Video

Emotional support animals: has America's 'epidemic' gone too far?

Emotional support animals, or ESAs, have exploded across the US in recent years, with rising numbers of pet owners getting their animals certified online. Unlike in the UK, ESAs have legal status in the US on a tier below traditional service animals, but the backlash has begun – with critics complaining the system is being abused by regular pet owners who want to take their animals into unsuitable public spaces. The Guardian’s Richard Sprenger – animal lover but pet sceptic – meets ESA owners and their animals across North America.
Subscribe to The Guardian on YouTube ► http://is.gd/subscribeguardian

Support the Guardian ► https://support.theguardian.com/contribute

Today in Focus podcast ► https://www.theguardian.com/news/series/todayinfocus

Sign up for the Guardian documentaries newsletter ► https://www.theguardian.com/info/2016/sep/02/sign-up-for-the-guardian-documentaries-update

The Guardian ► https://www.theguardian.com

The Guardian YouTube network:

Guardian News ► http://is.gd/guardianwires
Owen Jones talks ► http://bit.ly/subsowenjones
Guardian Football ► http://is.gd/guardianfootball
Guardian Sport ► http://bit.ly/GDNsport
Guardian Culture ► http://is.gd/guardianculture <br> <h3>Auto Generated Captions</h3>

Right, should I shut this before
he tries to get out?
Emotional support animals, known as ESAs,
have exploded across America in recent years.
With controversy never far away.
Dexter the peacock, an emotional support animal, had a ticket but United wouldn’t get him on board.
Every time a peacock appears in an airport
or a hamster gets flushed down the toilet,
the row around their use ignites again.
I’m not going to let them take my goat.
ESAs are protected by law but critics
argue the system is being exploited by pet owners
without genuine mental health problems.
That’s just a bit of velcro, right?
Now with airlines and stores across the US drawing up their own rules around animal access,
has the rise of the emotional
support animal gone too far?
So Wally is going to be this long.
Or are the more exotic animals sensationalising
and diluting a growing
solution to mental health conditions?
The real epidemic is the mental health
problem in America.
Joe Henney’s ESA is one such animal.
Hello Joe.
How you doing?
A four-year-old American
alligator rescued from Disney World in 2016,
months after a bigger gator had attacked
and killed a two-year-old boy.
That’s about his meal size.
When was the last time he ate?
About three months ago.
Three months?
Well, he’s eaten once in three months.
What did he eat? A cow?
No, he just ate two chicks.
Well, you’ll never gonna grow to be 15ft
without a better appetite.
I really thought I would be more nervous
but because he’s so calm…
That’s how we started tv shows back then.
Joe is no stranger to the camera, having presented his own hunting and fishing show 20 years ago on local TV.
I would not recognise you.
Back then, it was all about me.
I was always into animals,
I loved hunting, I loved fishing.
I wasn’t an emotional person back then,
I was a very selfish,
‘all for me’ type of a person.
I never thought I’d ever go to heaven…
You know, it didn’t take much
to push me off the edge to fight.
We were walking down the street and I said:
‘I’m gonna knock out ten people with ten shots.’
the third or fourth person out
came through
and I reached up and I hit him…
when I hit him, I knew the sound was different
because I broke his neck.
He lived but he is now today even a paraplegic
What I did … I destroyed
his life, I destroyed him.
Just because I was cocky.
And I went into a real bad depression.
I went to the doctor about it and they wanted to give me
antidepressant pills and when I took one pill
and I hated how it made me feel.
So I didn’t take more, I called them and said,
‘I am not taking this pill’.
Stroking him is kind of addictive.
While he is a little more exceptional
than most gators, he’s really super laid back,
but I guess because the way we’ve
handled him, he knows when somebody needs a hug.
Buddy you are cold, ain’t you?
When I went to the doctors, they said,
How are you getting on with depression?
Wally the gator.
They said, ‘are you serious?
OK, that’s better than any pill that I can give you.’
Why don’t you get Wally registered
as a support alligator?
I said, are you nuts?
An alligator? How’s going to register
Wally as an alligator?
‘Hey, didn’t he help you through depression?’
Yeah.
‘Well, that’s emotional support.’
He loves being petted,
he loves giving hugs.
Because he’s a wild animal, it only takes
one moment where he is misbehaving
and something really potentially quite
serious could happen.
He literally could tear a foot off me.
Yeah.
People have been
bitten by service dogs.
Yeah.
Service dogs!
Very well-trained!
Most ESAs are neither as unusual
or as placid as Wally
and their presence on university campuses
has been at the frontline of the debate,
with critics arguing they are nothing
more than a crutch for young people
at a time when they should be outside
their comfort zone.
Hello!
Hi!
When I registered my emotional support animals,
they said I was their first guinea pig,
so I was kind of their
trial for guinea pigs…
You were the guinea pig guinea pig.
Do you worry at all that, because
your guinea pigs are at home
that you are not pushing
yourself outside of your house enough,
to battle against the anxiety issues you have?
I have so much schoolwork
that I am a lot of the times in here,
but what I do is, the people that I know,
I offer: ‘Hey, why don’t you come over,
we can work on school work together’.
It can also help them because I do have
another friend who has anxiety
and she loves the guinea pigs.
Is it working?
I definitely think so, absolutely.
If I am having a really bad day, I’ll just hold
her and her squeaks just make me smile,
like things like this, it just calms you down.
Hi. How’s it going?
Oh, there we go.
It was inevitable really, wasn’t it?
Thank you, yeah.
I’ve just been urinated upon
by a guinea pig…
Oh, that’s fun!
Would Corvo like that?
Will he be upset?
OK, hi Corvo.
Are you aware of the sort of controversies
around emotional support animals?
There’s a lot of people that will fake
paperwork
in order to have an animal with them because
there’s a lot of apartments around here
that don’t allow any form of animals.
I am going to need you to move, sweetie.
Oh my goodness!
Yeah…
Oh Corvo!
Me managed to find the corner.
Problems like this are exactly the reason
why a lot of housing doesn’t allow animals in it.
Yeah, most universities don’t want to risk it either.
Damage like this seems a small
price to pay for your mental wellbeing.
Yeah, it’s … I am more than willing to cover that
at the end of the semester,
it was honestly a mistake.
Naughty Corvo.
Despite the potential for animal-related accidents,
a recently opened pet-friendly dorm means even non-ESA animals have a place on the Lock Haven campus.
We have three hamsters, one cat
and five rabbits.
Wow, OK.
If you asked me 10 years ago,
I would have been absolutely, ‘there’s no way!’
Everybody’s vying for the same group of
students to get into higher education.
Anything you can do to make your college
attractive to students is going to work.
Right, yeah.
Do you know, I’ve not handled
a hamster for a number of years…
Has anybody dropped her?
What’s the greatest height she’s fallen from?
As of right now, she hasn’t really fallen yet.
OK, right, so the pressure is on for it not to happen.
I wanted to get an emotional
support animal but then we got this pet policy.
It’s basically the same thing,
it’s just less of an inconvenience to get it all sorted
with the disability
services and all that stuff.
Do you feel that a pet can be as good as a drug in
treating mental health problems?
I think so. I mean, with me having these animals,
it makes me think about taking care of them,
and I can’t take care of them if
I can’t take care of myself,
so this is a more natural way of having
those happy hormones around.
It’s not just in the US where ESAs are triggering debate.
We’ve had newlyweds in here spending their night…
Wow!
In this one here.
OK, I might not have this room.
Is it haunted?
Absolutely, yeah.
In Canada, Toronto native Bill Steel ran into trouble when he relocated to a former jail in New Brunswick
which he now runs as an Airbnb.
I mean, they say prison’s
a bit like a hotel but this one isn’t, is it?
Yeah.
Although it is!
It is.
Princess!
This is Mama.
This is Deputy, Deputy goat,
and this is Princess.
Hey Princess!
Hey Princess!
Why goats?
It was always my dream,
with my son, to have goats and I got the goats.
There is a need for them, which is to deal
with my depression.
Part of that is obviously losing my son.
He’s with me all the time, yeah.
I had to make funeral arrangements
three or four times for my son…
Before he died?
…they said,
‘we don’t know if he’s going to make it to the next day,
you have to talk to him about
where he wants to be buried.’
Where do you want to be buried, Billy?
You want to be buried here,
you want to be buried there?
Do you want to be cremated?
Do you want to be … whatever.
No parent should ever have to do that.
I feel I died the day my son died.
Does that thing work?
You know, when people ask that,
they get an automatic drive in it, that’s my rule.
Bill took me on a tour of
Dorchester, the village he now calls home
but with which he has an ongoing legal dispute.
They say his goats are farm animals
and as such, are banned from the village.
I’ve had a lot of support in the
community for the goats,
I haven’t had anybody that lives
here ever say anything bad about them.
Really, nobody?
Nobody, nobody ever.
That’s the municipal office right there.
So the problem is stemming from that office there?
Right there.
Which is very close to your property.
It’s right in my parking lot.
Have you read these documents?
I agree with most of these documents.
Basically, it says,
he’s got three goats.
This was served to me in person
by a sheriff.
Oh, right.
Is this piece of paper all you feel you
need to win the court case?
Yes.
It says: Mr. Steele has been suffering from
resistant major depression for the past two years,
his goats have been beneficial
to his mental health and I recommend
that he keeps them as emotional support animals.
And that’s signed by your physician.
My physician, yeah.
I am not giving up my goats.
And I think the doctors
and the people in society are saying,
hey, if it helps him, why not?
same with cannabis and stuff like that, does it help?
I don’t know but a lot of
people say they are better,
that’s good enough for me.
That’s good enough for me.
Much of the anger around the explosion
of ESAs has been directed online,
where multiple companies have sprung up
offering certification
that critics suggest is nothing more than a
money-making scam.
I travelled to Wisconsin to meet Prairie Conlan.
He’s good for an emotional support dog.
Clinical manager for one such company,
CertaPet.
So I am going to go through the process of registering my mythical emotional support animal,
So you can definitely see what it looks like.
Straight away you have to give your
payment information…
Just like when services are rendered,
when you go to the therapist office or the doctor,
you pay right when you start.
If I am trying to get my pet certified,
it’s quite easy to know which type of answer will get
the response you’re after.
Absolutely.
You’re going to have people trying to game the system,
they try to game every system.
How many pets has CertaPet certified?
We average about 1.2 million users per month,
less than half a percent of that
actually get an emotional support animal letter.
There is no doubt that emotional support
animals have exploded in recent years,
some have labelled it an epidemic.
Are there people making money from it?
Is there something uncomfortable
about the two things there?
Well, for sure.
Not only is it horrible for the clients
that actually need it,
it’s horrible for me when I’ve been threatened
‘we’re going to get your license,
you’re a terrible person’, I mean … terrible things.
And I’ve thought, do I want
to continue to do this?
And the thing is, every single time the
answer for me has come back yes.
Prarie took me up to meet her horse, True,
at a stables nearby.
Look horses scan you,
they see what you really have
and they’re reading you
because you know we have different energies.
Don’t stand behind a horse,
I know that much.
Can you tell me why mental health
is so important to you?
I’ve always had an advocate’s heart,
I like to stand up for people that are different.
You know, being an adopted kid
in a small town
and then siblings of different races
that were adopted.
We were always different.
For me, I always
felt like I could stand up for myself.
People that have mental disabilities, anxiety, depression, they can’t stand up for themselves a lot of times.
We don’t need to cheat them out of an experience
just by quickly getting them in and out
of an office and adding to the opioid addiction.
Something as ‘silly’ as being able to sit with
your dog and take your dog on a plane.
I see it change lives
everyday. That’s a pretty amazing feeling so…
There may be limited scientific
evidence that animal-assisted therapy actually works.
But the anecdotal
evidence is firmly in their favour.
He was only that long when we got him.
I want our kids to see me hold that alligator.
With the stigma around mental health
finally being confronted and emotional support animals
offering many people a
genuine alternative to medication,
a compromise needs to be struck between
the rights of the individual,
those of society as a whole
and the animals themselves.
Oh my gosh.
Oh, he’s just so adorable.
We need something like this to give us
attention and that was huge to me.
He puts a smile on your face, doesn’t he?
Yes, he does.

About the author

CM

69 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • Neat blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere?
    A theme like yours with a few simple tweeks would really make my
    blog shine. Please let me know where you got your design. Kudos

  • you are truly a good webmaster. The site loading pace is incredible.
    It sort of feels that you’re doing any distinctive trick.
    Furthermore, The contents are masterpiece. you’ve performed a
    excellent task in this matter!

  • I think that everything typed was very reasonable.

    However, consider this, suppose you were to create a killer headline?
    I mean, I don’t wish to tell you how to run your website, but suppose you added a title that makes people want more?

    I mean Emotional support animals: has America's 'epidemic' gone too far?

    | Pop World News is kinda plain. You ought to look at Yahoo’s home page and see how they create article headlines to get viewers
    to click. You might try adding a video or a pic or two to get
    people excited about what you’ve got to say. In my opinion,
    it could make your posts a little livelier.

  • Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wished to say that I’ve
    truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts. After all
    I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again very soon!

  • Hi there, just became aware of your blog through Google,
    and found that it’s truly informative. I am gonna watch out
    for brussels. I will appreciate if you continue this in future.
    Lots of people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

  • My brother suggested I might like this web site.
    He was entirely right. This post truly made my day.
    You cann’t imagine just how much time I had spent
    for this info! Thanks!

  • Usually I do not read article on blogs, but I would like
    to say that this write-up very pressured me to take
    a look at and do so! Your writing taste has been amazed me.
    Thank you, quite nice article.

  • It is really a great and helpful piece of information. I am
    glad that you just shared this helpful information with us.
    Please stay us up to date like this. Thank you for sharing.

  • Admiring the commitment you put into your site and in depth
    information you present. It’s good to come across a blog every
    once in a while that isn’t the same out of date rehashed information. Fantastic
    read! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds
    to my Google account.

  • I have been browsing online more than 2 hours
    today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours.
    It is pretty worth enough for me. Personally,
    if all web owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the web will be a lot more
    useful than ever before.

  • I do not know whether it’s just me or if perhaps
    everyone else experiencing issues with your blog. It looks like some of the written text on your content are running off the screen. Can someone else please comment and
    let me know if this is happening to them as well? This might be a
    problem with my web browser because I’ve had this happen before.
    Many thanks

  • This is really fascinating, You’re a very professional blogger.
    I’ve joined your feed and look ahead to in the hunt for more of
    your magnificent post. Also, I have shared your website
    in my social networks

  • Simply wish to say your article is as astonishing. The clearness on your submit
    is just cool and that i could assume you’re an expert in this subject.
    Fine with your permission let me to clutch your feed to keep up to date with forthcoming post.
    Thank you a million and please carry on the gratifying work.

  • Please let me know if you’re looking for a article writer for your site.
    You have some really good posts and I think I would be a
    good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d really like to write some articles for your blog in exchange for a link back to mine.
    Please blast me an email if interested. Many thanks!

  • Have you ever thought about publishing an ebook or guest authoring on other blogs?
    I have a blog centered on the same subjects you discuss and
    would love to have you share some stories/information.
    I know my audience would enjoy your work. If you are even remotely interested, feel free to send
    me an email.

  • Hi there very nice website!! Man .. Excellent .. Amazing ..

    I will bookmark your site and take the feeds additionally?
    I am happy to search out numerous useful information right here in the put up,
    we need work out extra strategies on this regard, thank you for sharing.
    . . . . .

  • Thanks , I have recently been looking for info about this subject for a while and yours is
    the best I’ve came upon till now. However, what concerning the bottom line?
    Are you positive in regards to the supply?

  • I’m now not positive where you’re getting your info, however good
    topic. I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more.
    Thank you for magnificent information I was in search of this
    info for my mission.

  • Hello There. I discovered your weblog the use of msn. That is a very smartly written article.

    I’ll be sure to bookmark it and come back
    to read more of your helpful information. Thank you
    for the post. I will definitely comeback.

  • Oh my goodness! Awesome article dude! Thank you, However I am going through troubles with your RSS.

    I don’t know why I can’t join it. Is there anybody else getting similar
    RSS problems? Anyone who knows the answer can you kindly respond?
    Thanx!!

  • Wonderful beat ! I wish to apprentice while you amend your site, how could i
    subscribe for a blog web site? The account aided me
    a acceptable deal. I had been a little bit acquainted of this
    your broadcast provided bright clear idea

  • I blog quite often and I really thank you for your
    information. The article has truly peaked my interest.
    I will book mark your blog and keep checking for new information about once a
    week. I subscribed to your Feed too.

  • Fantastic beat ! I would like to apprentice while you amend your web site,
    how could i subscribe for a blog website?
    The account aided me a acceptable deal. I had been tiny bit acquainted of this your broadcast offered bright clear concept

  • Have you ever considered creating an ebook or guest authoring on other blogs?

    I have a blog centered on the same ideas you discuss
    and would really like to have you share some stories/information. I know my readers would value your work.
    If you are even remotely interested, feel free to send me an e mail.

  • My brother recommended I might like this website. He was entirely right.
    This post actually made my day. You can not imagine simply how much time I had spent for this
    information! Thanks!

  • Hello I am so excited I found your blog page, I really
    found you by error, while I was searching on Askjeeve for something else, Regardless I
    am here now and would just like to say thanks a lot for a remarkable post and
    a all round interesting blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to go through it
    all at the moment but I have saved it and also included your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will
    be back to read a great deal more, Please do keep up the fantastic job.

  • I have been exploring for a little for any high-quality articles or blog posts on this
    sort of area . Exploring in Yahoo I finally stumbled upon this
    website. Reading this information So i am happy to express that I have a very just
    right uncanny feeling I found out exactly what I needed.
    I most without a doubt will make sure to do not forget this
    web site and give it a look regularly.

  • Just want to say your article is as astounding.
    The clearness on your publish is simply great and i
    could assume you are knowledgeable in this subject.
    Well with your permission let me to grab your feed to
    keep updated with drawing close post. Thanks one million and
    please continue the rewarding work.

  • Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you
    relied on the video to make your point. You obviously know what youre talking about,
    why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your site when you could be giving us something informative to
    read?

  • I really love your website.. Very nice colors & theme. Did you build this site yourself?

    Please reply back as I’m attempting to create my very own website
    and would like to know where you got this from or what the theme is called.

    Many thanks!

  • Admiring the time and energy you put into your blog and in depth information you present.
    It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same unwanted rehashed material.
    Excellent read! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m including your
    RSS feeds to my Google account.

  • Greetings! I’ve been reading your weblog for a long time now and
    finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Atascocita Tx!

    Just wanted to mention keep up the excellent work!

  • Hi there! I simply wish to offer you a huge thumbs up for the
    excellent info you’ve got here on this post. I’ll be coming back to your
    blog for more soon.

  • I was wondering if you ever considered changing the
    layout of your site? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.
    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or 2 images.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

  • Howdy! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering if you
    knew where I could get a captcha plugin for my comment form?
    I’m using the same blog platform as yours and
    I’m having problems finding one? Thanks a lot!

  • Hey there! Someone in my Facebook group shared this
    site with us so I came to check it out. I’m definitely loving the information. I’m bookmarking and will be tweeting this to my followers!
    Great blog and outstanding design.

  • I believe everything composed made a bunch of sense. However, what
    about this? suppose you composed a catchier post title?
    I am not suggesting your information is not good, however what if you
    added something to maybe get a person’s attention? I mean Emotional
    support animals: has America's 'epidemic' gone
    too far? | Pop World News is a little plain. You might
    glance at Yahoo’s home page and watch how they
    create news headlines to get people interested.
    You might add a related video or a related pic or two to grab people interested about
    everything’ve got to say. In my opinion, it might make your posts a little livelier.

  • This is very attention-grabbing, You are an overly professional blogger.
    I have joined your rss feed and look forward to looking for more of your excellent post.
    Also, I have shared your web site in my social networks

  • excellent submit, very informative. I ponder why the other specialists of this sector don’t notice this.
    You must continue your writing. I’m confident, you’ve a huge readers’ base already!

  • Having read this I thought it was extremely informative.
    I appreciate you spending some time and effort to put this informative article together.
    I once again find myself personally spending a significant amount
    of time both reading and leaving comments.
    But so what, it was still worth it!

  • I like the valuable info you provide in your articles.
    I’ll bookmark your weblog and check again here frequently.
    I am quite certain I will learn plenty of new stuff right here!
    Best of luck for the next!

Topics

  • Sign up
Lost your password? Please enter your username or email address. You will receive a link to create a new password via email.