The Emotional Support Peacock And The Tragedy Of The Commons

The Tragedy of the Commons is a term originating in ancient economic theory describing a situation in which a shared-benefit system is destroyed by individual users who selfishly behave contrary to the common good by depleting or spoiling the resource involved. Ignorance or denial of this principle, which is based on centuries of observing the human race, is core to progressive and liberal ideology, unfortunately. Another way of expressing the tendency is the old adage, “Give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile.”

Federal regulations over the last decade–I’m assuming under Democratic auspices, but I don’t care to check,  it doesn’t matter to the post—have required airlines to accommodate passengers with not just seeing eye dogs but “therapy animals” and “emotional support animals” that supply the passengers who own them with relief from anxiety. These creatures must fly at no cost and uncaged, and so far, no discrimination regarding species have been set.  It’s a nice regulation, don’t you think?  I think its nice.

However, if there ever was a policy that guaranteed the Tragedy of the Commons, this was it. Many passengers exploit the rules by calling their pets “therapy animals”—and really, aren’t they all?—to save money and hassle. The number of animals flying in the cabin with passengers doubled, and doubled again.  Some passengers were bitten by dogs. Some animals defecated in the aisles. Some of the passengers  flew or attempted to accompanied by  comfort turkeys, goats, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, reptiles, spiders, and even more exotic companions.

Finally one airline had enough. Delta, which carried nearly 250,000 therapy and “emotional support” animals last year, announced that starting March 1, it would require documentation of the animal’s training and health and, in some instances, a promise of good conduct. The new rules make Delta’s policy among the most demanding among major carriers, but, most predict, not for long. You wonder why the stock market is booming, do you? One major reason is that the Trump Administration is willing to eliminate dumb regulations that cause more trouble than they are worth. I’d give the therapy animal mandate a few more months before it is toast. Well, passengers will still be able to bring their therapy toast, presumably.

The National Federation of the Blind condemned Delta’s action, but their fire is in the wrong direction. It should be condemning the selfish jerks who took unfair and increasingly absurd advantage of “the commons,” harming the passengers, like the blind and others with physical disabilities, that who genuinely need animals when they fly.

For example, a woman recently tried to bring a “therapy peacock” on board a recent United Airlines flight at Newark Liberty International Airport. She offered to pay for a second seat for the bird, but insisted that she had a right to bring it on board as her emotional support animal. United ground staff said no, the cruel, insensitive corporate villains.

Good. And because of people like her, who are inevitable in systems designed to help the legitimately needy that provide opportunities for those who are not needy to grab a benefit for themselves, what was designed as a compassionate solution to a real problem is unsustainable. When her mother said, “You’re going to spoil it for everyone,” she didn’t listen.

30 thoughts on “The Emotional Support Peacock And The Tragedy Of The Commons

  1. And peacocks aren’t the worst of it. The Department of Justice’s original guidance included a picture of someone on a subway with a miniature horse. I’m waiting for the day I board a flight with a pony in the bulkhead row.

    • According to the Florida Statutes, a service animal must be a dog or miniature horse. To be clear, service animals are not emotional support animals (ESA). Service animals must be trained to do specific tasks such as guide dog, pulling a wheelchair, alert dog for a deaf owner, alerting on seizures, or other such tasks. Service dogs must be allowed everywhere the owner goes. Service animals but not ESA are covered by the ADA. ESA can be barred from places such as restaurants and other no-pets businesses while service animals cannot. Pretty much all of the pet owning patients in the mental health clinic where I work have asked for a certificate to document that they need an emotional support animal. By the way, I have yet to see a miniature horse service animal.

      • Here’s the DOJ verbiage:
        In addition to the provisions about service dogs, the Department’s revised ADA regulations have a new, separate provision about miniature horses that have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. (Miniature horses generally range in height from 24 inches to 34 inches measured to the shoulders and generally weigh between 70 and 100 pounds.) Entities covered by the ADA must modify their policies to permit miniature horses where reasonable. The regulations set out four assessment factors to assist entities in determining whether miniature horses can be accommodated in their facility. The assessment factors are (1) whether the miniature horse is housebroken; (2) whether the miniature horse is under the owner’s control; (3) whether the facility can accommodate the miniature horse’s type, size, and weight; and (4) whether the miniature horse’s presence will not compromise legitimate safety requirements necessary for safe operation of the facility.

      • The miniature horse as a service animal was developed in response to the concerns of Muslims, many of whom consider dogs to be unclean (in accordance with the teachings of the Koran). I’ve never heard of a non-Muslim with a service horse.

  2. I’ve had the experience of being seated near a person with an “emotional support dog” in a Winter flying experience where the small airplane spent several hours on the tarmac (having wings de-iced, and then going back for more gas). It was a very, very uncomfortable time with an animal who probably needed their own support animal, as well as a place to do it’s business, etc. What’s interesting is that the humans just think everyone should be sympathetic to their plight, assuming that everyone loves dogs, the smell, the hair, etc. (I’m allergic) and lets it roam at will around the cabin. Most folks are already grumpy during those stressful times, and the attitude of the dog owner doesn’t help at all. Felt a lot of sympathy for the dog (who was obviously a pet and not trained at all).

  3. I wonder what would happen if a person who was terrified of snakes and needed her own therapy mongoose brought her pet aboard the same flight on which someone brought their therapy snake?

    I’m betting the in-flight movie would be less interesting to watch.

  4. So what is supposed to be done for people like JHR, or my sister, who are very allergic to animals and could have a life threatening asthma attack in flight?

    • Allergies are boring, unsexy ailments. Nonspecified mental/emotional conditions are much sexier. Your sister shall therefore be mocked for complaining about the sniffles, which are less victim-y than the anxiety/PTSD/panic attacks that require the emotional support cat.

    • More DOJ guidance/mandates:
      Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals. When a person who is allergic to dog dander and a person who uses a service animal must spend time in the same room or facility, for example, in a school classroom or at a homeless shelter, they both should be accommodated by assigning them, if possible, to different locations within the room or different rooms in the facility.
      A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken. When there is a legitimate reason to ask that a service animal be removed, staff must offer the person with the disability the opportunity to obtain goods or services without the animal’s presence.

      • I used to see a patient who always wore very dark sunglasses. It was interesting to watch patients in the waiting room when they saw her drive up and get out the car with her service dog which wore a harness like those worn by guide dogs for the blind.

  5. There’s no reason non-horse folk would read The Ultimate Guide to Horse Feed, Supplements and Nutrition, so I’m chiming in to shine a light on how miniature horses have been trained as genuine service animals (not ESAs). As a guide animal for the blind, a mini’s career will be about 3 times longer than a dog’s. Minis’ other use as service animals is comparable to the large dogs trained as assistants to the wheelchair-bound: retrieving dropped objects and serving as pulling power when the powered w/chair fails.

  6. If, having bought a ticket on the assumption that I would have a reasonably comfortable flight, I found that I was going to be confined in a small space with non-humans, what are my rights?

  7. I don’t pay attention to stuff that happens overhead (yes, you may well give rein to your imagination: my top shelves are bare) so I had no idea the airlines had allowed any live animals on board in the passenger section. In fact, I thought they were cracking down on children under the age of ten, and adults over 95 without caretakers.

    On the ground, I believe the largest “emotional support” animal population belongs to those known as the homeless. They (the animals) are frequently large shambling dogs with dull coats and duller eyes who spend their ride scratching themselves desultorily. Some of them give off a cloud of motes in the sunshine, similar to Pig-pen’s entourage. A smaller population consists of the companions of the weller-off. Often smartly dressed (the dogs) are carried aboard the bus …. this is about companion animals on transport, after all ….. and immediately let down in the aisle to wander, often on extension leashes, to sniff every ankle, brush every leg, growl very softly at any hand that reaches to pet it, and aim unerringly for the passenger who is most allergic to either the dog-dander or the perfume in which the canine has been drenched. Or, to be fair(er), the perfume in which the human has been drenched that the dog now stinks of.

    But there are Rules on our city buses concerning rambunctious or annoying animals. And they are frequently enforced by more and more of the drivers. If your dog is a service animal (allowed on all public vehicles), the driver may ask to see the registration tag or in its absence, the human’s ID … which has proof of disability on it. If it is a support animal, it should have a tag that says so or it is acceptable for the driver to ask if the person is disabled and if the answer is in the affirmative without appearing disabled (i.e., hopped cheerily up the steps), to ask for what purpose the animal is required. The drivers who do this regularly (I know one of them has three rescue woofs at home) know their passengers. If the bus is full or getting there, non-tagged and known to be noxious or obnoxious, out go the pair, given fair warning that they have been told of multiple options. All other animals, no matter how cute or exotic, are in carriers or not going aboard. Lap-size dogs are requested to be carried “for their own safety, sir.”

    I looked up the Rules myself and found A support animal that is not a dog (or miniature horse) is not eligible for a CA assistance tag and printed out a copy to show the drivers. So far, I’ve only run into one of them. She blew it up with bright red frame around the equine part and pasted it up next to the illustrated signs “No Food, No Drink, No Radios” (radios. such old-fashioned signs they are!) with an crayon-ed outline of the animal one of her kids added. So far, she says, everyone thinks its a kick, especially tourists … and her regular dog-bearing riders. Thanks for the info, y’all.

  8. Perfect article! Ever since I heard about the peacock, I was worried about my privilege. My Emotional Support dog helps me tremendously! I only hope they start holding accountable the licensed therapist’s who write the letters for unethical use of power. Thank you for bringing such a matter to people’s attention.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.