I’m not a fan of caged birds. I understand why people want to keep birds in cages and I don’t have a particular problem with budgerigars, cockatoos, or canaries as they have been raised in cages and bred as pets for many years. But I am opposed to keeping parrots and a variety of other birds that are caught in the wild. To me, there are few things sadder than seeing a large macaw stuck in a cage for someone’s enjoyment.
So I am a bit dismayed at the recent phenomenon of “support animals”. Not service animals like seeing-eye dogs, but “emotional support animals” that supposedly relieve the symptoms of anxiety, depression, panic attacks, phobias, and the nebulous term “personality disorders.” According to the US Support Animals website “Emotional support animals help individuals with emotional disabilities such as anxiety or depression by providing comfort and support. Any animal can be an emotional support animal. Federal law does not require these animals to have any specific training and you do not have to be physically disabled to have an emotional support animal.”
I am sure dogs and cats provide their owners with pleasure and support and fulfill an emotional need to the average person as well as those in need of emotional support. But I think the system is being abused. Is it really necessary to bring Fluffy, your Pekinese, into the grocery store? And snakes and tarantulas as emotional support animals?
Worse, people are bringing pets onto airplanes. But the pet needs to fit under the seat. Maybe that’s why an “emotional support peacock” was denied boarding a United Airlines flight last year. The peacock, named Dexter, even had its own ticket. But Delta Airlines allowed a turkey to fly, in a comfort+ seat no less, even though Delta won’t allow hedgehogs, ferrets, insects, snakes, or sugar gliders. (Sugar glider no but a turkey is ok?). And then there are the emotional support kangaroos, ducks, and spiders.
Requests to fly with emotional support animals have doubled in the past two years. All you need to do is get a doctor’s letter; they can be had on the web for about $150. Sort of like getting a medical marijuana prescription – rather loose standards.
Here’s where I draw the line. I seriously question the designation of a bird as an emotional support animal. Cute, maybe. Cuddly, no. Birds in cages (what cage will fit under a seat?) are dirty, pooping at will and throwing their food around. And parrots can be noisy. Bringing one on a plane – really? Dragging a tropical bird (most bird pets are tropical) through a drafty airport and onto a plane with 200 people respiring their various microbes throughout the aircraft, is just plain cruel to the bird.
PetsSmart, a few years ago, discovered that some of its parakeets had a bacterial disease, psittacosis, that can be transmitted to humans and some parakeet buyers contracted it. Psittacosis is not a serious danger to most people but it’s not the only disease birds spread to humans by birds. Dogs and cats tend to be vaccinated but a bird on a plane can be a disease carrier.
Excuse me now while I go feed my emotional support philodendron.