ABA Journal

An uptick in service animals on airplanes is sparking controversy


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Photograph by Stephen Webster

Not long ago, the likelihood of seeing animals flying in first class would have been akin to, as the saying goes, the day “when pigs fly.” But nowadays dogs, pigs, turtles and other animals taught to aid an owner’s physical, mental, psychiatric or emotional condition are more often sitting in seats among passengers at 35,000 feet.

And it’s not just on planes. “Emotional support animals,” “psychiatric service animals” and even untrained animals that provide basic comfort to their owners are popping up in restaurants, stores and elsewhere.

“Public recognition of the area has exploded,” says John Ensminger, a New York City tax lawyer who also writes about legal issues affecting service animals on his blog Dog Law Reporter. That’s sparking concern among service animal advocates that more people are faking psychiatric or emotional conditions as a way to tote their pets with them everywhere.

Indeed, a cottage industry of sorts has sprung up around just that. Online companies sell vests, identification tags and certificates for service animals, making it easier for pet owners to pose as somebody who needs a service animal.

“People are buying bogus credentials, vests and other paraphernalia in an attempt to fake service animal status,” Ensminger says. “This makes problems for legitimate service animals because people start to doubt their validity even when they are trained service animals.”

Click here to read the rest of “When Dogs and Cats and Horses and Pigs Fly” from the April issue of the ABA Journal.

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