Curbing the use of comfort pets: an emotional issue

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

Earlier this year, I teamed up with a client and one of her colleagues to co-research and co-write an article about the use of Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals (ESAs).

The article appeared “Animal Law” edition of the Maryland Bar Journal. You can find it here. Because it’s a fairly long piece, I totally understand if you don’t have time to read the whole thing. In fact, I’d be happy to hit the high points for you.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

Basically, we began by describing Services Animals and ESAs, and discussed the rules and regulations governing their use. We also touched on some of the controversies stemming from their use. Most importantly, we shared ideas about how to accommodate everyone’s needs without resorting to costly and ineffective litigation.

Little did I know how timely that article would turn out to be. Since its publication this summer, I have seen countless stories about the same topics in the mainstream media. In fact, I found this one just a couple of weeks ago. It’s about someone taking a duck on a plane.

Yes, you heard me. A duck! I’m sorry. That’s utterly ridiculous. I’ve heard of people being allowed to take service dogs on planes (and even that causes problems sometimes). But a duck?

Yes, it sounds crazy. But apparently it’s not all that unusual. In fact, if a passenger has proper documentation, it seems like almost anything goes.

“We have seen service monkeys, even comfort pigs,” TSA spokesperson Mike McCarthy told the media. “There really isn’t much that would surprise our officers,” he added.

There’s no doubt that service animals, Emotional Support Animals and therapy animals help people cope with and overcome serious physical and psychological issues. And I suppose there’s no rule that says that a service animal, Emotional Support Animal or therapy animal must be a dog or cat. Horses have “worked” as therapy animals for years.

I can’t say for sure but I would venture to guess that most reasonable, open-minded people don’t mind if someone travels with a service animal or ESA — as long as there is a legitimate need. From what I’ve seen and heard, troubles arise when it is obvious that the person with the service animal or ESA abuses the rules.

Beyond that, there are other legitimate concerns. As someone who was once horribly allergic to dogs, cats (and just about every other animal you could possibly imagine), I am not to sure how I would have felt about being cooped up on an airplane with a dog nearby.

There are also people who are afraid of some animals — especially dogs. Who knows. Perhaps there are some people who are equally afraid of pigs, ducks, lizards and any other assortment of animals permitted on public transportation these days. Is it really fair to subject them to emotional distress just to accommodate someone else’s needs?

For the purposes of this blog, that is a rhetorical question. But it also warrants serious thought.

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer.

As long as people love animals — and as long as service animals, ESAs and therapy animals continue to help their human counterparts cope with physical and psychological challenges — the debate will continue.

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