Yes, People Really Do Need Emotional Support Animals

Yes, People Really Do Need Emotional Support Animals

Yes, People Really Do Need Emotional Support Animals


July, 2018
In our Facebook post about Delta’s discriminatory new policy around service dogs (SDs) and emotional support animals (ESAs) we saw a lot of misinformation and even ableism from our Facebook fans with regard to ESAs. Emotional support animals are not service dogs, but they do help people with disabilities. They aren’t “crutches” or things people use when they should just “deal with it.” Emotional support animals are the embodiment of the scientific fact that animals can have life-changing effects on the mental health of humans.

First let’s talk about mental health

Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues are not things people can “just get over.” It would be nice if the mind was that simple, but it’s not. In fact, there are a variety of factors that play into someone’s mental health, including things like chronic illness, past trauma, and current environments. And while you may have not needed an animal to help you cope with your mental health, even if you deal with something like depression or anxiety, that doesn’t mean an ESA isn’t the key to someone else’s mental wellness.

Dogs are individuals. People are individuals.

How we experience mental health is individualistic – and some people need dogs (or other animals) to help them through that experience.

What do ESAs Do?

Emotional support animals don’t require special training. They don’t perform tasks like guidework, bracing, fetching, alerts, etc… the way that service dogs do. They’re companion animals. If they’re a dog, they dog. If they’re a cat, they cat. If they’re a bird, they bird.

(And yes, any animal can be an ESA.)

What’s different about emotional support animals actually has nothing to do with the animal at all. It has to do with the person who needs the animal.

Contrary to popular belief (and perhaps popular practice), you cannot get a legal certificate for an ESA on the internet. You can only legally have an emotional support animal if your mental health provider determines that you have a debilitating mental illness and that the presence of an animal in your life is an important part of your mental health treatment plan.

Let’s say it louder for the people in the back:


Emotional support animals can be part of a mental health treatment plan.


Mental health is personal, so the way ESAs affect their humans will vary. What’s more, it’s not for us to judge or to even know how someone’s ESA helps them cope with their mental health. That’s between that person and their mental health professional.

What’s the difference between an Emotional Support Animal and a Psychiatric Service Dog?

Psychiatric service dogs (PSD) are trained to perform particular tasks consistently and on cue for people with disabilities. Emotional support animals keep someone calm simply by existing in that person’s life or doing something they would naturally do on their own, like cuddling up to someone who is sad.

Not every dog can be a service dog, but any dog (or animal) can be an ESA. They require no special training. 

What rights do people with ESAs have?

If an ESA is part of your mental health treatment plan:

You have the right to have your dog fly in the cabin with you on an airplane, according to the Air Carrier Access Act.

Your ESA is allowed in housing that is not pet-friendly and you are not required to pay a pet deposit for your ESA.

If your emotional support animal is a dog, your dog is exempt from any state/city/town breed specific legislation. (*Note that this should also apply to airlines under the ACAA, which is why Delta’s policy is discriminatory and illegal.)

Purchasing a certificate online for your dog does not give you legal protection. It does not make your dog (or other animal) an ESA. These sites are scams and you are breaking the law if a licensed mental health professional did not prescribe one for you.

What rights don’t people with ESAs have?

The law doesn’t grant you public access rights when you are with your ESA. This means you cannot take your ESA into a non-pet friendly public space, like a grocery store or any other retail store that doesn’t otherwise allow pets. When you are outside of your home or outside of an airplane, your emotional support animal is just like any other pet in the eyes of the public and the law.

Let’s be clear:

We know that a lot of people are breaking the law and pretending to have a disability so that they can have their pet on a plane or bypass pet deposits in housing. We won’t deny that people are committing disability fraud. 

But another thing we won’t do is contribute to the stigma of mental illness and deny people with disabilities their right to use emotional support animals as part of their mental health treatment.

Let’s support people who seek treatment for their mental health. And let’s also be very clear that when someone lies about their dog being an ESA, they are lying about having a disability and making a mockery out of the very serious issue of mental health.

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Delta Is Discriminating Against People with Disabilities and Their Service Dogs

Delta Is Discriminating Against People with Disabilities and Their Service Dogs

Delta Is Discriminating Against People with Disabilities and Their Service Dogs
June, 2018
Delta announced that it is no longer recognizing what they call “bull type dogs” as service dogs. Make no mistake, this regulation discriminates against people with disabilities who need service dogs. It denies them access to travel and access to living the same lives as everyone else.

This decision doesn’t make any scientific sense either. According to hard science, there is no inherent difference between one dog and another dog. All dogs are individuals. For Delta to single out dogs based on an arbitrary label is a practice based entirely around a fallacy.

It’s also against both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)  and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).

Depending on the situation, laws around service dogs aren’t always governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the case of air travel, these situations defer to the ACAA, although in some cases, like in airports themselves, the ADA still applies. (View a full chart of the how these regulations differ.) Delta’s service animal policy falls under the ACAA, which does give them a bit more freedom to adopt their own policies – but not much.

The ACAA states that all service animals must be permitted except if they:

– Are too large or heavy to be accommodated in the cabin
– Pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others
– Cause a significant disruption of cabin service
– Are prohibited from entering a foreign country

None of these things makes it acceptable for Delta to ban dogs based on an arbitrary label, in this case, “bull type dogs” or “pit bull type dogs” – Delta uses both terms interchangeably.  The airline, which calls these discriminatory policies “enhancements,” states:

The enhancements include introducing a limit of one emotional support animal per customer per flight and no longer accepting pit bull type dogs as service or support animals. These updates, which come as the peak summer travel season is underway, are the direct result of growing safety concerns following recent incidents in which several employees were bitten.”

Delta’s regulations cite “bull type dogs” as the only canines on their list of banned animals. Other animals on this list include, hedgehogs, rodents, snakes, spiders, reptiles, and animals with horns or hooves. Science says that dogs are dogs and there’s no scientific reason anyone should ban an arbitrary group of dogs from anything.

It’s terrible that people were bitten by dogs on a plane. It’s also terrible that many break the law and commit fraud by faking a disability so that they can bring their pet on a plane. These two things are likely connected.

What isn’t connected is what this has to do with “pit bull” dogs or why it should result in the further discrimination of people with service dogs.

And yes, that’s what we’re talking about here. People with disabilities have service dogs of all shapes and sizes who perform all different types of jobs. Because there is no legal definition of what makes a “pit bull” dog, countless people with disabilities will buy their tickets, show up at the gate, and be turned away. Some people have already purchased tickets through Delta and now need to cancel their flight and possibly their entire trip because of discrimination.

While it’s tempting to say “don’t like it, don’t do business with them,” we need to look deeper. Sure, people can fly on another airline, but why can’t they fly Delta? Because Delta is discriminating against them. We aren’t comfortable letting discrimination stand and you shouldn’t be either.

Not only is Delta being discriminatory, they’re also breaking ACAA regulations. As we mentioned, there’s nothing in the regulations that permits the airline to deny “pit bull” dogs (or whatever label someone subjectively wants to assign to them) as service dogs. We’ve contacted Delta and the Department of Transportation for more details so that we can help them develop non-discriminatory solutions, but we have not heard back.

If you have been discriminated against by an airline, you can file a complaint with the Department of Transportation.

The DOT is considering making revisions to the Air Carrier Access Act. They are requesting comments from the public prior to making any changes. You can leave your thoughtful comment on before July 9, 2018.

Below are some bullet points to help you draft your response:

  • The purpose of accessibility policies to make the world accessible to everyone. Policies banning dogs who look a certain way creates a more inaccessible world.
  • Delta’s new policy discriminates against people with disabilities.
  • There is no standard definition of what makes a dog a “pit bull” or a “bull type.” These are arbitrary terms based on subjective visual identification. They have no basis in science. 
  • In fact, science says visual identification of dogs is highly inaccurate.
  • Research shows that looks don’t equal behavior. Genetics are only part of what makes a dog who they are. 
  • All dogs are individuals and we must view them as such.

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Help These Two K9 Heroes Get the Recognition They Deserve

Help These Two K9 Heroes Get the Recognition They Deserve

Help These K9 Heroes Get the Recognition They Deserve


March 2018

Not one, but two of our narcotics detection dogs have been nominated for a Hero Dog Award!

Celebrating heroes on “both ends of the leash,” the Hero Dog Awards is put on by American Humane. The organization will fly seven finalists and their humans to a gala in Hollywood. The ceremony will be broadcast on the Hallmark Channel.

The best part is that American Humane will donate $2,500 to each finalist’s charity partners. The charity partner of the winner of the American Hero Dog Award will receive an additional $5,000.

K9 Kano

K9 Kano works in Stafford, Kansas with Officer Mason Paden. The hero wasn’t on the job long before he sniffed out over $7,500 in illegal marijuana! Because of this bust, the police dog had a meteoric rise to fame and received lots of press for his good work. This press changes people’s perception of dogs labeled “pit bull” and provides a springboard for the conversation that it’s a dog’s individual nature that determines their destiny, not their heritage or history.

His charity partner for the contest is

Vote for Kano


K9 Sheeva

K9 Sheeva is from Harris County Animal Shelter in Texas. Now she has a very important job with the Littleville Police Department in Alabama. She is the first non-specific breed police dog in the state. Her partner, Officer John Cantrell says that Sheeva is “living the American Dream” because she “came from nothing and become something” – and that something is a hero who keeps her community safe.

You can follow K9 Sheeva on Instagram @K9_Sheeva.

Her charity partner is K9s4Cops and her sponsor is the K-9 Courage Program from Zoetis.


Vote for K9 Sheeva

Both K9 Sheeva and K9 Kano are proof that shelter dogs have the potential to do the same work as purebred, purpose-bred dogs. We should never make assumptions about a dog based on their appearance, heritage, or history. We should always look at the dog in front of us and ask “Who are you?”

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Officer Lucky Huff and K9 Wilson Share a Journey of Friendship and Bravery

Officer Lucky Huff and K9 Wilson Share a Journey of Friendship and Bravery

Officer Lucky Huff and K9 Wilson Share a Journey of Friendship and Bravery
February, 2018
When Officer Lucky Huff of the McCurtain Police Department in Oklahoma was on his way to San Antonio, Texas to meet his new partner, he was full of nerves. He thought “Will he like me? What will he act like? What if we don’t bond?” Officer Huff’s potential partner, Wilson, isn’t your normal police officer. He’s a dog.

Like many of the dogs chosen for our detection dog training program, Wilson is high energy. That high energy isn’t ideal for a lot of families, but it’s perfect for police work when it’s paired with the drive and focus of a dog who loves to learn.

When they met, it wasn’t an immediate bond. Some handlers can instantly hang out with their dogs on the couch and make time for belly rubs. Every dog has a different personality and some take a little bit of time to become best friends with their human. Still, Officer Huff told us: 

“When I took the leash, we started a journey that I’m thankful for every single day.”
The pair did bond and he says that he believes their bond is stronger than the one other handlers have with their K9s (though we are sure they would disagree!). He says there’s something special about having to earn one another’s trust. Earning a shelter dog’s trust is a common experience for adopters, so we’re sure many of you can identify with this experience.

Though they didn’t become best friends overnight, they cemented their friendship while they were still in training. Officer Huff told us:

“At the hotel one night I let him out of his crate and he finally laid on the bed with me. He was trusting me. [Now] Wilson knows when he gets home and the collar comes off that means its relax time. He turns into a big baby and wants love from everyone in the house.”
Despite the adjustment period, K9 Wilson never had a problem doing his job. When it came time for his state certification, the K9 found all 28 grams of narcotics!

The pair do have a strong bond, but Officer Huff let us in on a little secret, he might not be K9 Wilson’s one true love:

“My wife Shannon is his true love at home! I give the orders but she gives the lovings.”

(All together now, everyone say, “AWWWWW!”)

When they aren’t busting criminals, Officer Huff and K9 Wilson are supporting police officers in need with the S.O.L.E. Six Foundation, which Huff founded. The organization provides funds to police officers, first responders, and their families should they be injured or worse in the line of duty.

We want to give a huge thank you to Officer Huff for becoming a part of the AFF family and for all of his support of our work. And an even bigger thank you to him and to K9 Wilson for selflessly protecting their community and working to keep it drug-free.

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Veterinary Team Makes Sure All of the Pets in Their Community Have Access to Proper Care

Veterinary Team Makes Sure All of the Pets in Their Community Have Access to Proper Care

We all love our pets. We all want the best for them. Catrina R. Mathewson, of Pro-Bone-O Veterinary Care (an Animal Farm Foundation grantee), says she sees this every day with the people and pets her organization serves.

“Pets are very important to our clients because pets offer security, hope, companionship and a reason for being alive. Some of our clients cite their pets as the reason they remain sober and are seeking safe housing.”