OPINION: Fake emotional support dogs classic example of society’s selfishness

(Illustration by Savannah Thaemert | The Collegian)

Depression and anxiety are problems that are plaguing younger generations today, and those affected by these diseases have found a way to minimize the symptoms without taking medicine.

To do this, some people are using emotional support animals. The idea of using animals in a therapeutic way goes back centuries to when animals were used to improve the attitude or grab the attention of the elderly and to help those with disabilities improve their skills, according to Health Line article “Animal-assisted therapy” by Anthony Watt.

Emotional support animals have become widely accepted as the need for them has started to grow. For only $64.95, anyone can register their pet by following three steps at the National Service Animal Registry’s website.

Like most good things, however, this simple process gives pretty much anyone the opportunity to register their pet to be an emotional support dog just to gain the advantages that come with the title.

“I heard from a friend … that you could get your dog certified as something called an ‘emotional support animal,’ an ESA, and at the time, I thought it was a very good idea,” Genevieve said in an interview for ABC News article “Some pet owners game the emotional support animal system to fly pets for free.”

Genevieve, whose last name she asked to remain anonymous, provided fake answers to an online psychological questionnaire to get diagnosed with a mental illness, which would ultimately allow her to register her pet as an emotional support animal, according to the ABC News article.

While this is disturbing, it is hardly shocking. In my opinion, initiatives that are put into place to help people are often taken advantage of for selfish reasons.

Emotional support animals offer a soothing presence and unconditional love, they alter people’s behavior by distracting them from whatever is going on in their heads, they promote touch and they make people responsible, according to Therese Borchard’s Psych Central article “Six ways pets relieve depression.”

“Emotional support animals ‘provide a valuable service’ to people who need them,” Paul Mundell, the CEO of Canine Companions for Independence, said in the ABC News article.

The issue is that some pet owners — like Genevieve — take advantage of the system, according to the article. The problem with people registering their animals for reasons unrelated to mental illnesses is that the animals are not trained like actual therapy dogs. A therapy dog has been obedience trained and screened for its ability to interact with people and other animals, according to the National Service Animal Registry.

I can see how it may be tempting to register a pet to save a few dollars; however, these animals have started to cause problems for people who have real therapy dogs because they are not trained in such a way that align with the initiatives through which actual therapy animals are trained.

Paul Mundell, of Canine Companions, said in the ABC News article that he is starting “to hear that poorly-behaved fake ESAs have been disrupting the work of real service animals.”

Animals are miracle workers, and I believe that wholeheartedly. I also believe the idea of an emotional support animal is something that can change the lives of those who truly need it. The positive impact these animals are having on people’s lives, however, is being overshadowed by the abuse of the program.

“Animal-assisted therapy gives a person a feeling of companionship and acceptance,” said Steve G. Kopp, a licensed mental health counselor and marriage and family therapist with Genesis Health Systems, in the Health Line article.

People who register their pets as emotional support animals just for the advantages that come along with it should be ashamed of themselves. What kind of world do we live in where people pretend to have a mental illness just so their pet can fly for free?

Unfortunately, I can answer my own question: We live in a selfish world, and it’s time that changed.

Hi world! I'm Kaitlyn Cotton. I'm a junior studying English with hopes of going to law school one day. I spend my days writing, reading and working for the Collegian. I have had articles published in the Kansas City Star, the Collegian, and most importantly- my parent's refrigerator.