Why Does She Get to Have a Dog?

What’s up with all the dogs everywhere these days? You see them in the malls (that’s where people shopped before Amazon), in stores (that’s where people shop who don’t shop on Amazon), and even on planes. Don’t get me wrong, I like dogs. In fact, we even entered our dog in the Wienershcnitzel Wiener Nationals one year in San Diego. Our dog ran in one of the two heats for wiener dogs named “Oscar.” I’ll admit, up until they announced that there were two heats for dogs named “Oscar,” I thought the name was original. But once our Oscar started to run the wrong way in the race, I was actually content to leave the venue as quickly as possible. I would say that I crossed that off of my bucket list, but it was never on the bucket list in the first place. But it was a rather unique event, and if you are in San Diego when it is run, it is probably worth the time. But don’t put it on your bucket list . . . at least not if your dog is named “Oscar.”

One of the problems with the prevalence of dogs everywhere is that it gives a bad name to true service dogs and emotional support animals. As one disgruntled homeowner once put it, “Pay a few $’s on the internet and ‘Presto’ a service dog is born . . . I could ‘certify’ my ceramic toy with THAT process.” I get it. In fact, it kind of makes you wonder if Tom Hanks would have been able to certify Wilson and take it with him on a plane (not that there is some prohibition against volleyballs on planes, but I’m just saying).

Speaking of planes, passengers on planes have tried to take on board with them “service” peacocks, pigs, cats, monkeys, horses, and even a turkey! (It is unclear if the turkey was flying around Thanksgiving.) The point is that service animals have gotten out of hand. But the problem with trying to solve the problem is that people who genuinely need service dogs and emotional support animals are likely to be discarded with all the phonies. And therein lies the problem: how do you tell a genuine need from a phony need?

The answer is a doctor’s note, right? Genuine claims surely would be recognized by doctors, right? Yet one website announces, “ESA [emotional support animal] letters only $22 each. Same day delivery included.” The website guarantees “official medical signed.” It then touts, “An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) letter from a licensed therapist is all you need to gain legal access to airline cabins and pet restricted housing without extra fees and deposits.” What? You’re not satisfied with a licensed therapist signing the ESA? Then pay a little more and get a medical doctor to sign the ESA. Hey, what’s a few bucks? Think of all the money you will be saving when your dog is flying free of charge! Pet fees at your apartment complex? Forget about it; you’ve got an ESA!

In the end, the system is being abused. And when it is abused, people with a genuine need for an emotional support animal or a service dog are sadly lumped in with all the people who want to bring “service” animals on board an airplane or those who want to live an apartment complex with their “service” monkeys. In a future post I’ll talk about what you should do if you have a genuine need for a service dog or an emotional support animal. Until then, please, remember that not everyone who has a service animal or an emotional support animal is abusing the system.

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Stuart E. Fagan

Fair housing litigator with over 25 years' experience accepting cases in California and Illinois (Coming Winter 2020)