Confession: "Emotional Support" Dogs are B.S. - I Know Because I Have One

Plenty of people dream of bucking the system (or do it) when it comes to airlines’ frustrating rules and annoying fees. Yahoo Travel got one frequent flyer to fess up. The writer remains anonymous so the airlines don’t catch on.


This is not Delilah, but she’s just as cute! (Thinkstock)

What’s the newest travel accessory? An emotional support animal. (Did you hear about the woman who tried to take her support pig on the plane?) It seems a little suspect, and I’m here to tell you that it can be: Because it’s also the cheapest, safest way to travel with your small dog or pet. Just get a letter from a doctor stating your pup is for emotional support – even if it’s not. I should know. I did it.

Related: Rebuttal: Don’t Judge Me — My Emotional Support Dog is Not a Scam

When I first got Delilah, a Maltese, in Park City, Utah, she was only 6 weeks old. In order to bring her back to Portland, Ore., I had to buy her an airline-approved, soft-sided travel crate. She didn’t make a peep on the hour-and-a-half flight back to Portland. Of course, my family in California wanted to see her, so a few weeks later we were San Diego-bound. The passengers in the seat next to me continued to aah when they noticed a cute white pup sleeping peacefully under the seat.

A month later, Delilah and I flew home for Christmas. After all, she was like my baby, so she would regularly make these jaunts with me. But already, after three months of having her, she was becoming costly. I had paid $625 in airline fees ($125 each way for an in-cabin pet) even before she was half a year old. Also, because she counts as a carry-on bag (free on most airlines yet a dog somehow must be charged), I had to now always check my suitcase — which I never do — another $125 racked up at $25 per flight. Every time I brought Delilah home, it cost me an additional $300 per visit, which was practically the price of a second airline ticket. The airline might as well just give me an extra seat.

Related: Of Course! Pig Asked to Leave Plane for Being Disruptive

Then my parents had a brilliant idea: Get a doctor’s note saying she is a service animal so no airline fees would apply. “Everyone is doing it,” said my mother.


See — everyone’s doing it. (Thinkstock)

I didn’t get the service note, but a week later I walked out of the doctor’s office with an official letter confirming that Delilah is an “emotional support” animal. The difference is that an ESA accompanies an individual with emotional or psychological disabilities, where a service animal is any animal trained to provide assistance to a person with a disability. Both conditions guarantee a free ride for traveling pets, and well, emotional disabilities are much easier to fake than physical ones. Yes, my official ESA certificate is fake, and I’m a faker.

It may be wrong, but I’m saving thousands on airfare. And personally, I just see it as fighting the airlines for more excessive fees – who doesn’t do that?

Related: Hotels and Travel Companies are Jumping Through Hoops to Please Your Pet

I’ve seen faux honeymooners get upgraded to business class; I’ve witnessed passengers sneak several pieces of luggage onto a plane to avoid fees, and I’ve seen people flirt with the flight attendants for free drinks. And besides, who, other than the doctor, can prove I don’t have emotional disabilities? (As a matter of fact, I am still reeling from a bad breakup). And no one’s getting hurt.


Almost everyone loves it when there’s a cute dog on the plane. (Thinkstock)

As it turns out, with my doctor’s note, Delilah can also sit on my lap during the flight. She doesn’t have to stay restricted to her crate under the seat. I make a point to ask my neighboring passengers if they are allergic (though Delilah is hypoallergenic), and I haven’t had one single passenger complain. In fact, Delilah brings passengers abundant joy. They pet her, ask to hold her. Once, Delilah was the cure for a young boy terrified of flights in the middle seat next to me. (See, she is an emotional support dog.) He gently pet her for an hour, even held her at times as she licked at his face.

Related: Taking Your Pooch on the Road? Here’s How to Choose the Perfect Carrier

Delilah has also fostered somewhat of a community on planes. When other dog owners see her, they tell me about their dogs back home and show photos not only to me but anyone else involved in the conversation. Flight attendants have also joined in, many of whom have been relieved to know she’s a service animal. One flight attendant said it’s never a good thing dogs are cramped under the seat, especially on transcontinental flights. Delilah, who is now 2 years old, still makes passengers weak in the knees.

But sometimes, I do run into resistance. There have been a handful of flight attendants who, upon learning she’s an emotional support animal, gave me the look that they knew I’m full of shit, that I only have the certificate to let her ride for free. But, seriously… who wouldn’t do this? If there were a way for children to ride for free, for business travelers to get free meals in coach, for any passenger to receive discounts on airfare … who wouldn’t jump at the chance?

Once another passenger asked me if I had a fake doctor’s letter, to which I obviously replied no. She had said that it only makes those who truly have emotional disabilities look bad, that the phonies are ruining it for them. I asked her, “Have you met many passengers that have real emotional disabilities with a legit certificate?” She said I was the only one.

Related: From an Anteater on a Leash to a Hippo that Gets Massages, Here Are the Weirdest Pets From Around the World

So who am I ruining this for? The passengers to whom Delilah brings joy? The flight attendants who take photos of my pet and seem more gleeful when they walk down the aisles? Myself, saving thousands of dollars a year for a fee that makes no sense for an airline to charge? Or the airlines that nickel and dime you for everything you bring onboard?

I thought so.

Related: Confessions of a Fed Up Flight Attendant: Keep Your Emotional Support Dog or Mini-Horse Off My Flight

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