Emotional support animals gain popularity

Taylor Ann Hartley, Features Editor

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    Service animals can be valuable and life-changing for those with a severe physical disability, post-traumatic stress disorder, debilitating chronic illness, or neurological disorder affecting at least one limb; all ailments that could visibly affect a person’s life. Emotional support animals (ESA), while still a vital tool for those with mental afflictions, are being confused for the trained and certified service animals. Both have the ability to improve lives, but there is are large differences between the two.

    To acquire an ESA, a person must be certified as emotionally disabled by a psychologist, therapist, psychiatrist or other duly-licensed and/or certified mental health professional. Many people register their pets because a close relationship with an animal can relieve loneliness and sadness. This small certification allows the person to bring their animal into non-pet housing and on airplanes.

    While this is positive for many people with mental health problems, this allowance goes beyond just cats and dogs. Many large airlines are experiencing passager’s attempts to take peacocks, turkeys, monkeys, and even a miniature horse onto planes. Delta Airlines said that it will ban all emotional-support animals on flights longer than eight hours and will ban all service and support animals under four months of age on flights no matter the duration.

    “These updates support Delta’s commitment to safety and also protect the rights of customers with documented needs — such as veterans with disabilities — to travel with trained service and support animals,” said John Laughter, Delta’s senior vice president.

    Universities have also seen a spike in the registration of ESAs. After two high-profile court cases involving colleges denying student requests for ESAs, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development updated the Fair Housing Act in 2013 to require that schools accommodate requests for ESAs in dorms. Students now have the ability to bring their service dogs into non-pet housing. As anxiety and depression levels rise, so will the demand and exploitation of this policy.

    ESAs need no special training to be certified, unlike service animals. Service dogs go through rigorous training for manners, obedience, and public skills. These animals are required to train and pass the Assistance Dogs International Public Access Test. This test requires the dogs to perform a number of activities in distracting environments. Service dogs also have to be taught specific tasks according to their owner’s disability.

    Each type of certified pet can be life-changing for individuals. The issue is the exploitation of this allowance. The ease of obtaining an ESA. The laws are set in place to help the emotionally troubled and are being abused for college students who simply want a cat and those on airplanes that desire to transport their peacock. Only seeking an ESA when it is absolutely necessary will keep these laws available. The more respect these regulations have the longer they will stay.