Karl the Curmudgeon Hates Emotional Support Animals

"Hey Kid, what are your thoughts on support animals?" asked my friend, Karl.

What, like Seeing Eye Dogs and service animals that help people with epilepsy?

We were sitting in Klompen, our favorite Dutch-themed bar to watch the Holland Series of the Honkbal Hoofdklasse, which is The Netherlands professional baseball league. CuraƧao Neptunus was leading the Amsterdam Pirates 4 – 0 in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the series. Neither of us cared that much about the game; we just liked saying "honk ball."

"Not specifically service animals. I mean emotional support animals."

I guess I don't see anything wrong with them. I mean, they can be helpful to people with PTSD or severe anxiety.

"Did you hear about that woman in Florida who was kicked off a Frontier Airlines flight to Cleveland because she brought an emotional support squirrel onboard?"

They were still on the ground, right? I said with a smile.

"Don't be that way," Karl scolded. "I'm being serious."

Okay, okay, I'm sorry. I waved down Nicolaas the bartender. Two De Leckere Tripels, Nicky, I said. He poured our beers and I took a drink. So why do you hate squirrels?

Karl rolled his eyes. "I don't hate squirrels. I'm complaining about people who have fake emotional support animals."

And you think her emotional support squirrel was a fake?

"Of course it was! Squirrels are terrible support animals. They're skittish and destructive and agitated all the time. What do you think 'squirrelly' means? There's no way that woman kept that squirrel for anything more than a pet."

Maybe she needed emotional support because she was flying to Cleveland.

A miniature horse guiding its partner through the airport.
Karl ignored me. "Earlier this year, a woman tried to take an emotional support peacock on a United Airlines flight and another woman tried to take an emotional support hamster on a Spirit Airlines flight."

I still don't see the problem.

"Because they're frauds!" Karl nearly shouted. Nicolaas put a finger to his lips and asked Karl to keep it down.

He lowered his voice: "Most ESAs aren't real service animals. They're carted around by self-entitled people who think the rules don't apply to them. But they know it's wrong, so they buy fake vests and documents and lie to everyone because they can't bear to be separated from their pets for a little while."

I could tell Karl was getting worked up, and I wasn't sure which I was enjoying more, watching the game or that little vein throb in his forehead.

"I mean, people bring their tiny dogs into coffee shops wearing those stupid fake vests all the time, and it's infuriating."

Maybe they're real service animals, I said.

"Real service animals are trained to actually be helpful and useful, not tiny nuisance balls. There are schools, like Seeing Eye and Leader Dogs For The Blind, that train dogs to help their humans. There are services that train animals for people who are deaf or are in wheelchairs. Those animals go through more than a year of training and screenings to become real working animals. But these fake ESAs are ruining it for people with a legitimate need."

How can you even tell? I asked. Karl took a big swig of his beer.

"For one thing, real service dogs don't bark at other dogs. They don't hop around or beg for food from their human. They stay by their person's side and sit down at their feet when their person sits down. These fake animals are about as well-behaved as a spoiled three-year-old at a restaurant.

"But the really galling thing is that some people make up some bogus reason so they don't have to be without their yappy little beasts for a few hours."

Still, there are real ESAs, aren't there? You make it sound like they're all fake.

Karl plonked his mug on the bar. He said, "If you say #NotAllAnimals, I'm leaving."

I suppose not. But surely there are some ESAs that are an actual benefit.

"Yes, but only for people who have been certified as emotionally disabled by a licensed medical or mental health professional. So, a former soldier with PTSD or someone who has regular panic attacks should legitimately have an ESA. Not these people who give their doctor a wink and a nudge to declare their chihuahua as an ESA. And lying about it to flight attendants and restaurant managers doesn't make it true either. Those people are just spoiled and entitled, not emotionally disabled!"

It sounds like you're pretty adamant about this, I said. This must really make you angry.

"It makes my blood boil, Kid."

Would you like to hold a puppy?

"Don't be such an a—OH MY GOD, HE'S SO CUTE!"

Photo credit: DanDeeShots (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

The 3rd edition of Branding Yourself is now available on Amazon.com and in your local Barnes & Noble bookstore.