OPINION: Pets are people too—right?

Service DogThe first time I encountered an emotional support animal (ESA), I was working as a cashier and server at Round Table Pizza. It was during our pizza buffet, when two older women came in to order. It was half way through the order when I realized a small furry head poke out of the woman’s obnoxiously large purse.

“Awesome,” I thought. “Just what I need, customers getting offended by an old lady and her dog.”

I personally didn’t care, but I was pretty sure there was some code or law about animals being in restaurants. Also, it probably was my job to say something, but due to the lack of management and overall lack of guidance in general—I resorted to doing nothing.

Oh and did I mention that I didn’t care?

So, being the non-confrontational teenager that I was, I attempted to nonchalantly continue the order and pretend I didn’t see anything. Of course, my attempt failed and the internal conflict in my head must of showed because the lady began to talk about her dog. Clearly, I needed to work on my poker face.

Anyway, the lady sweetly asked if it was okay to eat with her dog inside and then preceded to back up her request, specifying her dog was an ESA.

Now I’m not really about questioning sweet old ladies, but as I looked at the Pomeranian sticking out of her purse, I was skeptical.

How was this Pomeranian a service dog? It’s in a purse. And what the hell was an “emotional support dog” anyway?

“Whatever,” I thought. I mean who am I to question sweet old ladies anyway? We’re supposed to respect our elders right?

So I smiled and let the two old ladies and their Pomeranian eat inside my restaurant that day. Luckily, it was a small dog, it didn’t bark and other customers didn’t seem notice or care.

On the other hand, had this been a Great Dane, this might of been a different story. I probably would have said no. Then again, who says that a Great Dane can’t be an ESA. Who says?

Which goes back to my original question—what IS an “emotional support animal” anyway? What defines an ESA? Who says that an animal has the same right as a person, just because they provide “emotional support?”

So I took my curiosity to Google and unsurprisingly the answers were vague. All that came up were websites like the National Service Animal Registry, who allow people to register their animal as a service animal.

The website allows you to register your animal as a service animal, ESA or therapy animal. For an ESA the requirement are pretty minimal. According to this website “ESAs do not need specific training – the animal only needs to be manageable in public. ALL domesticated species and breeds qualify.”

So under this definition, you can register your chameleon as an ESA and it would be totally okay. All you need is a mental disability found in the DSM IV or V and you are clear!

Got anxiety? According to that definition, you can go to your doctor, proclaim you have an anxiety disorder, hope your doctor is nice and prescribes you an emotional support animal as necessary for your treatment.

It’s that easy.

However, organizations like the NSAR are not government sanctioned and according to an article from NPR, there are no federal laws that require identification for service animals.

In fact the article even differentiates between a service dog and a therapy dog. Service dogs are highly trained and are what I personally expected when I first heard about an ESA. A therapy dog on the other hand, fits the profile, functioning as method to soothe or relax their owner.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I care. I mean, I did make it pretty clear that I didn’t care numerous times. Why would I care about what other people do with their animals?

Let me tell you.

Shit gets personal when your mom comes home with a tag and proclaims your dog an emotional support animal.

That’s right, my ten pound, miniature maltipoo is an ESA. She now has the same right to be in a restaurant as me, all because she is considered emotionally supportive.

And its legit too. My mom actually got it cleared by her doctor.

I love my dog. I love her to death. However, there are a lot of times where I feel like bringing her along isn’t necessary. Honestly, sometimes its kind of a drag. I used to win that argument, but now I will always lose.

I would like to know the statistic of people who actually really need an ESA to function throughout the day. Of course, that would require a lot of people to be honest, which is the problem with this in the first place.

Luckily, I don’t work in a restaurant anymore, so I don’t have to deal with old ladies and their dogs. But, if I ever do have the pleasure of working in food service again and someone walks in with their pet tarantula and proclaims it as an ESA, I will smile and gladly sit them down at their table.

It’s not like its an insect, right?