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The emotional support animal debate rages on in Colorado

Legit or BS? Debate rages on in Colorado
Posted at 7:51 PM, Nov 13, 2018

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Buckle up! It’s nearly Thanksgiving and for travelers that means packed parking lots, crowded carousels and lines — long, long lines. 

More people are navigating the nuttiness of holiday travel with emotional support animals by their side. That trend has exploded with airlines seeing a big increase in passengers trying to bring them onboard.

Our viewers have told us about experiences where they were nearly attacked by aggressive dogs whose owners claimed they were emotional support animals.

People have tried to bring a full-grown peacock and an emotional support squirrel on flights.

Those with mental health challenges and disability advocates caution against painting everyone with a broad brush and encouraged us to take a 360 view and explore other viewpoints.


Shana Duffy has bipolar disorder and survived a sexual assault. Her mental-health physician suggested she get an emotional support dog and so she got Apollo.

"Ok I'll be blunt, there was one night I was thinking about killing myself, and the thought popped into my head, 'Who is going to take care of Apollo?' And that was enough for me to stop thinking about it," Duffy said.

Apollo has given her back her sense of security and sanity and is a legally-certified emotional support animal. But she's had people give her the side eye once or twice.

"I have no fear in telling people, "Hey I was inpatient in a psych facility, and a doctor told me to get a dog. So when you get your medical degree, we can have this conversation again,” she said.


ADA service dogs are specially trained to perform a task — a seeing-eye dog is an example. They get to go almost anywhere its owners go.

The rules are different for emotional support animals. They help someone with mental distress and can be any animal. Owners get to travel and live with them for free after a doctor or therapist says they need one. Some people just lie and know they won’t always be asked for proof.

And that's a problem for the person with our next point of view.


"What's really happening is we've got a lot of folks who for one reason or another try to avoid the pet fee," said Sharon Pinkerton, a vice president with Airlines For America.

Airlines have seen 50%-75% more people bringing on emotional support animals. She says it's time to tighten the leash and the regulations, to stop airports from looking like a zoo.

"We're not allowed to say no unless that animal is so big it creates some type of safety issue,” Pinkerton said.

Delta Airlines policy:

United Airlines policy:

Southwest Airlines policy:

Frontier Airlines policy:

American Airlines policy:


Teo Nicolais is a local landlord and a member of the Apartment Association of Metro Denver.  

"When it comes to mental health, I am all for anything which will help someone overcome those problems," Nicolais said.

It’s his view that people should be in the doghouse for gaming the system.

"It's very common for people to come and present what is, in fact, a pet as an emotional support animal. I think it's a huge disservice to those who actually need it," he said.

Faking an emotional support dog is like parking in a handicapped spot without the placard, he says. Why not have a registration system to track those who really need it?

"What we certainly would like to see is more verification, more documentation, so that we make sure we are offering the people who need the help, the help they need, while not allowing a free pass for everyone who wants to pretend they have the same need,” he said. 


We logged online and got an emotional support certificate for my dog Rocky. 

I answered honestly a few questions about having trouble sleeping and feeling stressed.

I never talked to anyone on the phone or visited a medical professional, yet I received an emotional support dog certificate.


Before you go making up your mind, hear another point of view from disability advocate Emily Harvey with Disability Colorado.

"We don't believe the laws need to be stricter regarding service animals and emotional support animals," she said.

She doesn't want life to be made tougher for those with disabilities and worries about some new airline policies that require passengers to get a doctor's and a veterinarian's note 48-hours before flying with an emotional support animal.

"That seems fine until you meet someone who has a family emergency. Now they can't fly for two days because they have this restriction that they have to give the airline a certain amount of notice," she worries.


What do you think? Will regulations hurt the disabled? Has this gone too far or are we unfairly judging those battling mental health challenges?

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