Do emotional support animals qualify as service animals?

A TSA committee will try to negotiate a compromise between airlines and advocates to limit the definition of comfort animals.

- The TSA is considering changing who gets to bring their pet on the plane. A U.S. Department of Transportation committee meets this week to determine whether emotional support animals qualify as service animals.

There have been recent incidents where people have brought pigs, cats, miniture ponies and reportedly even a turkey on planes as emotional support animals.

For the last decade, psychotherapist Dr. Carla Mannino and her dog Collette have prescribed emotional support animals to patients who need them. After a 16-page intake form and multiple sessions, Dr. Mannino offers those needing ESAs a guidebook to proving their animal's credentials.

"An emotional support animal is not a pet.  It's for someone who has a mental health disability," Dr. Mannino says.

But some websites boast they'll provide a similar letter granting their pet access to restaurants, shops, and airplanes after a three-minute screening process.

But people like Mary Keyes, who has M.S., think ESAs make things more difficult for legitimate service dogs. For the last seven years, her service dog Yaeger has picked things up, put them down, pulled her laundry basket, and alerted help if she falls. It took five months of doctor's notes, tests, and applications followed by a two-year waiting list and two weeks of service-dog school before Mary could bring Yaeger home. The two fly together every year. Mary says they can recognize service-animal pretenders.

"They don't interact with we so I can kind of tell they're guilty," Keyes says.

The DOT committee hopes to determine whether ESAs qualify as service animals by the end of the week. The panel will attempt to negotiate a compromise between airlines and advocates to limit the definition of comfort animals.

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