Why You Shouldn't Fake Service Animal Status for Your Pet

We need to talk about something that really gets my hackles up ... companies that say they will help you register your pet as an emotional support animal so you can "travel with them anywhere in just two minutes."

Perhaps you've seen ads like this on the Internet or in your Facebook feed:

Advertisement for registering your pet as an emotional support animal.Identifying information for this unscrupulous company was removed.

First, let's get a few definitions out of the way:

  • A service animal means any dog or miniature horse that has been trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. 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. Service animals are permitted access to all public facilities and accommodations under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • While emotional support animals are often used as part of a medical treatment plan, they are not considered service animals under the ADA. These animals may help relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks. Having a doctor's note does not transform an emotional support animal into a service animal, and emotional support animals are afforded special access only under the Fair Housing Act when their presence would otherwise be prohibited in a residence.
  • Therapy animals provide people with therapeutic contact, usually in a clinical setting, like hospitals, nursing homes, and other institutions. Therapy animals are not allowed any special access, unless agreed to in advance by the facility.

The nuances between service animals and emotional support animals are not well understood, and questioning those needing an assistance animal can be delicate. Unfortunately, those two factors combined result in a lot of abuse of the system.

So, what's wrong with these companies offering to register your pet as an emotional support animal?

First, the ad implies that once he's registered your pet will be able to go with you anywhere, with no fees -- just like a service animal. That's absolutely incorrect. The ADA does not apply to people with emotional support animals. And falsely claiming that your pet is a service animal is a federal offense. Many states also have laws against it.

Second, it's a scam. There is no universally recognized registration system for service animals or emotional support animals. Further, the law is very specific that service animals do not require any form of identification. Some people requiring assistance animals choose not to be identified as "disabled," and therefore prefer not to use a special vest or credentials.

Establishing a comfort animal as an emotional support animal requires only a letter of prescription from a licensed medical professional who has completed an examination, determined the person's condition to be debilitating, and states that a support animal will alleviate the symptoms.

However, be aware that there are only two protections afforded to emotional support animals: They can live with their owners in housing where pets are otherwise not allowed; and they can accompany their people in the cabin of an aircraft. That's it. These animals are not allowed to go into restaurants, grocery stores, or anywhere else that pets cannot go.

Finally, by exploiting the public's ignorance about the requirements and protections afforded to emotional support animals, these companies enable their customers (perhaps unwittingly) to take advantage of business owners who are uninformed about the laws. Faking that your pet is a service or emotional support animal raises the suspicion business proprietors cast on people with actual disabilities who are just trying to live their lives.

If you are not blind or deaf, if you are not confined to a wheelchair, if you're not suffering from seizures, diabetes, or a debilitating emotional condition that cuts you off from the rest of the world, why would you even consider making life more challenging for the people who are?

Use GoPetFriendly.com Instead

Now, don't get me wrong, I'd love to be able to take Buster and Ty with me everywhere I go. It's the whole reason we started GoPetFriendly.com in the first place! We wanted to make it easy for all of us to find pet friendly campgrounds, restaurants that welcome dogs on the patio, and fun activities like wineries, beaches, hiking trails, and shopping centers that we can enjoy together. We've been traveling full time for more than seven years, and we still haven't seen it all -- so there's plenty to do with your pets when you're playing by the rules.

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