MP Wants Legislation to Address Emotional Service Animals

a black service dog with its owner holding its harness
Many allege that some service dogs like these are being used fraudulently.

An increase in the amount of emotional support animals (ESAs) in the U.S. has generated headlines due to people’s arguably unorthodox choices – turkeys, peacocks, squirrels, etc. – in animals to support them.

These animals are different from service dogs, which serve people with physical impairments, such as the visually impaired. ESAs are often described as therapy animals, there to provide comfort to those suffering from conditions such as depression or anxiety. They require no formal training in Canada or the U.S.  

No Federal Laws Exist

Here in Canada, there is little legal guidance around ESAs. And a Conservative MP is saying that needs to change. Michelle Rempel, who is married to a U.S. military veteran who utilizes an ESA, said restaurants and taxi and Uber drivers have all refused them service because of the dog. Rempel said they always show documentation from her husband’s doctors attesting to the need for the dog.

The debate over emotional support animals has become highly contentious, as many people with physical disabilities complain about “fake” service dogs attacking theirs. In Canada and the U.S., many people purchase official looking vests online for their ESAs, even though there are no registries of these animals.

Currently Air Canada only accepts dogs as ESAs for domestic flights, while WestJet is a little more permissive with the type of animals it allows. Both require documentation from licensed medical professionals in advance of a flight’s departure, however. Currently, the federal Veterans Affairs Department is studying the use of service dogs for veterans suffering from conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

However, with a patchwork of different laws for different terms of animals in different provinces, there is little protection for people who want to bring an ESA into a restaurant, for example. There are also different levels of protection at the provincial level for people who have dogs because of a physical disability, such as a service dog that can trigger an alarm when its epileptic owner is having a seizure.

MP: Laws Would Crack Down on Fraud and Protect the Disabled

That’s where Rempel says federal laws and regulations could help. She says those laws could also crack down on people who just want to take a pet everywhere and those who truly need an animal to more easily navigate the world.

Rempel said that she hopes the Commons can be proactive and bipartisan in studying the issue and moving forward with legislation to provide guidance for the country. It would be of benefit to animal owners, business owners, landlords, airlines, and many others.       

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