog as a service dog: (a) "Is the animal a service animal required because of a disability?" and (b) "What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?" (They cannot ask you about your disability.)

It seems to me that the law makes sense on this count, and would work to prevent the abuse that so many have subjected it to if people just knew to ask these two questions. If people are not disabled, they have no business having service animals; mental disabilities are just as real as physical ones, and they aren't always obvious, but in order for the ADA to work correctly we need to admit that they exist and be honest about them. Anyone who is not actually disabled but presents an "emotional support animal" and asks for special treatment because of their animal should know that the only special treatment the law guarantees them is fair housing. Asking for anything beyond that is akin to parking in a handicapped spot and putting a note on your car explaining that you're having kind of a rough day and you figure that probably qualifies you.

I want to be clear: by saying this, I'm not trying to denigrate nice people who just happen to be having a rough day, and I'm not trying to tear down people who really get essential emotional support from their animals. Full disclosure: a dog I love very much died yesterday afternoon, and I'm still sort of reeling from that. But the ADA is really important; it's supposed to work to correct fundamental inequalities in our society. And unless people are honest and real about their disabilities, it's just going to get watered down until it falls apart. Probably the first step toward really respecting the ADA as it applies to animals is really treating service animals as service animals, and recognizing when an animal is not a service animal.
posted by koeselitz at 10:47 AM on August 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


You could go buy an orange vest or harness and start presenting your dog as a service animal today if you wanted; certification or licensing is not necessary for service animals, so you can skip the unnecessary fees and hassles. As the article in the post noted, there are two questions that people can ask you when you present your dog as a service dog: (a) "Is the animal a service animal required because of a disability?" and (b) "What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?" (They cannot ask you about your disability.) (emphasis added)

The problem is those two parts I bolded. The law explicitly requires training (from your link, "A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability."), but there's no regime to enforce that, so we get people like in the article insisting that their undiagnosed anxiety requires an untrained chihuahua. If there was an ADA-compliant licensing and certification process, then people who legitimately require Service Animals (or Emotional Support Animals) could simply flash their SA Certificate, and the chihuahua people disappear (or at least have to go through the motions, which will weed a lot of them out).
posted by Etrigan at 11:02 AM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah. The other side of that coin, of course, is that requiring a licensing and certification process could be a burden on people with disabilities. However, if streamlined correctly, getting licensing or certification could be rendered no more difficult than getting a handicapped tag for a car. So I think that might be the best way to update the ADA to close this loophole.

Still, if we could even just weed out the people who like bringing their pets with them but don't have the gall to claim they are disabled when they're not, it might be a step forward.
posted by koeselitz at 11:07 AM on August 10, 2015


So my recommendation to OverlappingElvis would be to get a service animal that is trained to interrupt panic attacks or whatever suitable psychiatric service animal is appropriate, and leave the pet at home. Because that's another distinction between pets and service animals; service animals are working dogs and affection is irrelevant. Because of our nature, anyone working closely with one will no doubt become fond, but when they can no longer perform their support tasks, they retire and the person gets a new trained animal.
posted by tavella at 12:12 PM on August 10, 2015


I guess this is a personal problem but I still have a deeply-held belief that no matter how awful my OCD is to deal with, it's categorically different from the kind of condition that deserves to have a dedicated, highly-trained service animal (drawn from a finite pool). I would always feel like I was taking a resource from someone who actually needs it, or at least who needs it a lot more than me. I get the issues around using a non-service animal in a service capacity (and I want to reiterate that I don't have a service animal or ESA of any kind, I don't bring my dog out in public, and I'm not going to start), but I think letting an animal who already knows how to comfort someone play that role, within stricter and actually enforced guidelines, isn't such a bad thing.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 12:29 PM on August 10, 2015


Just to clarify, I don't disagree with service animals or even ESAs, as long as they're being used for valid reasons and don't impede my ability to leave my own home. My concern is that I'm allergic to a protein that appears to be universally found in the following animals' saliva, all of which have triggered at least hives/asthma attack/severe throat and eye itching/eyes swollen shut and in a few cases, my throat swelled shut and I was 100% unable to breathe without medical intervention in the ER:

- parakeets
- cats
- dogs
- ferrets
- horses
- goats
- hamsters
- hedgehogs
- rabbits
- squirrels
- camels
- parrots

Since I'm allergic to whatever it is that's in tons of different animals' saliva (including at least two varieties of birds), no "hypoallergenic" pet exists for me (except lizards, fish, frogs and tortoises, of which I have owned the first three on the list as pets).

I have severe anxiety myself, and manage to deal with it by CBT techniques and occasional talk therapy. At one point, I had 1-7 panic attacks per day. If I were the type of person who could benefit from an ESA, I would've had one... unfortunately, my lone foray into allergy shots to deal with said saliva allergy triggered an asthma attack and full-body hives for about 3 weeks.

Not sure what the right answer is, but if I ended up seated on a plane next to one of these ESA people, I'd be forced to change seats for my health and hope it was enough to avoid a reaction. If it were an international flight, I'd walk off the plane and eat the cost of a lost vacation, even if it were upwards of $10k gone forever. Because I don't want to die just so some faker can take her barfy chihuahua along for Paris Fashion Week.

I'm currently on 3 different daily meds to manage my symptoms and use a portable breathing machine. Not sure what more I could do, if anything, except say that I stand in solidarity with anyone facing mental health issues like anxiety and depression, because I've been there myself. It just sucks that one of us is probably going to have to suffer some of the time -- and I've got a lifetime of going home sick and spending days in bed just to avoid dealing with this same problem with my own family and friends who own pets, so that's not changing anytime soon. Honestly, staying in a hotel for Christmas every other year isn't so bad!

Sometimes I wish I'd been born with a peanut or bee sting allergy instead. People don't demonize you or accuse you of faking when you turn down peanut butter or pull out your epi-pen in the woods, because a peanut can't wag its tail and lick your face. Eh, maybe I'll get lucky next lifetime.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 2:16 PM on August 12, 2015


« Older The network is the music   |   Sunday Funnies from Moose Kid and Friends Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments