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Emotional Support Animals In The Spotlight

Emotional support animals provide comfort to their owners. How’s the rest of the world dealing with the dog in the next seat?

It’s hard not to sympathize with the comfort given by an emotional support dog. You may have seen them nestled next to a passenger on a plane. Maybe nestled next to you. But the definition of an emotional support animal is so loose it’s also being fudged. People bringing pets along – to hotels, restaurants, grocery stores – just for fun, or to save a buck. And it’s not just dogs. Think pigs, ducks, snakes, turkeys. This hour On Point, we’re sniffing out the facts on emotional support animals. — Tom Ashbrook


Hal Herzog, columnist for Psychology Today, where he writes the “Animals and Us” column. Professor emeritus of psychology at Western Carolina University. (@herzoghal)

Stefanie DeSimone, student at Plymouth State University. She has a emotional support dog named Flo.

Aubrey Fine, clinical psychologist who specializes in animal-assisted therapy. Professor at California State Polytechnic Institute. Editor of the “Handbook on Animal Assisted Therapy.”

From Tom’s Reading List

Psychology Today: Are the Results of Animal Therapy Studies Unreliable? — “Animal-assisted therapy is a growth industry. According to a survey conducted by the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative, 69% of family practice physicians have worked with animals in medical settings. And Yale researchers reported that when it comes to the treatment of children with behavior problems, the public views animal-based therapies about as acceptable as psychotherapy and much more acceptable than drug treatments.”

New Yorker: Pets Allowed — “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.

Boston Globe: Pretending your pet is a service animal? That could soon be illegal— “It’s become a sneaky way to bring house pets into stores, restaurants, airplanes, and other places where four-legged creatures are usually banned: buy a service animal vest and — voila! — take Fido with you as you’re shopping, eating out, or catching a flight. Pretending your dog is a service animal is a harmless ruse, right? Wrong, disability advocates say. And in Massachusetts it could soon be against the law.”

Meet Stefanie DeSimone’s Emotional Support Dog, Flo


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Student Kamran Mehta pets Angie, a certified therapy dog, at the University at Buffalo in Amherst, N.Y. (David Duprey/AP)
Student Kamran Mehta pets Angie, a certified therapy dog, at the University at Buffalo in Amherst, N.Y. (David Duprey/AP)

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