Think flying with a squalling child in the seat next to you is hell? Try flying with a goat. Or maybe a monkey. Could happen, thanks to the animal's status as a certified emotional-support animal, or ESA, as it's known in the lingo.
According to a recent article in Time magazine, the National Service Animal Registry registered 7,000 such animals last year alone. All that's needed is a note from a mental-health professional attesting that the animal owner in question needs said animal to help alleviate his symptoms, which can range from bipolar disorder to depression, anxiety and stress.
No one quibbles, of course, with service animals that help their owners with obvious disabilities, such as blindness or inability to get around. No such training, however, is required for ESAs. All they need do is make their owners feel better.
While no one disputes the calming influence, say, of a Labrador retriever at one's feet, it's still somewhat of a squishy "feel better" factor - one that's emboldened some landlords, homeowner associations and city health departments to come down on certain comfort animals, particularly if one's companion is, say, a pig, or even an iguana.
Besides dogs, certified emotional-support animals also include cats, pigs, mice, birds, rats, hedgehogs, iguanas, rabbits and goats. In 2011, the Department of Justice, under the Americans With Disabilities Act, excluded ESAs from being allowed into public buildings such as restaurants, hospitals, shops and theaters.
The critters, however, are still allowed onto airplanes and into no-pet housing, even as some landlords continue to challenge this provision. Airlines also have their own rules against certain animals, such as reptiles and ferrets.
Ferrets, I can certainly understand. I once had one crawl up my pants leg all the way to my kneecap while I was interviewing its owner - who intervened somewhat belatedly. Imagine what a ferret could do if it got loose in a cabin at 30,000 feet.
Although emotional-support animals are not automatically permitted into businesses the way service animals are, their owners - who may or may not hold actual notes from a doctor - often ignore the rules.
I can't tell you how many times I've seen dogs walking or being pushed in carts by their able-bodied owners at certain giant hardware stores. Once, I remarked on it as my husband and I passed a couple with a dog in tow.
Just ahead of us, a man, who happened to be an ex-employee of the store, piped up, treating us to a litany of encounters he'd had with these customers and their dogs over the years, including one dog that actually bit him. His subsequent complaint to the manager, he said, elicited nothing more than a shrug.
Frankly, if I'm out shopping, the last thing I need is some added-on stress about my tag-along pet. Does it need to eat? Does it need some water? Will it growl or snap at that little boy up ahead? Will it pee on the floor?
Dogs aren't the worst of it, however. Here are some other "comfort" animals I would never take along on a shopping trip:
• Any kind of a snake.
• Any kind of a bug, particularly a tarantula.
• Any kind of a bird that might fly up into the rafters.
• Any bull - particularly while browsing in a china shop.
• Any 2-year-old child.
• Almost any husband.
Bonnie Henry's column runs every other Sunday. Contact her at Bonniehenryaz@gmail.com