Have y’all noticed the proliferation of "emotional support animals" lately? I used quotes because I think it’s possible a few of these are just dogs playing dress up, but I could be wrong. There was one in the bank today wearing a sporty red vest, but what if it was just a cleverly tied scarf from T.J. Maxx the owner uses to make sure her dog can hang out with her in public places?
I’m suspicious because he didn’t have that alert look of a dog who was "on the job" and actually yawned at me and sniffed my ankles.
At one point, his owner had to pull him back with a very ordinary looking leash. Her tone sounded a little harsh considering he could MAYBE save her life someday. Then again, he could’ve been a faux emotional support dog. I know they’re out there. And, yes, I DO have a lot of time on my hands since you ask.
I briefly considered throwing myself down on the floor to see if the dog would do something therapeutic but I didn’t want to make a scene. Besides, if he’s really trained, his loyalty is to his owner, not some rando crazy woman lying on commercial grade carpet with dollar signs woven into it.
College students routinely claim their pets are "therapeutic" to circumvent an apartment lease that specifies no pets. Look around. These animals are everywhere. Even McDonald’s is starting to look like a Parisian café. Do that many people really need emotional support just to go to the movies? The grocery store? A bar? ("Hey Lassie, Ima get hammered tonight. Can you make sure we get home OK? Good girl!")
Before you get all huffy, let me stipulate that I am absolutely not talking about YOUR emotional support dog, cat, ferret, cockatiel… Yours is fine. It’s all the other ones tripping me on my way to the salad bar that I’m talking about. Kidding. Y’all know I don’t eat salad.
Emotional support animals practically have their own zone when you fly these days. And it’s always before mine. I basically need to wear a harness and a skin tight vest to board before the crates-of-live-chickens category that is Zone 10. I don’t want to do that because I’m afraid I’d just look like an older, fatter extra in some straight-to-DVD sequel to "Fifty Shades of Gray."
Is there really suddenly an epidemic of people who can’t get through the day without a loving animal glued to their side? Maybe. After all, in the current political climate, many of us are walking around with our emotions ranging from slow simmer to full boil so I sorta get it.
ESA’s, as they’re known in psychological circles, are different from the rock stars of service animals, the highly trained therapy dogs. They’re the ones who wear distinctive uniforms that have messages like "Please don’t disturb; I’m working." Wouldn’t it be fun to see Congress dressed like that? Yeah, that’ll never happen.
The writer is a NYT-bestselling author and humor columnist. Follow her on Instagram @celiarivenbark.