Emotional support animals effect on service animals

Wednesday, July 10, 2019
News 12 at 6 o'clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- If you've been on a plane recently, you may have noticed more and more animals on those flights. Some of them are service dogs but a lot of them are emotional support animals and there's a big difference.

Service animals have gone through training to be able to help someone. Emotional support animals have no required training just a doctor's note.

There's been a huge increase in the number of emotional support animals in airports. Even here in Augusta, it's becoming more and more common to see animals running around the airport. For perspective, in 2017, American Airlines had about 155,000 emotional support animals and that compares to about 50,000 trained service animals.

For U.S. Army veteran, Alecia Kimball, Sadie is more than a furry friend. She's her lifeline.

"I spent a few years where I couldn't really leave the house. I had a hard time going to the grocery store without having panic attacks or running out of the store," said Kimball.

Sadie is a certified service dog and she's gone through years of training.

"I got Sadie and she's trained for alerting to my PTSD so she can pick up on when I start getting really agitated or getting really upset," said Kimball.

But the number of emotional support animals is growing. There are three times as many on airplanes and they don't need to be trained.

“We've heard across the country pigs and ponies and peacocks. I heard of a squirrel one time. There's a little bit of everything out there," said Lauren Smith, the public relations manager at Augusta Regional Airport.

"I think because people take advantage of it, people have a sour taste in their mouth. And then those of us that have legitimate service dogs, kind of pay the price for it because then we start getting turned away at restaurants and businesses," said Kimball.

There's no doubt a pet's kiss can fix anything but Alecia says more restrictions could help those who need it the most.

Airlines are starting to crack down on what types of animals they'll allow on planes, but every airline has a different policy so it's best to check.