Emotional Support Animals Are Everywhere, And People Are Sick Off It

Vayne Myers was threatened with eviction over Primadonna, the duck he keeps in his Florida home to help him with anxiety. Credit: Eve Edelheit for The New York Times

By Farah Stockman, June 18, 2019

| The New York Times – A 26-year-old Starbucks barista in the suburbs of Tampa known as Vayne Myers has suffered from anxiety ever since he was a child. A co-worker suggested he try an emotional support animal.

So Mr. Myers bought a duck and named it Primadonna. The snow-white bird has worked wonders for his state of mind.

“Whenever I felt like I didn’t matter in the world,” he said, Primadonna would waddle over and remind him that “something does love you.”

But Mr. Myers’s landlord objected, and demanded proof that Primadonna was a medical necessity and not simply a pet.

Mr. Myers provided a letter from a therapist in California who spoke to him over a video chat, and then another note from a counselor who met in person with him (and the duck). But neither document satisfied the landlord, who threatened eviction.

Mr. Myers hired a lawyer and filed a complaint of housing discrimination with the Department of Housing and Urban Development using his legal name, Jesse Calfas. His filing was one of more than a thousand similar complaints the agency has received nationwide so far this year.

The number of people claiming they have a right to live with animals for their mental health — as well as to take them onto planes and into restaurants and stores — has been growing rapidly.

In 2011, the National Service Animal Registry, a for-profit company that sells official-looking vests and certificates for owners, had 2,400 service and emotional support animals in its registry. Now the number is nearly 200,000.

But the spread of such animals — the vast majority of them dogs — has also been met by concerns from landlords, airlines and other businesses that many Americans may be abusing the system.

Critics say that pet owners are obtaining phony certifications or letters from online therapists to avoid paying fees or to get permission to bring creatures where they wouldn’t normally be allowed. Read more.