Opinion: Should Emotional Support Animals require training?

Ashley Ziomek, Reporter

Some folks require a little extra assistance in their day-to-day lives. Whether it be a physical or mental impairment, simply getting out of bed in the morning can be difficult.

An amazing buddy-system has been developed, linking impaired individuals with a new fluffy friend. These animals help individuals maintain their independence, while also getting assistance in their daily lives. This can help in more ways than one from the physical aspects of completing tasks, to the mental aspect of not needing a human caregiver to follow you around.

However, with the push of modern technology, outsiders have begun to take over this service as their own personal luxury. Average people who do not require true assistance have broken the system with the use of online registries and certifications for these service animals, which causes a problem for those in true need. One huge issue here is that these online sites are not valid.

“There is no such thing as an online registry,” said Chris Kreiger, president and co-founder of Western New York Heroes, a non-profit organization that assists veterans.

People are being scammed out of $179 from USServiceDogRegistry.com.

People with true service animals are being impacted by the growing number of fake “service” animals.

But wait, there’s more.

“People can go on Amazon and buy a harness and card that say ‘service’ and ‘therapy’ dog very easily,” said Kerrigan Potter, a trainer for therapy dogs.

With all of the online nonsense, the animals being ‘certified’ receive no training.

People have the power to take their household pet, and electronically, and falsely, put them on the level of a properly trained and licensed service dog.

Another issue that arises is lack of coverage and protection for these animals. When a service or therapy dog has officially completed training and earn their title, they are granted a $10,000 insurance policy, and protection under the federal government. Animals and owners bypassing this step are at risk should something happen, such as an animal biting or lunging at a bystander or other animal.

Although service animals are legally allowed to be wherever their owner is, once your animal causes an issue such as barking or using the restroom in a public venue, the owner of the establishment has every right to ask you to leave. This creates frustration for those who need their animals at their side because poorly behaved ‘service’ animals create a stigma that the use of animals to assist their owners is unnecessary, but rather just a way to keep your pet by your side.

“Everywhere, everyone looks at you like it’s not a real service animal, but it is,” said Kreiger, talking about his dog Bubba, who joined him in 2012 when Kreiger returned from one of his many bouts of combat warfare in Iraq.

Coming from someone who needs his dog at all times for safety and security reasons, it is hard to see the abuse of the system. More frustration stems from the easy accessibility the internet provides.

So why do people do this?

Some people do it simply to avoid paying extra rental fees for owning a pet, but also to be able to take their pet with them wherever they may go with few, if any, questions asked.

“It is insulting to people who actually have a mental illness,” said Potter.

She went on to explain situations she has witnessed, where people have taken advantage of the program do so simply to get a pet into a housing establishment, such as an apartment complex, where they would not typically be welcome. By virtue of them being a service animal, landlords do not have a say, and may not discriminate, against these animals being housed within their properties.

Sadly, in this age, the internet will most likely continue to grow, and these fraudulent websites will only continue to appear. It is imperative to keep the dignity of the overall concept in tact for those who truly have the need, so how do we filter out those who only do it to save a little cash come rent time?

One large step that could be taken, is a push for Emotional Support Animals (ESA) to require training before they receive their title. ESA’s are the only animal that do not require training but provide assistance to their owners that may allow them to enter specific situations. For example, ESA’s may board airplanes and live in “no pet” housing establishments.

By requiring this basic training, no online source would be seen as a valid option. This would mandate owners to attend classes with their animal, which many feel would justify the action of ESA’s by getting them to follow the same standards as other assistance animals.

Although this is merely the beginning, raising early awareness may be the big step towards preserving the concept of service animals and ending the abuse of the system.