Photograph of bird ignites interest in emotional support animals after turkey was allowed on flight, which US law permits for people with disabilities.
The Guardian reports that Delta airlines allowed a passenger to bring a turkey on to a commercial flight last month, after the person claimed it was an emotional support animal. News of the unique passenger spread after a photo of the turkey on the plane was posted on Reddit.
But this is not the first strange animal to board a plane, nor will it be the last. In fact, emotional support animals are becoming increasingly common and their air travel is covered under the US Air Carrier Access Act. The act lets passengers with disabilities bring animals aboard commercial airplanes.
Delta spokesperson Ashton Morrow told USA Today that “while we can’t always accommodate all pets, Delta employees made a judgment call based in part on extensive documentation from the customer”. She added: “We review each case and make every effort to accommodate our customers’ travel needs while also taking into consideration the health and safety of other passengers.” George Lewis, an operations manager with the Dogtor, a referral service that puts prospective emotional support animals owners in touch with independent mental health professionals, said that normally passengers take small cats or dogs onto flights, and other animals are extremely rare.
“People bringing a pig or a goat, it’s just incredibly rare. I think the airlines are just trying to make a big fuss about this because they don’t like the animal policy to begin with so they’re sensationalizing this,” he said. “Most people are taking dogs and cats. 99.9% of people are taking small dogs and small cats on to the flights.”
Emotional support animals are also covered under the Fair Housing Act, which allows them to live in housing that normally prohibits pets.
Those who wish to have an emotional support animal need only get a letter from a mental health professional. They must prove that they suffer from some form of disability, including anxiety, PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder, panic attacks, phobias or suicidal thoughts. The animals are intended to provide comfort by lessening or alleviating some symptoms their owners suffer from.
“A lot of these people need it,” Lewis said. “They have anxiety or depression and … it feels good when they come home to an animal.”
But emotional support animals have been getting a bad rep as some look to abuse their allowances. Some people misrepresent themselves to obtain letters from healthcare professionals. This was demonstrated by New Yorker contributor Patricia Marx in October 2014 when she obtained emotional support animal credentials for five unconventional pets.
“If you want to turn your pet into a certified ESA, all you need is a therapist type who will vouch for your mental un-health,” Marx wrote. “Don’t have one? Enter ‘emotional-support animal’ into Google and take your pick among hundreds of willing professionals.”
People also exploit emotional support animal allowances in terms of where they can take them. While service dogs, who are trained to perform a particular task such as responding to seizures or guiding those who are visually impaired, are allowed to go anywhere, emotional support animals are not. They are only covered by the Fair Housing Act and Air Carrier Access Act, and are not permitted in many other spaces, such as hotels, trains or stores.
Many do not fully understand the laws and differences surrounding the two classifications of animals. Marx proved this when she took various emotional support animals to different public locations and convinced many to allow her entry. She flew from Newark to Boston with a pig, visited an art museum with a turtle, and shopped at Chanel with a snake.
There are also numerous websites that exploit the confusion surrounding emotional support animals. They sell cards or vests certifying that an animal is for emotional support, when what is really required is a letter from a healthcare professional.
“The sites that need to be investigated are the sites that sell these ID cards and vests and things like that. Ours matches people with mental health professionals with legal paperwork,” Lewis said. “Other sites confuse people to think they can get certified for 50 bucks. These sites are taking advantage of people who wouldn’t know proper laws for EMAs.”
(Story source: The Guardian – February 2016)