Emotional Support Animals and Fake Service Animals

 In #zerobarriers, Why is this still a thing Wednesday
Gabriel Gonzalez who was 5 years old at the time, covered in cuts and bleeding from an attack by an emotional support pit-bull.
Gabriella Gonzalez was mauled by an emotional support pit-bull at Portland International Airport in 2017. Photo Credit: WTVD-TV

If you think that bringing your fake service dog or emotional support animal into public places hurts no-one, you need to look again at the photo above. Five year-old Gabriella Gonzalez was attacked in a busy airport by an emotional support pit-bull. Her tear duct was severed and her lip was also permanently disfigured. Alaskan Airlines requires emotional support animals to be in a carrier or held by the owner at all times. However, neither policy was enforced. Furthermore, it is very very easy to get documentation that states your house pet is a service animal.

‘Click here to register your Service Dog’

While looking up this story, I had to close out pop-up adds for registering a ‘service animal’. Out of curiosity, I followed the link here. There are so many misleading websites out there. They all have one thing in common; they want your money. There is no regard for safety. There is however; an included service dog patch and Ebook that will ensure that you can prepare for any challenges you may face. This site also mentions the American’s with Disabilities Act by saying “Service dogs are fully protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Although not everyone is aware of the details of this law, we want to do everything we can to make sure you’re fully prepared to address (or better yet, avoid) any questions or challenges that might come up.” I wonder if my emotional support animal mauling a child in public is covered?

But are emotional support animals covered under the ADA?

I will save some time here and tell you no. Emotional support animals are not protected under the ADA. However, some states allow these animals to be in public places. Additionally, under the ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog or miniature horse that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog or miniature horse must be directly related to the person’s disability. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions regarding service animals and the ADA.

But what about the Air Carrier Access Act?

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) states that a service animal is any animal that is individually trained or able to provide assistance to a person with a disability; or any animal that assists that person with disabilities by providing emotional support. What is troubling about the ACAA is that it states that…

Airlines can determine whether an animal is a service animal or pet by:

  • The credible verbal assurances of an individual with a disability using the animal;
  • Looking for physical indicators such as the presence of a harness or tags;
  • Requiring documentation for psychiatric support animals and emotional support animals; and
  • Observing the behavior of animals.

So by looking for the presence of a harness, tags or fraudulent documentation, an airline can determine if the animal is a service animal. This would be difficult considering that anyone can obtain these items online.

Local governments as well as airlines are cracking down on fake service animals. Here is a story from NBC News regarding states such as Minnesota signing legislation doing just that. Incidents like Gabriella’s are far too common. I mentioned this exact issue and it is certainly relevant to share again here.

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