Legal Limbo of Emotional Support Animals Threatened by Frauds
Service animals are an invaluable asset to those who require specialized assistance in their lives, such a seeing eye dogs and dogs trained to help those with PTSD attacks. However, there has been a rise in the certification of so-called Emotional Support Animals (ESAs). Emotional Support Animals may also be extremely helpful for those in need, but lax certification processes for the designation have watered down what takes to become an ESA. The result is animals with potentially very little training being given similar legal treatment as those who have undergone rigorous certification regulated by the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Those who may not experience an emotional or physical disability are able to request that their pet be designated an Emotional Support Animal by a mental health professional. There are extreme ethical and legal issues with this process, especially for psychologists handing out ESA certifications. If an animal misbehaves and causes an injury, the psychologist who deemed them a support animal may come under questioning for their decision. As there are very lax regulations on support animals, the psychologist may be held legally responsible for the actions of the dog. This can quickly become a very risky situation for mental health professionals who can not easily refuse to certify a dog if there are no guidelines to hold it to.
As well, under the law, an emotional support dog is not considered a pet, and therefore may be allowed in pet-free apartments and other pet-free areas. There is an implication that some may exploit the designation to bring their pets where they ought not to be, or to bypass pet condo fees. Cassie Boness, a clinical psychology graduate student studying the effect of emotional support animals, stated that “housing that prohibits pets must allow ESAs and landlords have to waive any fees or pet deposits. Airlines are required to allow emotional support animals to accompany their handlers in the main cabin of an aircraft. As a result, it can be implied that some patients who claim they need ESAs are doing so to avoid higher rent and fees.”
Unfortunately, support animals may not have gotten the required training to safely be in these public areas, which causes a huge amount of trouble for those who are not comfortable around dogs and it may give service dogs an unfortunate reputation. A dog that is trained not to be scared of loud noises may remain calm and unbothered in a social situation, like in a restaurant, but an untrained animal could become fearful and aggressive. There is the potential for trauma to occur for both the dog and those around it.
With some going so far as to fake their dog’s qualifications, including purchasing knock off service animal vests to take their pets with them, stricter regulation is a necessity to protecting the public and making sure support and service animals of all kinds are properly trained and able to assist their owners safely and effectively.
With growing research that confirms the positive impact that support animals have on the lives of people who need them, we need rules sooner rather than later that crack down on those who abuse these regulations. By doing nothing, these frauds are jeopardizing the system for people with real medical issues who rely on these support animals to live their daily lives.
[Source: Science Daily]
More by Morgan Sterling