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Regulating Emotional Support Animals

United Airlines claims they experienced a 75 percent year-to-year increase in the number of customers bringing emotional support animals on flights.

Noon Edition airs Fridays at 12 p.m. EST on WFIU.

Airlines are cracking down on emotional support animals after a passenger attempted to bring a peacock onto a United Airlines flight.

United officials say they’ve experienced a 75 percent year-to-year increase of customers bringing ESA’s on flights. United and Delta have now placed new requirements and restrictions on the kinds of animals that can be brought onto their planes.

Indiana Senate Bill 240 is also looking to address emotional support animals in housing by permitting landlords to require written proof from a licensed health professional if a person does not have an apparent disability.

This week on Noon Edition, our panelists discussed the regulation of emotional support animals.


Tia Arthur: Courthouse Facility Dog Handler for Monroe County CASA, Bloomington, IN

Jessica Hurt: House Manager at Stone Belt, Bloomington, IN

Sally Irvin: Program Director at Indiana Canine Assistance Network, Indianapolis, IN

Benjamin Wolter: Certified Dog Trainer at BloomingPaws, Bloomington, IN

Conversation – Regulating Emotional Support Animals:

There is a lot of confusion surrounding emotional support animals and how they differ from other types of animals that provide a service.

Tia Arthur is the dog handler for the Monroe County CASA Courthouse Facility Dog Program. Her facility dog, Jordy, is meant to provide comfort to children undergoing sometimes stressful legal procedures. Arthur says she is often met with confusion over the type of dog she has.

“People don’t understand the difference between an emotional support animal and a service dog. I have a facility dog, and he is not a service dog, he’s not an emotional support animal, and people want to call him a therapy dog, too, and he’s not that either,” Arthur says.

Emotional support animals can be any companion animal that provides a benefit to its owner with a disability and they do not need specific training. A service animal provides a specific service to it’s owner with a disability. They are usually trained for the specific task, but it is not required. A facility dog and therapy are similar in that they provide a service to other people. However, therapy dogs must be leashed at all times, whereas facility dogs can be unleashed.

Indiana Canine Assistance Network Program Director Sally Irvin says much of the anger or confusion surrounding fake emotional support animals is misdirected. She says the real issue comes from people misrepresenting a disability.

The dog comes second. The person with the disability or disabling condition comes first,” Irvin says. “If all dogs were incredibly well behave, there would be no problem.”

There are no strict limits to what kind of animal can qualify as an ESA. BloomingPaws Dog Trainer Benjamin Wolter says this is primarily because it can depend on a person’s disability. Wolter made an example of having a peacock as an ESA.

“With a disability, it’s a hard to explain. Maybe the person has something where the feathers are providing some kind of comfort,” Wolter says. “If we’re going to start picking down what can be an ESA’s and what can’t, I don’t see how we can really explain that when it comes to a disability.”

There are also no guidelines that say an ESA must be trained. Jessica Hurt is a house manager at Stone Belt in Bloomington. She has two emotional support animals, and she brought in her emotional support dog, Daisy, into the studio. Hurt says training for an ESA must be specific to its owner’s needs.

“Having a generalized training as far as behaviors in public and stuff, that’s great,” Hurt says. “But I think for ESA’s, they need to provide some type of service for their behavior for their handler, so their training will vary.”

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