Pet support animal—really?
It is far more common for people to claim that their pets are
companion animals and are necessary to their mental well-being. How
many of these people have legitimate mental issues that are relieved by
owning a loving pet and how many are gaming the system; no one knows.
Why are so many animals now in places where they shouldn’t be?
BY PATRICIA MARX
20 October 2014
The author takes an alpaca to
the drugstore. There’s a lot of confusion about what emotional-support
animals can legally do.
What a wonderful time it is for the scammer, the conniver, and the
cheat: the underage drinkers who flash fake I.D.s, the able-bodied
adults who drive cars with handicapped license plates, the parents who
use a phony address so that their child can attend a more desirable
public school, the customers with eleven items who stand in the express
lane. The latest group to bend the law is pet owners.
Take a look around. See the St. Bernard slobbering over the shallots at
Whole Foods? Isn’t that a Rottweiler sitting third row, mezzanine, at
Carnegie Hall? As you will have observed, an increasing number of your
neighbors have been keeping company with their pets in human-only
establishments, cohabiting with them in animal-unfriendly apartment
buildings and dormitories, and taking them (free!) onto
airplanes—simply by claiming that the creatures are their licensed
companion animals and are necessary to their mental well-being. No
government agency keeps track of such figures, but in 2011 the National
Service Animal Registry, a commercial enterprise that sells
certificates, vests, and badges for helper animals, signed up
twenty-four hundred emotional-support animals. Last year, it registered
What about the mental well-being of everyone else? One person’s
emotional support can be another person’s emotional trauma. Last May,
for instance, a woman brought her large service dog, Truffles, on a US
Airways flight from Los Angeles to Philadelphia. At thirty-five
thousand feet, the dog squatted in the aisle and, according to Chris
Law, a passenger who tweeted about the incident, “did what dogs do.”
After the second, ahem, installment, the crew ran out of detergent and
paper towels. “Plane is emergency landing cuz ppl are getting sick,”
Law tweeted. “Hazmat team needs to board.” The woman and Truffles
disembarked, to applause, in Kansas City, and she offered her
inconvenienced fellow-passengers Starbucks gift cards.
In June, a miniature Yorkie caused a smaller stir, at a fancy Manhattan
restaurant. From a Google review of Altesi Ristorante: “Lunch was
ruined because Ivana Trump sat next to us with her dog which she even
let climb to the table. I told her no dogs allowed but she lied that
hers was a service dog.” I called the owner of Altesi, Paolo Alavian,
who defended Trump. “She walked into the restaurant and she showed the
emotional-support card,” he said. “Basically, people with the card are
allowed to bring their dogs into the restaurant. This is the law.”
Alavian is mistaken about that. Contrary to what many business managers
think, having an emotional-support card merely means that one’s pet is
registered in a database of animals whose owners have paid anywhere
from seventy to two hundred dollars to one of several organizations,
none of which are recognized by the government. (You could register a
Beanie Baby, as long as you send a check.) Even with a card, it is
against the law and a violation of the city’s health code to take an
animal into a restaurant. Nor does an emotional-support card entitle
you to bring your pet into a hotel, store, taxi, train, or park.
No such restrictions apply to service dogs, which, like Secret Service
agents and Betty White, are allowed to go anywhere. In contrast to an
emotional-support animal (E.S.A.), a service dog is trained to perform
specific tasks, such as pulling a wheelchair and responding to
seizures. The I.R.S. classifies these dogs as a deductible medical
expense, whereas an emotional-support animal is more like a blankie. An
E.S.A. is defined by the government as an untrained companion of any
species that provides solace to someone with a disability, such as
anxiety or depression. The rights of anyone who has such an animal are
laid out in two laws. The Fair Housing Act says that you and your
E.S.A. can live in housing that prohibits pets. The Air Carrier Access
Act entitles you to fly with your E.S.A. at no extra charge, although
airlines typically require the animal to stay on your lap or under the
seat—this rules out emotional-support rhinoceroses. Both acts stipulate
that you must have a corroborating letter from a health professional.
Fortunately for animal-lovers who wish to abuse the law, there is a lot
of confusion about just who and what is allowed where. I decided to go
undercover as a person with an anxiety disorder (not a stretch) and run
around town with five un-cuddly, non-nurturing animals for which I
obtained E.S.A. credentials (one animal at a time; I’m not that crazy).
You should know that I am not in the habit of breaking (I mean,
exploiting) the law, and, as far as animals go, I like them—medium rare.
The first animal I test-drove was a fifteen-pound, thirteen-inch
turtle. I tethered it to a rabbit leash, to which I had stapled a cloth
E.S.A. badge (purchased on Amazon), and set off for the Frick
“One, please,” I said to the woman selling tickets, who appeared not to
notice the reptile writhing in my arms, even though people in line were
taking photos of us with their cell phones. I petted the turtle’s feet.
“Just a moment,” the woman said. “Let me get someone.”
“Oh, my God,” I heard one guard say to another. “That woman has a
turtle. I’ll call security.”
“Is it a real turtle?” Guard No. 2 said to Guard No. 1. Minutes passed.
A man in a uniform appeared.
“No, no, no. You can’t take in an animal,” he said.
“It’s an emotional-support animal,” I said.
“I have a letter,” I said.
“You have a letter? Let me see it,” he said, with the peremptoriness
you might have found at Checkpoint Charlie. Here are some excerpts from
the letter, which I will tell you more about later, when I introduce
you to my snake:
Whom It May Concern:
RE: Patricia Marx
Ms. Marx has been evaluated for and diagnosed with a mental health
disorder as defined in the DSM-5. Her psychological condition affects
daily life activities, ability to cope, and maintenance of
psychological stability. It also can influence her physical status.
Ms. Marx has a turtle that provides significant emotional support, and
ameliorates the severity of symptoms that affect her daily ability to
fulfill her responsibilities and goals. Without the companionship,
support, and care-taking activities of her turtle, her mental health
and daily living activities are compromised. In my opinion, it is a
necessary component of treatment to foster improved psychological
adjustment, support functional living activities, her well being,
productivity in work and home responsibilities, and amelioration of the
severity of psychological issues she experiences in some specific
situations to have an Emotional Support Animal (ESA).
She has registered her pet with the Emotional Support Animal
Registration of America. This letter further supports her pet as an
ESA, which entitles her to the rights and benefits legitimized by the
Fair Housing Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It allows
exceptions to housing, and transportation services that otherwise would
limit her from being able to be accompanied by her emotional support
The Frick man read the letter and disappeared, returning with another
uniformed man, to whom he said, “She has a letter.”
“Can I see it, please?” the new man said. He read the letter, then
“How old is he?” he said.
“Seven,” I answered.
The Frick does not admit children younger than ten, but evidently the
rule does not apply to turtles, because the man gestured welcomingly,
and the turtle and I went and had a look at the Vermeers.
“Big for seven, isn’t he?” the man said.
I wouldn’t know. Turtle (her actual name) is a red-eared slider who
lives in Brooklyn, the property of a former mail carrier who was kind
enough to lend her to me for the day.
On her inaugural visit to Manhattan, Turtle and I also made stops at
Christian Louboutin, where she cozied up to a glittery $6,395 stiletto,
and I, trying to snap a photo, was told, “Turtles are allowed, but no
photography”; E.A.T., the high-end delicatessen, where I had a bowl of
borscht and the turtle hydrated from, and also in, a dish of water
provided by our waiter; NK Hair Salon, where a manicurist agreed to
give Turtle a pedicure for an upcoming bar mitzvah (“You’ll have to
hold her toes down under the dryer”); Maison du Chocolat; and the Frank
E. Campbell Funeral Chapel, to inquire whether I could pre-pay for the
turtle’s burial. “But it will outlive us all,” a sombrely dressed
representative said in a sombre consultation room.
Why didn’t anybody do the sensible thing, and tell me and my turtle to
get lost? The Americans with Disabilities Act allows you to ask someone
with a service animal only two questions: Is the animal required
because of a disability? What work or task has the animal been trained
to perform? Specific questions about a person’s disability are off
limits, and, as I mentioned, people are baffled by the distinction
between service animals and emotional-support animals.
Len Kain, the editor-in-chief of dogfriendly.com, a Web site that
features pet-travel tips, said, “The law is fuzzy. If you ask one too
many questions, you’re in legal trouble for violating the Americans
with Disabilities Act and could face fines of up to a hundred thousand
dollars. But, if you ask one too few questions, you’re probably not in
trouble, and at worst will be given a slap on the wrist.”
If you want to turn your pet into a certified E.S.A., all you need is a
therapist type who will vouch for your mental un-health. Don’t have
one? Enter “emotional-support animal” into Google and take your pick
among hundreds of willing professionals. Through a site called ESA
Registration of America, I found a clinical social worker in California
who, at a cost of a hundred and forty dollars, agreed to evaluate me
over the phone to discuss the role of Augustus, the snake, in my life.
To prepare for the session, I concocted a harrowing backstory: When I
was six, I fell into a pond and almost drowned. There was a snake in
the water that I grabbed on to just before I was rescued by my father,
and, ever since, I’d found comfort in scaly vertebrates.
“Now, let’s talk about your problems,” the therapist said, in the sort
of soothing voice you might use when speaking to someone who has one
day to live. “What’s your snake’s name?”
“Augustus,” I said.
“How does Augustus help you with your problems?”
“How far back should I go?” I asked, itching to tell my story about the
“Just the last six months,” she said.
“Um, he provides unconditional love, and I feel safe when he’s around,”
I said. “He’s a good icebreaker, too, if I’m feeling shy.”
“You want to have more ease outside the house,” the therapist summed
up. “Now I want to do a generalized-anxiety screening with you,” she
said. “In the last fourteen days, have you felt anxious or on edge
nearly every day, more than seven days, or less than seven days?”
“I’d say around seven,” I replied. Using the same parameters, she asked
me to rate my worrying, trouble relaxing, ability to sit still,
irritability, and dread that something awful might happen. The next
day, I received the following e-mail:
I’d better come clean. This was the only time I was evaluated. On my
other outings with animals, I brandished a doctored version of the
original snake letter. (If talking seems too last-century, you can
consult thedogtor.net, where getting your E.S.A. certified is “only a
mouse-click away.” You fill out a seventy-four-question medical exam
online and receive your paperwork within two days, for just a hundred
and ninety dollars.)
It was my pleasure to speak to you today.
Attached is your ESA letter.
Enjoy the benefits of having your dog (sic) with you more now.
All the best,
So I was off to SoHo to be put at ease by a Mexican milk snake named
Augustus, which I borrowed from a friend. With his penchant for coiling
all thirty inches of himself around my neck and face, he felt less like
an animal than like an emotional-support accessory—say, a scarf. He is
the diameter of a garden hose, as smooth as an old wallet, and
gorgeously marked with bands of yellow, black, and rusty red. As I
walked down Wooster Street, Augustus tickled my ear and then started to
slither down my blouse. (Men!) His owner had warned me, “He is good for
parting the crowd on a busy midtown sidewalk,” and she was right.
“Look, a snake,” I heard a young woman say to her boyfriend, as we
passed on our way to an apartment open house on West Broadway. A moment
later, I heard a yelp and a splat, and turned around to see that the
startled fellow had dropped his can of soda. The real-estate agent, by
contrast, went on about the granite countertop and the home office that
could be converted to a nursery, but ignored the snake, which had got
stuck in my hair tie. Maybe a serpent is one of those things that it’s
best to put up with when you’re trying to sell a $5.2-million
Here’s what happened at the Chanel boutique: “Hello. I’m looking for a
pocketbook that will match my snake,” I said to a salesman. “Maybe
something in reptile.” I shuffled Augustus from one hand to the other
as though he were a Slinky.
“I’m sorry, Ma’am, I have a thing against snakes, so let me get someone
else to assist you,” he said, as if he were telling the host at a
dinner party, “No dessert for me, thank you.”
A colleague appeared. “Wow,” he said, leading me to a display case. “We
do have snakeskin bags back here. Is he nice? Does he bite?” The
salesman handed me a smart, yellow python bag marked $9,000. “I think
this would work the best. It’s one of our classics. I think yellow. Red
makes the snake look too dull.”
The welcome wasn’t as warm at Mercer Kitchen, where a maître d’
responded to my request for a table by saying, “Not with that!”
“But it’s a companion animal,” I said. “It’s against the law not to let
“I understand,” he said. “But I need you to take that out.”
Over at Balthazar, once the woman at the front desk confirmed with her
superior that snakes could count as emotional-support animals, I was
able to make a lunch reservation for the following week. (“So that’s
how you get a table there,” a friend said.) An hour later, I learned
that the Angelika Film Center does not require you to purchase a
separate ticket for your snake, and that the Nespresso coffee bar is
much too cold for an ectotherm.
To think that animals were once merely our dinner, or what we wore to
dinner! Fifteen thousand years ago, certain wolves became domesticated
and evolved into dogs. One thing led to another, and, notwithstanding
some moments in history that dogs and cats would probably not want to
bring up (like the time Pope Gregory IX declared cats to be the Devil
incarnate), pets have gradually become cherished members of our
families. According to “Citizen Canine,” a book by David Grimm,
sixty-seven per cent of households in America have a cat or a dog
(compared with forty-three per cent who have children), and
eighty-three per cent of pet owners refer to themselves as their
animal’s “mom” or “dad.” Seventy per cent celebrate the pet’s birthday.
Animals are our best friends, our children, and our therapists.
“I hate all of these people,” Jerry Saltz, the art critic for New York,
told me, referring to pet owners “who can’t be alone without their dogs
or who feel guilty about leaving their dumb dogs home alone.” He went
on, “A few years ago, my wife and I were flabbergasted to see a
smug-looking guy sauntering through MOMA while his ‘comfort dog’
happily sniffed the paintings, as if to pee on one. I ran up to a guard
and started yelling, ‘That guy’s dog is about to pee on the Pollock!’
She looked at me and said, ‘There’s nothing we can do about it.’ ”
Why did the turkey cross the road? To get to the Hampton Jitney. How
did the twenty-six-pound fowl get across? With me hoisting him by his
“Emotional Support Animal” harness, as if he were a duffel bag.
“You’re taking this with you?” an attendant asked, standing in front of
the luxury bus on Eighty-sixth Street. Henry was a Royal Palm, a breed
not known for its tastiness but one that could easily make the cover of
People’s sexiest-poultry issue. His plumage is primarily white, but
many of the feathers are accented with a tip of jet black, giving him a
Franz Kline Abstract Expressionist feel.
“Yes,” I said, handing the man two tickets, one for me and one for
Hope, the turkey’s ten-year-old neighbor, in Orange County, New York.
Henry flapped his wings furiously, dispersing a good amount of down
into the air and emitting noises not unlike the electronic beeps that a
car makes when it’s too close to the curb. Henry had been driven in
from the farm that morning.
“Did you talk to the company?” the attendant asked.
“Yes,” I fibbed.
“Good boy, good boy,” Hope whispered to the heaving bird, as I strained
to lift him up the bus’s stairs.
“He’s my therapy animal,” I primly told the driver. “Do you want to see
the letter from my therapist?” The question was not acknowledged.
“Easy, buddy,” Hope said, helping me to park Henry on a seat next to
the window. Soon the bus was lurching down Lexington Avenue. The turkey
angrily flapped his wings. I hovered in the aisle, because, truth be
told, I was a bit emotional around my emotional-support animal.
“If you sit with him, maybe he’ll calm down, right?” the attendant
said. I slid in next to Henry, whose eyes seemed fixed on the Chase
bank sign out the window.
“Did you take him for immunizations and everything?” the optimistic
attendant asked. Simultaneously, I said yes and Hope said no.
“How much food does he eat?” the attendant continued. “Like, half a
pound?” A huddle of passengers had gathered in the aisle, and a lot of
phone pictures were snapped. The Jitney stopped at Fifty-ninth Street
to let on more passengers.
“Is that a real turkey?” a woman said to her friend as she passed
Henry. (No matter what the animal du jour, someone always asked me
whether it was real.)
At Fortieth Street, Henry and I, who had pressing appointments in
Manhattan, disembarked (“Oh, no. I think I forgot something,” I said.
“I have to get off”), leaving a trail of plumage behind. The attendant,
who asked for a picture of himself with the turkey, was more perplexed
by our getting off (“You’re going to pay thirty dollars to get off at
Fortieth Street!”) than by our getting on.
Next stop: Katz’s Delicatessen, at the corner of Ludlow and East
Houston Streets. “How many?” the guy at the front desk asked, after I’d
shown him the therapist’s letter and we were joined by two of Henry’s
“Four, plus the turkey,” Hope said. We followed a waiter through the
crowd until Henry, whom I’d been leading on a leash, plopped onto the
floor in a spot that blocked traffic. Hope and I dragged him to a table
and hoisted him onto a chair, on which he lay immobile, on his side
with his feet splayed as if he’d conked out on the sofa, watching TV. A
wing drooped over one side of the chair.
“What kind of emotional support do you get from him?” a man asked.
Henry’s E.S.A. badge had come off earlier, when he jumped onto a
dumpster on East Houston Street (“He needs to roost,” Hope’s mom said),
but the news of his presence had spread among the diners as if he were
Depending on his mood, a turkey’s head and neck can be red, white,
blue, or, if very excited, some combination of the three. After lunch,
Henry’s head had turned purple. His handlers decided that he was “too
stressed” and ought to be getting back to the farm.
“Too stressed for yoga?” I said, having hoped to take the turkey to a
class at Jivamukti. Did my emotional-support animal need a support
Reflecting on whether it is reasonable to be this inclusive of man’s
best friends, I called the Australian philosopher and ethicist Peter
Singer, who is best known for his book “Animal Liberation,” which makes
a utilitarian argument for respecting the welfare and minimizing the
suffering of all sentient beings. Singer takes a dim view of the
emotional-support-animal craze. “Animals can get as depressed as people
do,” he said, so “there is sometimes an issue about how well people
with mental illnesses can look after their animals.” He went on, “If
it’s really so difficult for you to be without your animal, maybe you
don’t need to go to that restaurant or to the Frick Museum. ”
An alpaca looks so much like a big stuffed animal that if you walked
around F.A.O. Schwarz with one nobody would notice. What if you tried
to buy a ticket for one on an Amtrak train? The alpaca in question was
four and a half feet tall, weighed a hundred and five pounds, and had a
Don King haircut. My mission: to take her on a train trip from Hudson,
New York, to Niagara Falls.
“Ma’am, you can’t take that,” a ticket agent at the Hudson station
drawled, in the casual manner in which you might say, “No flip-flops on
the tennis court.”
“It’s a therapy animal. I have a letter.”
“O.K.,” she said flatly. “That’s a first.” I paid for our tickets. On
the platform, the alpaca, whose name was Sorpresa, started making a
series of plaintive braying noises that sounded like a sad party horn.
Alpaca aficionados call this type of vocalization humming, and say that
it can communicate curiosity, concern, boredom, fear, or contentment
but is usually a sign of distress. Sorpresa’s wranglers, who raise
alpacas for wool, and who had accompanied us, decided that she’d be
better off staying closer to home. They had no problem, though, with
her accompanying me to CVS and to some art galleries along Hudson’s
Warren Street (man in gallery: “Wow! Are they the ones that spit?”). In
fact, alpacas rarely spit at humans.
At Olana, a New York State Historic Site, showcasing the
nineteenth-century home of the painter Frederic Edwin Church, Sorpresa
and I were stopped at the visitors’ center by an apologetic tour guide.
A higher-up named Paul was summoned, and kindly broke it to me that
animals were not permitted.
“It’s a museum and a historic home,” he said. “There are thousands of
distinct objects in there that are over a hundred and twenty years old.
I’m sorry, but we just have never been able to take that risk.”
While the alpaca stood, perfectly behaved, in the gift shop among
hand-painted porcelain tiles, glass vases, and antique lanterns, and I
fielded questions from shoppers (“Are you allergic to dogs?”), Paul
consulted the site manager in charge of Olana. They called their boss
in Albany to ask for guidance.
When you hear that the livestock in your custody has been granted
permission to clomp through the premises of a national treasure that
houses hundreds of priceless antiques, you do not feel unequivocal
joy—particularly when the beast has been known to kick backward if a
threat from the rear is perceived. Don’t ask me anything about Frederic
Church’s home. Could you really expect me to concentrate on the art
when all I kept thinking was: “Didn’t the owners say that when the
alpaca’s tail is held aloft it means she has to go to the bathroom?” By
the time we reached Church’s entertainment room, Sorpresa was intently
humming a distress signal.
“She needs lunch,” I mumbled, and we made a hasty retreat. When I
returned the alpaca to her owner and told him about our visit to Olana,
he said, “I’m not sure whether it reaffirms my faith in humanity or
People with genuine impairments who depend on actual service animals
are infuriated by the sort of imposture I perpetrated with my phony
E.S.A.s. Nancy Lagasse suffers from multiple sclerosis and owns a
service dog that can do everything from turning lights on and off to
emptying her clothes dryer. “I’m shocked by the number of people who go
online and buy their pets vests meant for working dogs,” she told me.
“These dogs snarl and go after my dog. They set me up for failure,
because people then assume my dog is going to act up.”
Carry a baby down the aisle of an airplane and passengers look at you
as if you were toting a machine gun. Imagine, then, what it’s like
travelling with a one-year-old pig who oinks, grunts, and screams, and
who, at twenty-six pounds, is six pounds heavier than the average
carry-on baggage allowance and would barely fit in the overhead
compartment of the aircraft that she and I took from Newark to Boston.
Or maybe you can’t imagine this.
During check-in, the ticket agent, looking up to ask my final
destination, did a double take.
She said, “Oh . . . have you checked with . . . I don’t think JetBlue
allows . . .”
I rehashed my spiel about the letter and explained that days ago, when
I bought the tickets, the service representative said that I could
bring Daphne, my pig, as long as she sat on my lap.
“Give me one second,” the agent said, picking up the phone. “I’m
checking with my supervisor.” (Speaking into phone: “Yes, with a pig .
. . yeah, yeah . . . in a stroller.”) The agent hung up and printed out
boarding passes for me and the pig’s owner, Sophie Wolf.
“I didn’t want to make a mistake,” he said. “If there’s a problem,
Verna, at the gate, will help you. Does she run fast?”
I’m pleased to report that passing through security with a pig in your
arms is easier than doing so without one: you get to keep your shoes on
and skip the full-body scanner.
“Frank, you never told me you had a brother!” one security officer
yelled to another, as Frank helped me retrieve my purse from the
security bin. A third officer, crouching to address Daphne, whose head
was poking out of her stroller, said, “You’re a celebrity. Will you
sign autographs later?” The pig grunted.
“How is that even allowed?” I heard a peeved woman behind me say, as I
made my way down the jet bridge with my arms clasped around the pig’s
torso, its head and trotters dangling below. We settled into seats 16A
and 16B, since JetBlue does not allow animals in bulkhead or emergency
exit aisles. On the floor near our seats, Wolf spread a—I’ll just say
it—“wee-wee pad,” while Daphne arranged herself on my lap, digging her
sharp hooves into my thighs. She sniffed and snorted, detecting the
arrival of the in-flight chips before they were announced.
“If I let her, she’d eat all day—she’s a pig,” Wolf said, searching her
bag for treats. In case of airplane ear, she had also brought a pack of
Trident for Daphne, who likes to chew gum. Daphne thrust her snout
toward the smell of Gerber Puffs, knocking Wolf’s hand, and a quantity
of cereal snacks was catapulted into the air. As the pig gobbled up
every Puff on the seat, a flight attendant passed Row 16.
“Aren’t you adorable!” she said.
“Holy shit! ” the woman in back of us said, spying Daphne. “I feel like
I’m on drugs. Now I need a drink.”
We spent a pleasant day in Boston. One of us grazed on Boston Common,
wagging her tail whenever she heard pop music with a strong beat. We
took a ride on the Swan Boat and then went to the Four Seasons for
afternoon tea, where the letter was trotted out once more. As I pushed
the stroller, its privacy panel zipped up, through the dining room, a
woman, looking aghast, said, “Oh, my Gawd, your baby is oinking!” At
our table, Wolf discreetly fed Daphne some raspberries and a scone, but
drew the line at prosciutto sandwiches.
Just when I thought I had successfully taken advantage of the law, I
almost tripped up. A taxi-driver balked when he saw the porcine member
of our party.
“It’s illegal in Massachusetts to have an animal in a taxi, unless it’s
a service dog,” he said.
“But it’s an emotional-support animal,” I said.
“It doesn’t matter,” he replied.
“Look, I have a—” I said, fumbling in my purse for the dog-eared piece
“If a policeman sees me, I’d get in a lot of trouble,” he said.
I was about to give up when he said, “I’ll take you anyway. But it’s
In point of fact, as I learned when I later looked it up online, the
city of Boston is O.K. with taxi-drivers transporting animals, but they
are not required to do so unless the animal is a service dog.
Back at Logan, Daphne regained her superstar status.
A smiling agent, approaching us at the gate, said, “We heard a cute
piggy went through security.” She added, “If you want to pre-board, the
cabin crew would love it.”
At the entrance to the plane, we were greeted by three giddy flight
attendants: “Oh, my God, don’t you just love her?” “I’m so jealous. I
want one!”; “I hope you’re in my section”; “I’m coming back for
As we exited at Newark, a member of the flight crew pinned pilot’s
wings onto Daphne’s E.S.A. sweatshirt.
“Are you going to ruin it for all of us?” one of my dog-fancying
friends asked, when I told her that I was writing this article. I was
surprised to learn how many of my acquaintances were the owners of
so-called emotional-support animals. They defend the practice by saying
that they don’t want to leave their pets home alone, or they don’t want
to have to hire dog-walkers, or they don’t want their pets to have to
ride in a plane’s cargo hold, or that Europeans gladly accept dogs
everywhere. They have tricks to throw skeptics off guard. “People can’t
ask about my disability,” one friend told me. “But if I feel that I’m
in a situation where I might have a struggle being let in somewhere
with my dog, then I come up with a disorder that sounds like a
nightmare. I like to be creative. I’ll say I lack a crucial
neurotransmitter that prevents me from processing anxiety and that,
without the dog, I’m likely to black out and urinate.”
Corey Hudson, the C.E.O. of Canine Companions for Independence, a
nonprofit provider of trained assistance animals, told me that he has
“declared war on fake assistance dogs.” Earlier this year, his
organization submitted a petition, which has now been signed by
twenty-eight thousand people, to the Department of Justice, requesting
that it consider setting up a registration—“like the Department of
Motor Vehicles”—to test and certify assistance dogs and to regulate the
sale of identification vests, badges, and so forth. “They responded
that they think the law is adequate.”
No animals were harmed during the writing of this article, but one
journalist did have to get down on her hands and knees to clean her
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