In support of ‘fake’ service animals

Gaming the system

Having faced common questions and accusations and after jumping through ridiculous hoops in order to obtain the coveted Emotional Service Animal letter myself, here’s why I fully support gaming the system for your very own furry companion when you otherwise wouldn’t be able to.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, upwards of 18 percent of adults age 18 and older suffer from anxiety disorders or depression in the United States every year. Fortunately, research conducted by Harvard Medical School has indicated that owning a furry companion—especially a dog—has positive impacts on our health; no pharmaceutical prescriptions required. These health implications reach far beyond helping depression and anxiety and have been linked to improving cardiovascular health, as well as helping introverted individuals break free from their introspective shells.

In short, animals can have positive mental and physical health benefits for all individuals. The problem is not everyone qualifies for an ESA—which is officially meant to treat emotional or psychological disabilities.

If you find yourself in a no-pets-allowed living situation and you truly believe a dog or other pet will change your quality of life, obtaining an ESA letter is the workaround you’ll likely turn to. It’s hard enough to find a reasonably priced apartment or house to lease in Portland; add finding a spot which allows pets, and you’ll find yourself wanting to toss an electric scooter into the Willamette River.

Does it make you a terrible human being for owning a “fake” ESA pet that still caters to your overall well being, even though it doesn’t meet some stringent medical definition of suffering? Assuming you will be a responsible pet owner who doesn’t abuse what the ESA letter does and does not allow you to do, then no, it doesn’t.

When I found myself struggling with my own depressive funk and felt there was something missing in my life, I decided I needed a dog. Realizing my apartment had a zero-tolerance dog policy and simply moving to an apartment which did allow dogs wasn’t a fiscally feasible option, I turned to the almighty ESA.

Portland State’s Center for Student Health and Counseling couldn’t help me. SHAC cannot provide ESA letters and will inevitably refer you to a private healthcare provider. Not wanting to commit to multiple sessions, or more accurately multiple copayments, I turned to a fast-track internet service some health professionals do not support. Around $100 later, I received my very own “CertaPet” letter in the mail.

My Corgi has improved my life. However, what I went through trying to get an ESA Letter the right way, only to turn to the internet for a shady alternative, is absolutely ridiculous.

The rapid increase of requests for ESAs highlight how draconian and antiquated these regulations on pets are in the first place. In an apartment setting, just because some people can’t handle owning a pet shouldn’t equate to a zero-tolerance policy against pets altogether, especially when considering the health benefits animals can have.

It should be mentioned while I might agree with gaming the system for an ESA letter when it means overcoming apartment and rental regulations, I disagree with people who fake the need for a service animal because they want to take their pet everywhere.

There is a line between gaming the system and abusing it. Those who don’t meet some predetermined medical criteria in order to receive an ESA letter or can’t afford the costs of required sessions and copayments shouldn’t be barred from living with a pet that improves their quality of life. If the way around this is getting a sketchy ESA letter, so be it.