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November 16, 2013- The NY Times reports, “Classifying animals as emotional support animals has long been permitted under antidiscrimination laws, allowing owners to take them into restaurants and shops or to residential buildings that have no-pet policies. To demonstrate the need for an emotional support animal, the animal’s owner needs a letter from a mental health professional.
But their presence on airplanes is increasingly facing a backlash from flight attendants, passengers with allergies and owners of service animals, like Seeing Eye dogs, who say that airplane cabins have become crowded with uncaged animals who have no business being there. The Department of Transportation does not require airlines to keep data on emotional support animals. One that does, JetBlue expects more than 20,000 emotional support and service animals this year.
“It’s becoming a big problem,” said Marcie Davis, founder of International Assistance Dog Week. “I’ve seen people bring on pets and try to pass them off as an emotional support or service dog. It’s not appropriate and it’s not safe.”
To serve the needs of the animals and their owners, a cottage industry of websites and doctors advertising documents that certify emotional support animals has emerged.
Carla Black, a psychotherapist in Marina del Rey, Calif., began receiving enough requests for emotional support animal certification that this year she began advertising on her website. For $99, she provides an hour of her time, over the phone or Skype, and a clinical assessment, along with a prescription letter, which is valid for one year.
Ms. Black said in a telephone interview that before she issues a letter she ensures the client is eligible under criteria set by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. “I make sure they qualify for depression or whatever, P.T.S.D.,” she said, referring to post-traumatic stress disorder.”