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The ESA Epidemic: How aholes are scamming a flawed system

ESA/service dog frauds are escalating on airlines and across the country due to lack of laws and decent humans

· News,Podcast

Service dogs, ESAs (emotional support animals), and therapy dogs embody the astounding, flooring, gratifying relationship that is (Wo)Man and canine. Their dedication and service to us during our darkest moments and toughest life challenges is truly magic, just watch any Dodo video.

But this week we’re addressing the bullshit that is the ESA/service dog epidemic, where aholes are abound abusing federal law to have their dog, peacock, kangaroo, or turkey granted:

  • Full access to places in the general public like restaurants, sporting events, etc.

  • The ability to fly in-cabin on commercial airlines for free OR

  • The ability to live in pet unfriendly residences or buildings without charge

To hear the full rant, check out the episode from our Canine Club podcast. Our behaviorist Jonas Black beats down the ESA and service dog fakers.

What is an ESA?

An emotional support animal provides crucial comfort and companionship for someone suffering from mental or psychiatric disabilities like PTSD, suicidal thoughts/tendencies, panic attacks, deep depression etc. Their #1 job is to alleviate the symptoms related to these diseases.

  • ESAs are able to live in places with a no-pet policies due to their protection under the Fair Housing Act

  • ESAs fly free and inside the cabin on all domestic airlines under the Air Carrier Access Act

  • Unlike service dogs, they’re not protected by the ADA, so they’re not allowed access to all general public places

  • There are no training standards or certifications required for ESAs

  • Owners must have a note from a licensed mental healthcare pro that states the dog helps with their disability

What is a service dog?

Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks for an individual with a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. These tasks (alerting for seizures, retrieving items for a handler, wheelchair pulling) have to be directly related to that person’s disability for the dog and handler to be protected under the ADA, which covers all things service dog laws/rights.

  • Service dogs are allowed any public place where they don’t “fundamentally alter the nature of a service provided to the public”.

  • They need no documentation/proof that they are an assistance animal.

  • In situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, the ADA says business owners/managers/staff can only ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

  • There are no training standards or requirements for service dogs by law

What is a therapy dog?

So therapy dogs are dogs that are used to take into facility situations (children's hospitals, veterans associations, nursing homes... college campuses to calm down aderall-ed out freshman… that type of really great volunteer work).

  • Their job is to show love and companionship to many people vs. performing a specific task for one handler.

  • Petting/loving on therapy dogs is encouraged vs. a service dog that is focused on their job/task at hand

  • Unlike service dogs and ESAs, therapy dogs aren’t protected by the ADA, Federal Housing Act, or the Air Carrier Access Act. Meaning they’re not allowed in all general public places, don’t have a legal pass to live in pet-unfriendly places without charge, and they don’t fly free

  • Although training/registration isn't required by law, therapy dogs can be officially certified through Therapy Dogs International.

  • These dogs should generally have a calm demeanor and be trained to behave safely around all varieties of people/stimuli.

The Epidemic

According to federal law, ESA owners are only required to provide a letter from a licensed mental health professional that dictates the animal’s role for the handler’s disability (there’s zero documentation required for service dogs). After realizing this flaw in the system and other factors, we’ve had an influx of in-flight poser Fifis biting the shit out of attendants and other passengers. Check out these recent numbers:

  • United reported carrying a total of 76,000 ESAs last year, up 77 percent since 2016.

  • Delta reported similar numbers, flying a total of 250,000 service and support animals over the last two years, an 84 percent increase since 2016.

  • Delta also said incidents have doubled since 2016

  • According to trade group Airlines For America, the overall number of ESAs on flights jumped more than 50 percent to 751,000 in a single year

The Bullshit

The frauds are ruining it for those that legitimately depend wholeheartedly on their ESA or service dog. Fake assistance dogs with behavior that leads to public incidents fuel discriminatory attitudes and actions.

A cottage industry of fake dog registries, certifications, and trainings have cropped up that perpetuate the problem. Non-government-affiliated sites like and are scamming pet owners with official-looking paperwork that holds no legal weight.

First of all, the National Dog Registry does not exist. It's not a real thing. To get your dog certified by the NDR as an ESA therapy or service dog is a bunch of horseshit, and you are being incredibly disrespectful by just wanting your dog with you all the time vs. those people who actually need a psychiatric service dog.- Jonas Black, Heroly's canine behaviorist

The ESA Starter kit for fakers:




If you’re going to lie, at least train your dog:

Whether it’s a service dog, ESA, or therapy dog, the law requires the dog to be trained, yet doesn’t call for any professional aid or certification (you reserve the right to train them yourself, which many people do wonderfully). However without standardization or requirement, many people of course manage to selfishly drag reactive, untrained, and faux ESA dogs on flights to Phoenix.

Overall, a balanced approach towards training and responsible dog ownership is abysmally lacking in our culture. Owners must step up and love their dogs with a balanced combination of positive reinforcements and corrections that ultimately creates non-reactive dogs in these public situations.

If you do decide to get a service dog, make sure that canine is going through a balanced training approach. I always like to give an analogy: Do we train our soldiers in ball pits at Chuck E. Cheese? No. They go to boot camp. They learn how to be soldiers. We need to give dogs the chance to become properly trained assistance animals for everyone’s benefit.- Jonas Black, Heroly's canine behaviorist

The Department of Transportation is comin’ for yo ass

With the uptick in those abusing the law, the DOT opened up a comment forum to start the dialogue on ESA law reform this summer. They’ve since closed comment submission in July, and we’ll be waiting oh-so-not-patiently to hear how they’ll proceed.

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