Emotional Support Birds

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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.

Turkey flies coach.

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.

23 thoughts on “Emotional Support Birds”

  1. I am a retired Clinical Psychologist, and I totally agree. Most people with depression, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders do not require an emotional support animal to accompany them everywhere. In fact, if I had a patient with that pattern, I would actually immediately begin to work on reducing their over-reliance on an animal to get through stressful situations. And these animals are interfering with the ability of true service animals to do their jobs properly. Birds should not be emotional support animals and arguably should not even be caged up as pets.

      1. Emotional support animals don’t need to be taken everywhere to be effective. This is an extreme erroneously presented by the article to be sensational and misdiagnose the issue. My emotional support bird does a great job for me. Also, perhaps consider researching birds as pets before you spout insensitive nonsense and claiming authority because you were a psychologist (which has distinctly nothing to do with birds as house pets).

        1. Let me respond to your statements, please. First of all, I never claimed to be a psychologist.But a psychologist did comment and agreed with my blog. Second, I have researched birds as pets, extensively – one of the main reasons parrots are disappearing from the wild. Third, I don’t know of any scientific evidence that supports your opinion. If your bird is helpful to you, great. But I stand by my assertion that caged birds should not be carried in the passenger sections of airplanes.

  2. Let me clarify if my reply was unclear. I did not intend to disparage the practice of owning and receiving comfort from an emotional support animal However, I stand by my comment regarding over-reliance and inability to function without the animal present. The practice of keeping caged birds as pets seems cruel to me, but this is not, as you pointed out, a psychological issue and should not have been presented as one.

  3. This is nothing more than an opinion. Sympathy for an animal in a cage is irrelevant.

    Why favor cats? Because they are cuddly? Parrots will willingly sit on a shoulder, will cuddle, are interactive with their owners. People say it is cruel to keep a cat indoors. So they can’t be emotional support animals!!!!

    You know what they say about opinions. Just because you can publish something on the internet doesn’t mean you have any knowledge of the subject.

    1. Of course it is an opinion, as are your comments. Lots of cats are emotional support animals, by the way. Honestly, I don’t know the difference between an emotional support animal and a regular pet. Anybody who cares for a pet gets some emotional support,

      1. Cassandra Clift

        If you honestly don’t know the difference… why did you write an article about emotional support animals? Especially one that disparages the practice? Yikes. This is exactly what we’re calling you out on so thanks for admitting it I suppose.

        An official esa needs to be prescribed as treatment by a doctor and mental health professional. Just like medicine. There’s paperwork and proof you need to supply in settings where having an esa designation matters. Sure pets provide comfort to most people, but someone with an esa needs that animal in their life to function. That animal is a reason for them to stay alive and well and generally provides significant purpose and joy where other treatment types have failed or fallen short.

        The practice can be abused (like any other prescription) and it hurts the whole esa community because uneducated people like you come in and spread hurtful and derogatory opinions based on what the abusers do. Not only are those of us with a real esa hurt by comments from articles like yours, we also lose benefits when those that just want to carry their dog around in a store or on a plane, etc, buy a fake certificate online and abuse the system.

        So maybe just do a bit of sympathetic research next time before coming after a group that’s already vulnerable.

  4. I would add that I have a bird as an emotional support animal. It is flawed to think that an emotional support animal must be with someone at all times.

    The bird always stays at home, unless I take him out to the vet, with me on vacation (in the car) or we sit outside (He in the travel cage).

    I try to enrich his life but someone who only sees a bird in a cage will certainly argue that you can’t enrich a bird’s life if he is in a cage.

    Can a bird offer emotional support if he is not with me all the time? I got the bird when I ended a relationship of 10 years. Just because I ended the relationship does not mean it didn’t cause me great pain. 10 years is a lot.of time and I wouldn’t have invested 10 years if I didn’t have expectations of a future.

    I was suddenly living alone. I had never lived alone, and I also began having symptoms of a chronic health condition. I grew depressed, withdrawn and the chronic condition led to suicidal thoughts.

    I had a bird for years… from Jr. High until after I graduated college. I am experienced and motivated to keep a bird healthy and living a long life.

    Parrot people in general are passionate about caring for their birds. Any cage you have seen is undoubtedly a travel cage. If you dare show such a cage on a parrot forum as a permanent cage, prepare to be educated and probably also verbally eviscerated.

    Birds don’t just sit in their cages all day, though my parrot decides when he wants to go in his cage. He will fly in himself if I don’t take him when he leans toward the cage and clucks.

    Birds are prey animals in the wild. It is a mistake to idealize “freedom.” And birds that have been raised domestically are not equipped to live in the wild. You can lament that parrots were ever kept as pets..People say it is cruel to keep a cat indoors (but don’t kid yourself… cats kill a lot of birds and are ecologically devastating… not to mention people ignore that cats roaming are at risk for harm from vehicles and other animals). Why do we not hear that horses should be left out to roam free? Or pigs… and do people keeping backyard chickens all give them free ranging rights…? Plenty of folks won’t take a chicken to the vet!

    But…. whatever your thoughts on what animals are appropriate to confine and how, you have not made any point in the direction of how birds do not provide emotional support.

    My wellbeing is much improved, and I try to give my parrot lots of attention, lots of time out of the cage. I don’t use chemicals around him and I don’t use teflon cookware. He has a large cage and it protects him when I have hot pans on the stove, for example.

    Without him, there is a high chance that I wouldn’t be here, as his presence distracts me from near constant symptoms of my chronic condition.

    When I argue about this, I do get upset because people who know very little on caring for a parrot and who may have no idea what it is like for your own body to be so unpredictable… not only don’t comprehend… but say a bird just can’t be an emotional support animal.

    You may feel sorry for a bird when you see it in a carrier. You may make a value judgment about what is right and wrong in your eyes.

    But if you are still walking the earth because of companionship, then why even criticize?

    You can have all the value judgments in your life… about what you do or don’t do. Your opinion is just that… an opinion.

    Can a parrot be an emotional support animal…is the question you raise. My life answers the question. It is about companionship… not about “cuddling.”

    1. Cassandra Clift

      As another person with an emotional support bird I 100% agree. Well-put JJacobs. 🙂
      I too am alive and happy because of my bird. He is the most important thing in my life. It’s incredibly damaging to tell people that birds can’t provide emotional support. If you really believe that, I’d say you’ve never met a parrot who’s bonded with their owner.

      1. I have never said a parrot cannot be an emotional support animal. My concern is that parrots are taken out of the wild and endangered because people want them as pets. I can’t believe that a cat or dog can’t be at least as much of a companion as a bird. They aren’t endangered and they don’t have to be in cages.

        1. Cassandra Clift

          This whole post is literally called emotional support birds and your whole point was to say you ‘seriously question’ that they could provide what people need when looking for an esa.

          If you wanted to write a post about the pet trade endangering parrot species, that would be a valid conversation, but the ability of birds to be an esa for people (which you clearly did not research) is not the way to have that conversation.

          You wrote an article that specifically targets people that have a bird esa. You’ve got to know that the designation of a bird as an esa is pretty rare right? We are not singlehandedly causing the endangerment of parrots. So again, if that is your concern, write about that.

          Also… how about allergies? Fur and saliva are a big issue for people with allergies. And most pets are only indoor pets. It’s just a bigger cage. A good parrot owner will have a bond with their bird and it will not live in the cage all day every day. And a bad pet owner would cage any animal they owned, bird or not.

          So whether you agree with what you wrote and the focus of your original article now or not, you wrote a post about how birds should not be esa material. You used the arguments that matter more (not having parrots confined to cages, issues with pet trade endangering parrots, pets on planes) to target and put down people that choose to have a pet parrot be their esa.

          And you were wrong to do that.

    1. Cassandra Clift

      Many pets are allowed on planes, regardless of an esa designation. There’s just a pet fee. Also just as many, probably more communicable diseases, are present with cats and dogs (not to mention common allergies).

      Aside from animals, you are almost 100% more likely to get sick from the person sitting next to you than my little conure on a plane ride. You should do some research into bird carriers. They’re not pooping all over – everything stays in his carrier and the ventilation on planes is superior to probably any other location you could encounter a pet bird.

      Small note: One strain of transmissible illness found in a group of PetsSmart budgies (a pet store chain notorious for taking terrible care of their birds) is not at all comparable to the conditions on a plane.

      Maybe you were actually arguing that turkeys and peacocks and snakes and spiders shouldn’t be an esa and/or allowed on planes. But again, your article is about ‘emotional support birds’. And instead of writing about the real issues that you’ve pierced together for us in the comments, you chose to go after people with emotional support birds.

      And again, you were wrong to do that.

  5. There are many interesting opinions here. I appreciate Dr. Lederer raising the issue.

    Parrots that are mistreated, and there are undeniably many, obviously don’t comment on this post. It’s almost equally certain that the people who do mistreat parrots, won’t be visiting this site to detail their less than thorough care.

    The fact that I know many people who love their pets and treat them as family, doesn’t provide relief for the birds that do suffer at the hands of poor caretakers.

  6. I appreciate your thoughts. I should note that, at least in California, service animals are allowed in stores and restaurants and theaters, etc., but emotional support animals are not. Yet, almost everytime I go grocery shopping someone has a fuzzy little non-service dog riding around in a grocery cart with them. A year ago I saw a guy with a woodpecker on his shoulder in a grocery store. That is illegal by federal and state laws. I guess my basic thesis is that the esa laws/policies are extensively abused. That’s not fair to the people who really need esas as they get painted with the same brush.

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