Support dogs vs. service animals: Should they have the same rights?

Alana Udell , Reporter

Imagine yourself in a restaurant trying to enjoy your dinner in peace. Suddenly a dog runs up to you and begins barking and whining for food. Then out of nowhere, they jump on the table trying to get to your meal. Not only has your food gone to waste, but people around you have dog allergies, and they begin having allergic reactions. 

The dog’s owner comes over and explains that the dog is an emotional support animal, and they have the right to be in the restaurant. On the other hand, the manager knows that ESAs don’t have the right to be in any private place. That right is specifically reserved for service dogs. Your dinner has now been ruined, and the owner and the manager are arguing over whether ESAs deserve the same rights as service dogs.    

The people who believe that both ESAs and service dogs deserve the same opportunities and respect are wrong. They’re not the same, so they shouldn’t be treated in the same way. That is like saying that an 11-year-old child and a 21-year-old adult should receive the same rights when they have nowhere near the same amount of knowledge or experience. It doesn’t make sense logically because they are not prepared to be put in the same situations. 

ESAs are extremely beneficial to some people. They do improve the owner’s mental health, but they’re still just pets. They shouldn’t be given the same rights as an actual working dog, which is more than just a pet. Service dogs are there to help their handler with something they physically can’t do, for example, see, hear or help a wheelchair-bound person get around easily. While an ESA is important, they are not nearly as important as service dogs. There are service dogs who are trained to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, and they have specific tasks to help their handlers. If a person needs their ESA with them at all times, they should look into PTSD service dogs. 

Service animals have to train for at least two to four months before they can be considered working dogs, while ESAs do not require any training. All a person needs to register an animal as an ESA is a doctor’s note stating that the dog improves their quality of life. It is ridiculous to equate an ordinary pet to an animal who is as highly trained as a service dog. Additionally, an ESA’s lack of training could cause problems in private spaces. They could jump on tables to eat food, knock things over and generally wreak havoc.  

Similarly, forcing a dog without the training to spend all day inside in a place like a school is both cruel and impossible. Dogs bark, whine, pee and get sudden bursts of energy. Having to leave the room to take them to the bathroom or run around disrupts the handler’s learning and that of everyone else around them. At some point, this level of leniency when it comes to ESAs does more harm than good.

Technically, anyone with a mental illness could get an ESA. That’s 52.9 million Americans according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Letting even half of them bring an untrained pet everywhere, makes it extremely difficult for other people in the world to live a normal life. This includes people with dog allergies who, depending on the severity of the allergy, would have to avoid many public and private places.  

However, there is some benefit to wide access to ESAs. The presence of the animal, the feeling of their fur, or their cuddles simply calms a person down. It can help improve anxiety, depression and phobias. Although, they only help with moderate cases of these illnesses. Extreme cases can qualify for a service dog that’s trained to decrease physical symptoms, which is a different case because that dog is trained and there are more restrictions on who can qualify for one. 

Emotional support dogs should not be given the same rights as service dogs because the owners don’t need them as much. They provide comfort to a certain extent, but if a person can not function without their ESA, they should look into getting an actual service dog. Private spaces shouldn’t take the risk of a fake ESA or even a real one causing chaos.