The Need to Travel With Emotional Support Animals Is Real, but Some Are Ruining It for the Rest of Us
As more people globally are living with mental illnesses such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression, the safety and comfort of support animals is growing in popularity. Traveling with Emotional Support Animals (ESAs), however, can be a challenge, largely because not every mode of transportation allows for animals.
Recently a student traveling home on Spirit Airlines attempted to bring her companion dwarf hamster along with her. The Transportation Safety Administration allows for traveling with just about any licensed emotional support pets; Spirit Airlines, however, does not.
Many animals can learn to understand human language, and some even learn to speak it. Studies involving primates, dolphins, and domesticated animals confirm what any dog owner already knows: No matter what language we speak, the animals we interact with know the meaning of some of our words.
The average dog knows 165 human words, and smart ones can more than 250 words — about the same as a two-year-old human. An elephant named Koshik learned to imitate six words of human speech — in Korean — and use them to communicate with his trainers. Seals and sea lions in captivity learn to understand several human words, and some learn to speak it, including a harbor seal named Hoover who was raised in a Maine household and learned to say, “Hello there!” and “Hey! Hey! Come over here!” in a New England accent.
Humans have long held themselves as a species apart. It’s a cross-cultural theory of exceptionalism, held as tightly in Chengdu, China as Chicago, United States. As the canniest, most productive and most dominant species on the planet, we allow ourselves dominion over all other creatures, great and small. We spray great swaths of land with insecticides to kill mosquitoes that threaten our health. We live-capture juvenile whales to be trained for our entertainment. After all, human welfare is paramount, and those other creatures aren’t believed capable of feeling depressed, isolated or endangered.
This point was driven home with a strangely retrograde vote in the UK’s House of Commons last November. In the course of Brexit negotiations, Members of Parliament were tasked with choosing which EU policies they will adhere to as the UK withdraws from the EU. They elected to bow out of a law recognizing animal sentience. MPs later called this claim a mischaracterization, because public outrage was dramatic — denying sentience denies that animals can feel pain, form thoughts, or experience any emotion.
On Friday, October 13, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill prohibiting the state’s pet stores from selling any dogs, cat, or rabbits that didn’t come from an animal shelter or rescue organization. The law will take effect in January 2019, and it’s the first of its kind to prohibit such sales across an entire state.
Similar laws have been passed in hundreds of municipalities across the US, including 36 in California alone. These laws are part of a campaign by animal rights advocates to reduce the number of animals suffering in inhumane conditions in puppy mills — as well as their feline equivalents, kitten factories. Rabbit sales are also covered in the bill.
No-kill animal shelters, which have recently become popular across America, sound like such a nice idea. One imagines homeless pets lovingly cared for, socialized, given food and medical care, and offered to loving and safe “forever homes.”