However, just like anything good, I think there is a new wave of abuse. The claim that any disability, real or imaginary, qualifies a pet owner to call a dog a service animal, now threatens the practice that has helped so many.
I do a lot of traveling. I've noticed a larger-than-usual number of dogs in the airports and on planes, but not the small dogs in the usual carriers. These are big dogs, like those used to help the blind. Most have "service animal" vests.
Recently I sat next to someone in a waiting area that had a dog in a vest. It was a 60 lb mutt, described on the vest as an "Emotional Support Animal". I overheard the owner say that the dog helped her with her anxiety while flying. I thought that's what cocktails and xanax were for.
On the plane, the dog took an entire seat. He sat, was well behaved and the human didn't seem to anxious.
On the same flight I'm listening to the Adam Carolla Podcast and he talks about the increasing prevalence of service animals on flights, and how the owners seem to have needs that extend beyond the traditional roles of service animals. Strange that he'd notice the same thing-- unless there was something to it.
I investigated further. Basically, if you think you are physically or mentally impaired, your dog (or other pet) qualifies to be a service animal. You don't need a doctor's note or formal evaluation. You just need to buy the vest and ID card. Here's a place that will be happy to help you with that! http://www.freemypaws.com/
The self-assessment test to determine if your pet qualifies as a service animal.
This is just one of many websites where you take a self-assessment test to see if you qualify. It is reasonably hard not to qualify by these standards. The FAQ says that you may opt to get a physician's assessment, in case you are ever challenged. However, with strict statements from the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is unlikely that anyone will say anything.
According to the website, you don't have to register a service animal. You simply claim that it is, that you have a disability, and bingo-- you can take your dog to see a movie.
So while some people need service animals, the unscrupulous traveler now can buy the little vest, claim disability, and travel with Fido for free. Heck, it costs a lot to travel with a dog. It needs a recent vet visit, special certification, at least $100 each way, and it must fit under the seat. This barrier excludes many pets and their owners.
Now any animal can be declared a service animal. Check out the FAQ on the website above. It is your decision if you are disabled, and the company will be happy to sell you everything you need for your pet to accompany you into restaurants, theaters, airplanes and any other public place.
I'm going to extend this practice to humans, who technically are animals. My "Service Wife" will see movies and travel for free, cutting my costs. Plus, she'll look hot in the vest.
The travesty here is that legitimate service animals serve important roles. By opening the floodgates to anyone claiming a problem, we diffuse the definition of a service animal and harm those that need them.
My feeling is that this will be solved as more and more emotional support pit bulls and therapy parrots fly side-by-side with unscrupulous owners. The people that abuse this system are deplorable, as they harm a practice that others depend on strictly for their own convenience.