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Service animals started out as a nice concept.
A blind person would get a seeing-eye dog to help them navigate the world. Perfectly acceptable, and it greatly improves quality of life.
The concept of “service animals” later expanded into “support animals” and that’s where the train fell off the tracks.
Because now, any animal you could imagine can be deemed a “support animal”. That doesn’t sound so bad, you might be saying. Until you realize the impact on society. Suddenly, stores, hotels, airlines and all other public spaces have to accept your Service Kangaroo.
And to make matters worse, the law prohibits those store owners or hotel operators from asking you what service the animal provides or asking to see documentation that it has officially been certified as a support animal.
In short, all you have to do is claim it’s a service animal and you’re teflon….untouchable under the law. And if places don’t make an accomodation for your Service Kangaroo, THEY could be liable for damages.
Meet the "Service Squirrel"
Think I'm making this up?
Meet the Service Squirrel.
From the NY Post:
A Florida man who rescued a squirrel during Hurricane Matthew is now weathering a different storm altogether — fighting his condo association for the right to keep the rodent as an emotional support animal.
Ryan Boylan, of Clearwater Beach, rescued Brutis after the storm rocked Florida in October 2016. Boylan, who has been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after a car accident, said he quickly became attached to the animal.
“Ever since then I mean, oh my God, I can’t imagine not being around her,” Boylan told WFLA.
Managers at Island Walk Condominiums found out about the unregistered rodent in April when the animal was chased up a tree by a dog. Boylan said he received a notice last month to either get rid of Brutis — an exotic animal that’s not allowed, according to the condo association — or face eviction.
“I was very sad that he had to basically push every single limitation that he could to try and get me out because of Brutis,” Boylan told the station.
But Boylan never notified property managers in writing that Brutis was an emotional support animal until last summer, according to a complaint filed by the condo association and the owner of the unit. Boylan’s doctor, meanwhile, wrote him a prescription for an emotional support animal in July after a car crash left him with several herniated disks in his lower back and PTSD.
“Due to this emotional disability, Ryan Boylan has certain limitations coping with what would otherwise be considered normal, but significant day to day situations,” according to the letter obtained by the station. “To help alleviate these challenges and to enhance his day to day functionality, I have prescribed Ryan to obtain emotional support animal(s). The presence of the animal(s) is necessary for the emotional/mental health of Ryan Boylan because its presence will mitigate the symptoms he is currently experiencing.”
Boylan has since contacted the Pinellas County Office of Human Rights, claiming he’s being discriminated against under the Fair Housing Act, which protects emotional support animals, WFLA reports.
Condo officials said the squirrel is a liability if something happens involving the animal. The matter is now pending, WFLA reports.
The "Service Kangaroo"
Even more madness....meet the Service Kangaroo.
From the Orlando Sentinel:
A woman and a kangaroo wearing a diaper walk into a McDonald's, and the woman says: He's my service kangaroo.
No, it's not the setup for a joke. But it may be a sign of the times.
In a culture that has increasingly embraced animals as an extension of family, the kangaroo incident earlier this year seems to be part of a growing problem. With pigs flying — literally — aboard passenger flights, monkeys cruising the grocery aisles and large snakes hanging out in restaurants, the issue of what's legitimately a service animal for someone with a disability can get murky.
"A lot of people don't understand there's a distinction between a therapy animal and a service animal," says Dr. Rick Marrinson, owner of Longwood Veterinary Clinic. "And because of that confusion, I worry that the people who abuse the law are ruining it for the people that really need it."
In Beaver Dam, Wis., for instance, the woman with the kangaroo ultimately sparked a call to police, and officers asked her to leave. But two weeks ago in Missouri, a man with what was thought to be a boa constrictor casually lunched at a Mexican cafe, claiming the snake helped him cope with depression.
The owner told reporters he thought the patron had a legal right to his "service snake" and couldn't be booted out — despite the fact that other customers hurriedly left.
Elsewhere there have been parrots, ferrets and flying squirrels that allegedly disrupt panic attacks, alert their humans to impending seizures or allow people to overcome such disorders as agoraphobia. Security officials at Orlando International Airport say they've screened what was described as a "service monkey." (Because the monkey carried no explosives or poison, it passed.)
The help those critters provide may — or may not — be real. Regardless, federal law doesn't recognize those species as having access rights to public spaces and private businesses, though state law can.
Two years ago, a campaign to crack down on phony service dogs, backed by Central Florida groups that train canines, appealed to the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene — to no avail. The proliferation of official-looking doggy vests bought online, the groups said, allowed badly behaving pooches to show up in restaurants, hotels and theme parks, hurting the public image of their legitimate counterparts.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, only dogs and in some cases miniature horses can be considered service animals, and those must perform specific tasks to aid people with disabilities — such as guiding the blind, alerting the hard of hearing, pulling a wheelchair, retrieving objects or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors.
But the law also says a business owner or employee can ask only two questions of the person: Is the dog (or miniature horse) a service animal required because of a disability, and what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? You can't ask for documentation, require that the animal demonstrate its service or ask about the nature of the person's disability.
Further, there's no universally recognized vest the animals wear nor central agency to certify their training.
And that, says Kevin Fritz, a Chicago attorney on ADA public accommodations, can make matters fuzzy.
"Every time an animal is deemed to have some health benefit, people become more imaginative in their claims," he says. "And it becomes even more confusing because individual states can have broader definitions than the federal law in allowing other species to be service animals."
Florida follows the federal law, limiting service animals to dogs and miniature horses, and Fritz says it's one of the few states to crack down on abuses, at least for those who get caught.
Psychology Today Confirms: There Are Major Service Animal Scams
From Pyschology Today, a very welcome article explaining how many scams are out there:
While bicycling around the lovely public squares of Savannah a couple of years ago, I spotted a family with three young kids and a handsome German shepherd wearing bright red Service Dog vest. I enjoy talking with people about their companion animals, so I stopped, complimented them on their dog, and naively asked the dad, “I see she’s a service dog. What service does she provide?” He suddenly got the deer-in-the-headlights look, hemmed and hawed a bit, and finally said, “Errrr…she’s not really an official service dog. She just helps keep the kids together when we go for walks.” It turns out that he had purchased the nifty service dog vest from Amazon.
When I got back to my hotel, I started searching the Internet for service dog paraphernalia. I was shocked. With absolutely no proof of an animal’s training or abilities, Amazon will sell you vests, leashes, collars, and dog tags indicating that your dog is a “Service Dog,” an “Emotional Support Dog,” or a “Seizure Alert Dog.” For a few bucks more you can purchase an ominous legal-looking card saying you are prepared to sue the skeptical restaurant owner who thinks their no-pets allowed policy applies to your puppy.
I also discovered a host of dubious service and emotional support animal "registries." For example, the United States Dog Registry will certify any dog as a “service dog” or a "therapy dog" for $58, and an outfit called ESA of America will happily certify your pet rat, hamster, or iguana as an “emotional support animal.” (Sample ESA customer testimonial–“I have now taken 3 flights with my dog, and the peace of mind of being able to just pack up and go anywhere I want with him is the greatest thing ever.")
Then I began to ask around about bogus assistance animals and immediately began to hear stories. A high profile animal activist confessed to me that several of his friends had purchased phony service vests so they could take their pets into restaurants (he refuses to go out to eat with those friends anymore). And my daughter told me about a woman she knows who got a free flight for her dog to Southeast Asia by having a social worker pal write letter a saying the pet provided her with emotional support (while the ruse worked, the dog did have to wear a canine diaper on the trip).
A Legal Morass
Plenty of people with medical and psychological disabilities have legitimate needs for service dogs, therapy dogs, or emotional support animals. And having your service dog wear a vest can make things a lot easier when it comes to getting assistance animals into places where pets are not allowed. But the present system governing the status of service animals is rife with abuse. Here’s why:
Three different sets of federal statues apply to the rights of individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by animals: the American’s with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act, and the Air Carrier Access Act. This division of responsibility has resulted in a bewildering array of conflicting and confusing regulations. Take, for example, the laws pertaining to animals in public places such as restaurants, stores, and shopping malls and the laws governing the right to take assistance animals on airplanes.
Dogs in Public Places: The Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA governs the accessibility of public places and commercial enterprises. The rules (here) are administered by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, and they only pertain to “service animals.” The guidelines are strict–in theory. First, under ADA regulations, only dogs can qualify as service animals (in a few special cases, miniature horses can also qualify). Second, pets are not considered service animals. Third, and most important, service dogs must be specially trained to perform specific services for specific disabilities. Legitimate service dogs range from guide dogs for the blind to psychiatric service animals which can sense oncoming panic attacks in owners suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The ADA regulations seem reasonable, but the devil is in the details. One problem is that the law stipulates a person claiming to have a service dog can only be asked two questions by, for example, the owner of a no-pets restaurant. The first is, “Does the dog provide a service?” The second is “What has the dog been trained to do?” This means that a person with a service dog cannot be asked what their disability is (I inadvertently violated the law when I asked the family in Savanah about their “service” dog). Nor can they be asked to provide any documentation attesting that their dog has been trained and certified as a service animal. Indeed, there is no federally recognized service animal certification program. Further, contrary to conventional wisdom, service animals do not need to have any kind of identification such as a vest.
Free Plane Rides: The Air Carrier Access Act
My daughter’s friend who snagged a free trip to Asia for her dog did so under the auspices of a different federal agency–the Department of Transportation. The DOT regulations (here) differ from the Americans with Disabilities Act in several important respects. First, unlike the ADA, the Air
Carrier Access Act gives legal standing to animals whose sole function is to provide emotional support. This means that, unlike service dogs, emotional support animals are not required to be trained to perform specific tasks. It’s enough that they are necessary for your psychological wellbeing. Thus your lovable pet puppy may well be entitled to free air travel if she helps you get through your day.
But don’t get too excited just yet. In some ways, the rules for emotional support animals are more rigorous than for service dogs. That’s because the feds have given airlines considerable flexibility in what is required of passengers who claim they need to be in the company of their emotional support animal.
Take Delta Airlines (here). If you claim to need four-legged emotional support to stave off a panic attack on your next flight, you will need to provide the airline with a signed letter from a “licensed mental health professional” (your family doctor will not do the trick). The letter must include the professional’s address and phone number, and it must state that you have a disorder listed in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association. Further, you have to be under active treatment for your disorder by this “mental health professional.” The good news is that this letter, however, will allow your pet to accompany you in the cabin of the plane for free for a year.
The AACA differs from the ADA in another respect as well. Emotional support animals are not restricted to dogs. So if it is okay with the airline, you can bring your iguana along on the ride to calm your jangled nerves. I would advise, however, against becoming psychologically dependent on a Great Dane; emotional support animals flying on Delta are required to fit under their owner’s seat.
President Trump: Please End the Madness
So we are officially calling on President Trump to end the madness!
Please stop the service animal abuse. Free the hotels, airlines, restaurants, stores and all other public places from this nuisance!
Valid service animals should be permitted, but the line needs to be drawn hard and firm. The Squirrels, Kangaroos, Snakes and all other dopey service animals need to go!
We need a strong national standard and strong penalties for people faking service animals. And the penalties against business owners need to be greatly repealed.
Please, Mr. President, it's time to act.