I’ve written (ok… ranted) about fake service and support animals for years. Beyond frustration with the self-centred and/or “look at me!” aspects, my main concern with the proliferation of fake service animals and questionable emotional support animals is the potential negative impacts on the “real” service and support animals, and the people who actually need (not “want”) them.
There’s been a lot in the news lately about questionable emotional support animals. These include:
Daniel, the support duck (with the viral picture of him walking down an airplane aisle in his bright red booties and leash).
Dexter, the support peacock (who wasn’t as lucky as Daniel and wasn’t allowed on the plane).
Unnamed emotional support turkey (that for some reason was taken to the airport gate in a wheelchair).
I don’t in any way discount the emotional value of animals. I don’t argue that there are people who truly benefit from support animals. Yet, I’m completely against this proliferation of emotional support animals for people who just want to take their pet anywhere or are looking for attention. The proliferation of unusual species bugs me even more, since there’s little reason for these species vs well scrutinized domestic species like dogs, for which we better understand disease risks, behaviour assessment and various preventive and screening measures. Unusual species are often just a “look at me!” plea.
Here’s an excerpt from a website (one of many) that will give you an email “consultation” and letter “certifying” your pet as a service animal:
Anybody can have a dog or a cat. That’s boring! Wouldn’t you prefer to turn heads while you’re walking down the street with something a bit more special? Some rare emotional support animal that only the truly interesting and innovative mavericks of the ESA [emotional support animal] world would ever think to own? Here is our list of seven unusual — but awesome — emotional support animal options.
Included in that list is a bearded dragon. They’re great reptiles as pets for low risk households but are not and should not be support animals. People may get attached to them, but they’re not support animals – they are a high risk Salmonella species. If I was on a plane or in a restaurant next to someone’s support reptile (especially if I was with a young child), I’d lose it.
Balancing the need for true service and support animals with peoples’ self-centred and greedy behaviour is getting increasingly difficult. Ultimately, it’s going to harm the people who truly need these animals.