The service animal industry in America is hounded with certificates and licenses for emotional support, comfort and therapy animals for sale at any of the hundreds of “service/support animal registries” online.
While the Americans with Disabilities Act defines what an emotional support animal is, it does not regulate the sale of licenses for animals. This leaves room for online registries to charge whatever they want and distribute licenses to anyone who pays the fee.
Using the National Service Animal Registry as an example, at the cost of $64.95 plus shipping and handling, you could easily register your pet as an emotional support animal.
“A service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability,” states the ADA website. “Tasks performed can include, among other things, pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, alerting a person to a sound, reminding a person to take medication or pressing an elevator button.”
While service dogs have been used to assist individuals with disabilities ranging from sight and hearing to psychiatric and seizure response, the ADA does not protect or regulate emotional support animals.
Emotional support animals are not protected by the ADA and if an animal looks official and has a license, officials usually ask the animal handler the same questions of a service dog handler.
According to the ADA, people with service animals may only be asked two questions: Is the service animal required because of disability? What work or task has it been trained to perform?
Anyone who paid for a license can say yes and claim the service animal helps calm them down.
Online registries are operated apart from the official ADA site and allow owners with little to no experience or training and no valid reason for having a service animal to have and utilize unqualified animals.
“Support animals provide companionship, relieve loneliness and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities. Even though some states have laws defining therapy animals, these animals are not limited to working with people with disabilities and therefore are not covered by federal laws protecting the use of service animals. Therapy animals provide people with therapeutic contact, usually in a clinical setting, to improve their physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning,” states the ADA website.
The loose interpretation of what an emotional support animal is and should be qualified to do has created a long leash for owners to have emotional support animals for no valid or verifiable reason.
A service animal is there to fill a service for a person with a disability. You should not have one for fun and moreover cannot claim a disability to continue to or start living with a pet. Mental disabilities such as anxiety and depression affect an estimated 40 million people in the United States. Service animals are a great resource and tool for many disabled Americans, not a play toy or pet.
In trying to get around campus residency and local apartment “no pet” policies, some adults and students alike have resorted to dubious medical notes and online registries often stating a false ailment to obtain a license.
Suddenly claiming a disability as an excuse to have a pet as an untrained support animal makes as much sense as having untrained people at Sewell Park in lifeguard T-shirts.
There needs to be a process put in place to regulate these online registries by the ADA. If the ADA defines these terms and services, there also needs to be an entity able to supervise and regulate the process by which people get assistance. This process should include an initial application, visitations from medical and psychiatric doctors as well as training for both owner and animal before a license can be obtained.
Service and emotional support animals are not a joke or a loophole. They are an important disability service.
– Jakob R. Rodriguez is journalism freshman