This column is one half of a head-to-head. Read the opposing view here.
Emotional support animals should be considered service dogs with all the same benefits. Service animals are companions which help their owner to perform daily tasks that they could not otherwise perform. An emotional support animal is more than just a pet, it is an aiding mechanism that helps a person be the best version of them self. However, laws regarding the two vary tremendously and restrict where one can bring an emotional support animal.
By definition, a service animal is any dog or other common domestic animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. An emotional support animal is a companion that a medical professional has determined provides benefit for an individual with a disability. Both definitions mention a disability, but no limitation to the type of disability. Disabilities can be anything physical or mental which limits a person’s movement, senses or abilities. Most people commonly think of service animals performing tasks for the physically disabled, such as the deaf. Service animals also perform tasks for a person diagnosed with PTSD. PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, is a condition characterized by mental and emotional distress after experiencing a terrifying event and is a mental disorder much like anxiety or depression. However, emotional support animals are given for people who have mental disorders. To discriminate one mental disorder against another is unjust. If a service animal can be administered for one type of mental disorder, than a service animal should be able to be administered to all.
By law, service animals are allowed to go anywhere the public is normally allowed. When inquiring about a service animal, only two questions may be asked: is this a service animal, and what task(s) was it trained to perform? On the other hand, emotional support animals are not allowed everywhere their owner is, and in most cases, are treated like any other dog. While it is true that the animals’ amount of training differs greatly, that is perhaps something that the government should change since emotional support animals seem to affect their owners just as greatly as a service dog.
The biggest issue people have with this argument is that obtaining an emotional support animal is so easy and a power so abused it’s almost a complete joke. After taking a stratified survey, only one in four dogs on campus provided legitimate service to their owner, yet the other three dogs still wore service vests. This may only be a sample size, but it is a very good example of the dogs that wear service vests on school which are not actually service animals by definition. Yes, there are admittedly people simply buying a vest online to put on their dog as an excuse to bring it to campus. That is ethically and morally wrong, no argument against that. There have also been many instances where people have obtained emotional support animal verification to simply be able to bring their dog on a plane. The list of immoral and irresponsible acts related to this abuse in power goes on and on. These are perfect examples of the few ruining it for the many who could potentially benefit from an emotional support animal being with them everywhere.
Service animals are trained to perform specific tasks as to mitigate a person’s disability. In the instance of a blind person, the animal assist in directing its person. Emotional support animals can help calm someone in social situations and overcome fears that they could not otherwise handle on their own, thus allowing them to live a healthy and normal lifestyle. If a person with terrible anxiety were invited to a concert, that person might normally say no because of large crowds of unknown people. But if they had an emotional support animal, they might feel more inclined to say yes and be able to live their life as full as possible without anything holding them back. While there may be differences between the extremes in types of disabilities and their need for aid, it does not mean that one disability is more deserving than the other. People can experience such crippling depression that they can’t leave their house, and that is by no means living a normal life.
While the power of obtaining an emotional support animal is commonly abused, it is simply because of the lack of regulation and requirements for having one. If laws were changed to have requirements similar to that of a service animals, then emotional support animals would only be administered to those who genuinely need them to live life. Emotional support animals should also be required to undergo special training just as service animals do. Both emotional support animal and service animal laws could be more constricted. For instance, service dog vests should be available only through doctors administering the animal. Or people should have some simple form of ID proving the requirement for a service animal. No matter how the system decides to work through it, emotional support animals and service animals should be classified equally.