Thoughts about service animals


I saw a story on the internet recently about someone who was looking for a pet-friendly house or apartment to rent and they were having a hard time. On social media, they posted that they were having difficulty and a person suggested something that seemed a little shady to me. They said to get their dog a vest and tell landlords that he was “A service dog, that way they can’t turn them away. “ I looked it up and found that doing this is a crime. Under the federal Fair Housing Act, to possess an emotional support animal in a rental property, you’re required to have a disability

Effective December 18, 2017, a New York State law makes it unlawful for any person to knowingly affix to an animal any false or improper tag identifying it as a guide, therapy or service animals. Violations of this law might bring about a fine of $100 and 15 days in jail. When a person pretends their pet is a service animal it shows a total lack of respect to all the real service animals out there and those that need them. Service animals are trained to provide assistance to handicapped people.

Under local, state and federal laws, persons that have disabilities are allowed have service animals in all public areas such as retail stores, even though animals are prohibited by local or state health codes. However, I am concerned that people are taking advantage of this and abusing their protections and think that far too many people are abusing these laws. The objective of New York State’s new law is to curtail abuse and to discourage people from taking part in service animal fraud.

The new law makes it against the law for anyone to make use of fraudulent identification tags, but not all service animals have to wear a patch, identification vest, or harness labeling the animal as a service animal.

I went on the internet and googled “service animal vest”. Google returned 167,000,000 results. Most of these sites did not require any type of documentation and many would also provide an ID card. Some of these vests were priced as low as $5.00. 

Service animals include those that have received training to perform tasks that their owners cannot do on their own like Seeing Eye dogs. There are also emotional support animals (ESAs) that may or may not be trained. Their purpose is to soothe someone with a mental health problem.

Therapy animals are usually registered through an agency and their purpose is to provide help to those who need it. Therapy animals have no rights under the ADA, but places that do not usually allow pets, such as hospitals and schools, could allow them to visit. Legally speaking, only miniature horses and dogs are defined as Therapy animals. I wonder why these are the only authorized animals. What about cats or ferrets? 

Whether a pet, a therapy animal, an ESA, or a service animal, businesses have the right to expect the animal to be under restraint, typically on a leash except in cases where the person’s disability prevents this and not pose a threat to the health or safety of other people. This includes disruptive behavior, such as growling, jumping up on people and acts that demonstrate the animal is not housetrained.

The National Institute of Health reports that “studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood”, and any person who loves their pet can verify. Having an animal as a companion is one of the best drug-free antidotes to loneliness out there.

Meanwhile, anxiety has recently identified as a mental health problem and its reported levels are increasing across the board. The causes are frequently beyond our control, or at the very least they feel like they are. These might include gun violence, climate change, and politics. To help us feel better we are instructed to get more exercise, sleep, eat more wisely, and maybe snuggle with a pet.

Maybe that’s why the millennials are the largest and most enthusiastic sector of pet owners in America. A 2018 survey reported that of the 67% of millennials who own a pet think of them as their “fur babies” a label that I hate and consider pretentious.

Deriving comfort from an animal doesn’t give anyone the right to special treatment, particularly when it interferes with the rights of those with real disabilities. And while anxiety sucks, official ESAs are intended to assist those people who suffer from debilitating symptoms.

With stronger rules in position, the days of suspicious ESA certifications could be waning. Until that time, all we have is an inadequate honor system filled with selfishness and profiteers. You would not claim to be blind just so you could get a reduced fare on the bus or fake being a paraplegic just to be able to use a wheelchair while shopping. So, please don’t lie and say your dog is a service animal. Be considerate toward those people who justifiably need them and leave your pets at home.

Norb is an animal lover who wouldn’t dream of taking a pet into a restaurant. You can follow his blog here.

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