In the past few years, a saying has been going around –attributed sometimes to Plato– to the effect of: “Everyone you see is going through their own struggle, so be kind”. However, some people’s struggle seems to be with a sense of entitlement, and the idea that rules put in place for public health and safety shouldn’t apply to them.
It’s Friday night and you’re at a nice restaurant. It’s been a long week, and while you’re not thrilled that you’re about to blow several hundred dollars on food and drinks, you know it’ll make your date happy, which is good because you have a very important question to ask. Everything’s going well: there’s a guy playing soft music on a piano, the candles are flickering, and you’re even enjoying the overpriced wine your date picked out. Their eyes are twinkling; this is your moment.
You draw in an anxious breath and… *BARK*. *BARK BARK YIP YIP BARK*
Two tables over, a woman dining alone seems to have pulled a dog from her purse and is letting it eat off her plate as it sits in her lap. It growls at the passing servers and tries to get down. She struggles to keep control of it, and all conversations seem to have stopped while people stare at the scene unfolding. You try to make eye contact with your server, any server, the damn piano player, but you know the moment is lost as your date exclaims… “why the hell is there a dog in this restaurant?”.
In the last decade the use of Service Animals has dramatically increased, partly due to the military’s adoption of the practice to assist returning soldiers with both traumatic stress disorders and physical injury. These animals are highly trained, and recognized by government agencies as “performing tasks specific to the person’s disability”. Consequently, they are allowed access to places animals are not normally allowed: restaurants, grocery stores, job sites, and health care facilities. They’re also, by law, exempt from housing restrictions in buildings where landlords wish to provide more quiet communities for their residents or don’t want to deal with the hassle of replacing carpets all the way down to the floorboards to get rid of the smell of urine and feces.
They are exempt from these restrictions specifically because of their training.
“Emotional Support Animals” do not have any of this training, but their owners are able to take advantage of the exact same exemptions, bypassing health and safety regulations. In fact, here’s the entire process of obtaining an “Emotional Support Animal”:
- Have an animal
- Fill out a form online.
We’re not kidding. Here’s an example of one of the more established registration schemes for ESAs. In some cases, people don’t even need to go this far, you can just buy a vest or a tag or a patch right off Amazon and immediately start taking your varmint with you to drool into the buckets of banana chips at Whole Foods. You don’t even need to housebreak your “support animal”, let alone get a physician’s diagnosis that you need one in the first place.
And the truth is, some of the people taking advantage of this loophole may have legitimate mental health needs. It’s just that narcissism, the kind that tells you what you want is more important than the good of everyone around you, isn’t the kind of mental health issue that requires a pet, as much as it does a healthy dose of shame for being an entitled jackass.
Post Script: As I was in the middle of writing this, we ducked out to have breakfast at a local Cracker Barrel. Guess what the hostess sat at the table next to us: an individual with a vested dog whose nervous gaze darted around the noisy, crowded restaurant. He cowered under the table for the entire time we were there. And while this dog’s vest seemed to indicate that it was an actually trained Service Animal, its behavior implied it needed an Emotional Support Human.