You may have seen stories or heard about people being kicked out of planes, restaurants, and workplaces for animals those people say they need for emotional support. But did you know you can certify your pet- yourself- as a service dog? And that- is what makes this law confusing.
You may have seen stories or heard about people being kicked out of planes, restaurants, and workplaces for animals those people say they need for emotional support.
One woman was forced off a plane for bringing a peacock she claimed she needed. Another woman was forced to flush her hamster down an airport toilet after being told the animal was not allowed to fly.
Two key words to consider here: emotional versus service.
One animal is allowed everywhere, with few exceptions, the other is not.
Katrina Griffith has a service dog named Izzie B.
"She is a service dog, not just a normal pet," Griffith said.
Izzie B is trained and documented to help Griffith deal with symptoms for a disability.
"She is able to detect it before I even know because we still haven't figured out what triggers any of my symptoms," Griffith said.
Over at Lollypop Farm, in the Pet Assisted Therapy program, "We have bunnies, guinea pigs, a rat. We have cats." But they are emotional support or therapy animals, said Esca Stumpf who runs the program.
"There actually is a really big difference between a service animal and emotional support or therapy animal," Stumpf said.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal, like Izzie B, is almost always a dog, nothing else.
As for emotional support or therapy animals, "They are there for people to relieve stress," Stumpf said. "They are supposed to be pet and held."
Emotional support animals are not allowed in places where pets are banned.
"Service animals generally, through their training and their paperwork, are allowed to go anywhere," Stumpf told News10NBC.
Some people do abuse the law.
"People can go online and get a vest and say this is a service animal when in actuality, they are not," Stumpf said.
News 10NBC was able to do that within minutes online. They were able to register a dog, which has no training, as a service dog. Then, they were able to buy a special leash, vest, and certificate for around $300.
For people like Griffith, who truly need service dogs, that abuse is frustrating.
"For these people to sit there and say, 'oh well this is my service animal' when it's not, it's not right," Griffith said. "You do have a process to go through and you have steps to go through. It just makes it a lot harder for us because it's being abused."
Complicating the law, there's no one state or federal office where these certificates are issued and verified.
A true service animal should undergo several months, even years of training.
A few more rules: the service dog must be on a leash, but are not required to have a vest.
If the dog is acting aggressively, then a store, hotel owner, or employer can ask the animal to be removed.