And bring your dog along 2015.05.28


Are you seeing pets in locations where it seems that they shouldn't be? It could be because the owners have "official" permission to have them there, as though they were their best friend.

Writer Patricia Marx decided to see how far she could push this concept. She mentions the able-bodied person who somehow came up with a handicapped parking permit, the underage drinker who flashes a fake I.D., the person with 12 items in the grocery cart who stands in the 10-item express lane. So many cheats, and so many ways to do it.

One method you probably haven't yet considered is the companion animal permit. Apparently it's really catching on. In 2011, the National Service Animal Registry (NSAR) issued permits for 2,400 companion animals. Two years later 11,000 animals were registered. The word is spreading.

The NSAR isn't a government agency. It's just a commercial venture that sells certificates, vests and badges for helper animals.

This group attends to the mental well-being of people who must have their dog with them wherever they go, but Marx wonders about the mental health of those who are innocently brought into the situation, also known as everyone else but the dog owner.

Last year a large service dog named Truffles squatted in the aisle of a US Airway flight and did at 35,000 feet what dogs normally do on the neighbor's lawn. It happened twice and the plane made an unscheduled stop in Kansas City. Truffles and her owner never made it to Philadelphia that day.

Ivana Trump was criticized for allowing her dog to climb onto the table at a fancy restaurant in New York City. When another customer complained, the restaurant owner explained that Ivana had a card for her emotional-support animal. "It's the law," said the owner, but Marx learned that this isn't true.

Service dogs, yes; emotional-support animals, no.

To get an E.S.A. card, just pay up to a couple hundred dollars to one of a few organizations that issue cards. The card doesn't actually permit a dog or cat to enter a restaurant or hotel, but it's good enough to fool most people who will confuse it with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

There is a government definition of an E.S.A.: an untrained companion of any species that provides solace to someone with a disability, such as anxiety or depression. These animals are allowed to live in housing that prohibits pets and they can board an airplane at no extra charge, however, they do require a corroborating letter from a health professional. 

Marx says she isn't one to go around stretching the law, but she really had to give this a try. She posed as a person with an anxiety disorder (not such a stretch, she points out) and obtained E.S.A. credentials for five animals ("one animal at a time; I'm not that crazy").

She borrowed a 15-pound turtle and headed for the Frick Museum where was told that she couldn't do it. She explained that it was an emotional support animal but the security guard didn't buy it. Marx said she had a letter and eventually she and turtle were inside gazing at the paintings.

The letter explained that she had mental health disorder DSM-5 and that she had a turtle that provides significant emotional support and "ameliorates the severity of symptoms that affect her daily responsibilities and goals." And on and on. Marx and Turtle also went shopping and visited a salon for Turtle's manicure. 

About that letter from the mental health professional…no problem. A Google search for "emotional-support animals" turns up hundreds of professionals willing to help. Come up with a good backstory and explain your pet. Her letter cost $140. 

That was just the beginning of the fun. She later went shopping with a milk snake ("I'm looking for a pocketbook that will match my snake"), then a 26-pound turkey, then an alpaca, and finally a one-year-old pig—on an airplane.

Marx closes her story by stating that no animals were harmed during the writing of the article, however, one journalist did have to get down on hands and knees to clean her carpet.