Sunday, March 30, 2014

My emotional support animal is bigger than yours!

We've all heard the playground chant about whose dad or house or anything of importance is bigger than someone else's. Lately, I wonder if there isn't a race in some pet-restricted communities to see how many people can actually get a pet by hook or by crook. Last Friday seemed to be my day to bump into a variety of service and support animals as I visited several different venues in Broward County.

My first encounter was with a very cute little dog wearing a standard Service Animal vest walking along the sidewalk near the entrance to my office building. The dog strained his leash as he eagerly attempted to jump up and greet passersby. Friendly for sure but not typical service animal behavior. When I got up to my office I decided to see how easy it is to order a service animal vest for your dog. It turns out it is pretty darn easy. Dozens of companies came up including Amazon and Ebay. One website did have the following warning on it:  

It is fraudulent to represent your dog as a service animal if it is not. Please don’t do it! Although service dog vests are not required by ADA Law, persons with service animals find it easier  to outfit their dog in a service dog vest.  It instantly shows the place you are entering that your dog is a service dog and has the right to accompany you.  Simply put it helps to avoid confrontation.  We will not sell any service animal supplies for a pet dog.

Still, there was nothing to stop someone from completely ignoring the foregoing information and proceeding to the order page.

I suppose the statement that a service animal vest helps to "avoid confrontation" is true because most business owners are now so fearful of litigation that they have instructed their employees not to inquire about a dog wearing one even if the animal seems to otherwise not fit the service animal mode.

Later at a business lunch on Las Olas, my colleague and I were seated outside next to a table with three Yorkies accompanied by their human "masters". One of the dogs sat in his owner's lap, one on the floor near the table and the third comfortably sat on top of the table throughout the meal. These dogs wore no vests so their presence at the upscale bistro remained a mystery. Perhaps they were there to provide emotional support rather than being trained service animals? Frankly, the weather was beautiful and the dogs were no trouble at all other than the odd sensation the one actually sitting on the table created while looking over at our meal wistfully.

My last encounter came later that evening when my family and I went to the Broward Center to see Green Day's American Idiot. Midway through the performance we heard a dog barking in the theater. Since there were no canine performers in the show, we realized it was yet another support animal who had found his or her way into the theater. We looked left and right to see where the dog was seated and, to my surprise, I found a man two seats down from us with his bare feet propped up on the brass balcony railing. American Idiot indeed!

For 12 1/2 years, I was the proud and happy owner of a Boxer named Baci; the name means "kisses" in Italian and it was an apt moniker as he was friendly as most Boxers are. While my family and I loved spending time with Baci, we never felt compelled to buy him a Service Animal vest so he could accompany us to places he really shouldn't be. I chuckle even thinking about how he would have certainly worked to get any such vest off himself. We usually took him to the dog park as opposed to French restaurants and while he was a fit television companion, I cannot imagine enjoying a Broadway show with Baci rolling around next to us.

The choice to pursue or forego a fraudulent service animal or support animal request boils down to an honor system of sorts. At this point, it really should not be surprising that some people are going to act dishonorably in this regard.


  1. Will the comments unleash a torrent of barks & growls from furious dog owners ? Better hope your chrome wheel covers don't come close to Fido's lifted leg ! The next time you are immobilized by an avalanche in the Canadian Rockies, just don't be surprised if the Newfoundland rescue dog poops all over whatever part of your anatomy that might be exposed ! And another thing: size does matter even if you aren't in a position to compare ! Bob Driscoll in Lanark County Ontario

  2. And there are huge differences between Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals. I don't believe that the federal government regulates Emotional Support Animals in public places.

  3. This has been the talk all around town. People will always try to stretch the law. I am a property manager and OUR biggest issue is residents having proof from a psychiatrist they need a service animal. I think this is one of those "trend" issues that eventually associations and business will step up to.

  4. How does one go about "certifying" a service animal?

    I know of one outfit which legitimately trains service animals for seeing impaired persons, but other than the telltale harness and vest, I don't know if the animal receives any documentation the owner could present if anyone asked.

    Of course, the true service animals' demeanor is the easiest trait to recognize


  5. There is a huge difference between service animals and emotional support animals. Emotional support animals come into play under the Fair Housing Act with associations being tagged as "housing providers".

    There is a bill pending in the Florida Legislature which would make it a misdemeanor for someone to fraudulently obtain a service animal. The language should be expanded to include those who fraudulently obtain an emotional support animal as that is where most of the abuse lies. Also, until medical professionals fear writing phony prescriptions, the problem will not go away.

    Jay, there are legitimate organizations which train service animals. I would also your local hospital where they suggest for such training as most hospitals routinely admit service animals for their patients and they only do so for legitimate ones.

  6. The issue of ESAs has become a very large problem in south Florida.

    From tea cup dogs urinating on a table in an upscale restaurant(the owner said that thank goodness, the dog was cute)--yuk, to a large dog pooping in Publix and the owner dragging the dog out, claiming ESA, to dogs in grocery cars, department stores and on and on.

    Those of us who are allergic and/or afraid of dogs are afraid to speak up and until the medical profession stops writing scripts that are fraudulent, we will continue to have problems.