Should You Have Your Pet Certified as an Emotional Support Animal?

Here are some considerations.

Fans of Vanderpump Rules will likely remember the episode where Kristen Doute announced that her dog, Gibson Nicks, is a certified emotional support animal (ESA). The social media fallout was swift and severe, with people saying Kristen was taking advantage of the system. (She has since shut down the comments.)

ESAs are very different from therapy animals: They do not require any specialized training or experience, and their only legal protections are on airplanes and in no-pet housing (which require a doctor’s note). But that doesn’t mean that their certification shouldn’t be taken seriously.

If too many people start claiming their pets as ESAs, it could result in a legal pushback. “ESAs are legally different from service animals, such as guide dogs,” said Cassie Boness, a researcher at the University of Missouri. “An ESA usually provides companionship, relieves loneliness and sometimes helps with anxiety or depression.

“Although emotional support animals can be pets, they’re not considered pets under the law and sometimes special accommodations must be afforded to individuals who have ESAs,” Boness says. “Because of this requirement, owners seek out ways to get their pets certified without thinking about the ramifications of their actions.”

So what does that mean? If too many people start claiming their dogs as ESAs for the convenience, legislation could change quickly. At best, qualifications could become much stricter (causing ethical dilemmas for the doctors who write the notes), at worst, they could disappear altogether, causing distress for patients who truly suffer without their animals.

A recent study called The Certification of Emotional Support Animals is recommending that requests for ESAs should be met with the same thoroughness that is found in any disability evaluation, which will hopefully ensure the designation goes to only those truly in need.

So before you go to get your pet certified just for some cheaper rent or a waived airport fee, consider how it may affect those who are in severe emotional distress.

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