UNM professor working on guidelines for emotional support animal certification

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s becoming more common: cats in grocery carts, dogs sitting in booths at restaurants. Emotional Support Animals are showing up everywhere, and a University of New Mexico professor is saying most of the people who have companion animals, don’t need one.

Now, he’s working to make standards for providing a patient with an ESA more clear. “It’s an area that has gotten out of control,” said Dr. Jeffrey Younggren.

People are taking their pets with them everywhere, as emotional support animals. “We’ve seen individuals certify snakes, ducks, a potbelly pig,” said Dr. Younggren.

Dr. Younggren has been working for at least four years on research into emotional support animals. He hopes to create a more formal definition of what an ESA is, and who really needs one.

He says right now, it’s too easy to get pets certified. In fact, you can get the certification quick and easy on the internet.

Carol Wight with the New Mexico Restaurant Association says restaurant employees see people walking in with their pets daily.

“What we’re seeing now is feeding their dogs at the table, feeding them under the table. Those are the kinds of things a service animal would never do,” said Wight.

While service animals — which are trained to provide a function for their owner — are allowed in their establishments, emotional support animals are not.

“You can have one on the patio if the restaurant allows that, but not inside the restaurant,” said Wight.

Dr. Younggren says he hopes his research will create clearer guidelines for mental health professionals to follow before certifying an animal.

Dr. Younggren says there are four guidelines practitioners should follow before providing the certification. One of the most important is understanding how the animal interacts with their human, to determine whether they actually have a beneficial effect on their mental health.

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