Patricia Marx on Emotional Support Animals

Patricia Marx has been at it again!  I loved her piece on “outsourcing” yourself last year, and now she has investigated “Emotional Support Animals”, which seems to be a scam exploiting the laws supporting legitimate service animals.

This is a critical point:  animals who provide critical services for humans are rightly given legal access to public places. They are also trained and certified. “Emotional Support Animals” do not have most of those rights, and are certified only by companies selling certifications.

As is her style, she dug in with either old fashioned investigative reporting or maybe enthnographic participant observation. Or possibly performance art.  If there is any difference between these things.

She reports how simple it is to get a letter (you just buy one) and a certificate (you just buy one).  Are we getting the picture?

She explains that most merchants and facilities are very careful not to harass people with disabilities about their animals, which can lead to serious fines.  So, when presented with a letter saying an animal is needed for emotional support, most will let it go rather than risk violating the ADA (which basically doesn’t apply).

All this is edifying, but, of course, no where near enough for Ms. Marx.

She had to try it out in Manhattan. With her support snake. Turtle.  Turkey!  Alpaca.  Pig.  The Turkey rode a bus to lunch in a restaurant. The Alpaca was let on a train and a museum.The Pig flew to and from Boston.

The author takes an alpaca to the drugstore. There’s a lot of confusion about what emotional-support animals can legally do.

In general, the animals were not happy, and this wasn’t really good for them.

Plus, it was an abuse of an important law and service that really helps people. And fake, untrained “support” animals give people poor expectations about wonderful real assistants.

So, it’s not really a harmless scam, is it?

But the article is also awfully funny.

As it happens, I had a dream recently about having a support animal–an assistive Grizzly Bear.  It would certainly give me emotional support, cause nobody would mess with me while I have my bear with me!


Patricia Marx, Pets Allowed: Why are so many animals now in places where they shouldn’t be?, in The New Yorker. 2014, Conde Nast: New York. p. 36-41.

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