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The New Yorker - Pets Allowed

What a wonderful time it is for the scammer, the conniver, and the cheat: the underage drinkers who flash fake I.D.s, the able-bodied adults who drive cars with handicapped license plates, the parents who use a phony address so that their child can attend a more desirable public school, the customers with eleven items who stand in the express lane. The latest group to bend the law is pet owners.

Take a look around. See the St. Bernard slobbering over the shallots at Whole Foods? Isn’t that a Rottweiler sitting third row, mezzanine, at Carnegie Hall? As you will have observed, an increasing number of your neighbors have been keeping company with their pets in human-only establishments, cohabiting with them in animal-unfriendly apartment buildings and dormitories, and taking them (free!) onto airplanes—simply by claiming that the creatures are their licensed companion animals and are necessary to their mental well-being. No government agency keeps track of such figures, but in 2011 the National Service Animal Registry, a commercial enterprise that sells certificates, vests, and badges for helper animals, signed up twenty-four hundred emotional-support animals. Last year, it registered eleven thousand.

What about the mental well-being of everyone else? One person’s emotional support can be another person’s emotional trauma. Last May, for instance, a woman brought her large service dog, Truffles, on a US Airways flight from Los Angeles to Philadelphia. At thirty-five thousand feet, the dog squatted in the aisle and, according to Chris Law, a passenger who tweeted about the incident, “did what dogs do.” After the second, ahem, installment, the crew ran out of detergent and paper towels. “Plane is emergency landing cuz ppl are getting sick,” Law tweeted. “Hazmat team needs to board.” The woman and Truffles disembarked, to applause, in Kansas City, and she offered her inconvenienced fellow-passengers Starbucks gift cards.

In June, a miniature Yorkie caused a smaller stir, at a fancy Manhattan restaurant. From a Google review of Altesi Ristorante: “Lunch was ruined because Ivana Trump sat next to us with her dog which she even let climb to the table. I told her no dogs allowed but she lied that hers was a service dog.” I called the owner of Altesi, Paolo Alavian, who defended Trump. “She walked into the restaurant and she showed the emotional-support card,” he said. “Basically, people with the card are allowed to bring their dogs into the restaurant. This is the law.”

Alavian is mistaken about that. Contrary to what many business managers think, having an emotional-support card merely means that one’s pet is registered in a database of animals whose owners have paid anywhere from seventy to two hundred dollars to one of several organizations, none of which are recognized by the government. (You could register a Beanie Baby, as long as you send a check.) Even with a card, it is against the law and a violation of the city’s health code to take an animal into a restaurant. Nor does an emotional-support card entitle you to bring your pet into a hotel, store, taxi, train, or park.

No such restrictions apply to service dogs, which, like Secret Service agents and Betty White, are allowed to go anywhere. In contrast to an emotional-support animal (E.S.A.), a service dog is trained to perform specific tasks, such as pulling a wheelchair and responding to seizures. The I.R.S. classifies these dogs as a deductible medical expense, whereas an emotional-support animal is more like a blankie. An E.S.A. is defined by the government as an untrained companion of any species that provides solace to someone with a disability, such as anxiety or depression. The rights of anyone who has such an animal are laid out in two laws. The Fair Housing Act says that you and your E.S.A. can live in housing that prohibits pets. The Air Carrier Access Act entitles you to fly with your E.S.A. at no extra charge, although airlines typically require the animal to stay on your lap or under the seat—this rules out emotional-support rhinoceroses. Both acts stipulate that you must have a corroborating letter from a health professional.  Read More at Source

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