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What happens when a support animal gets aggressive?

Emotional support animals (ESA) are critical resources for Americans who deal with mental health issues every day; their animals allow them to tackle struggles such as anxiety, depression, PTSD and social shyness in the public sphere.

Unfortunately, many pet owners abuse the emotional support animal system, so they can bring pets wherever they please. It results in improperly-trained pets with the identifications of an ESA in airports, retail stores and apartment complexes.

It’s already put people at risk for dog bites or other animal attacks. For example, a by another passenger’s emotional support dog. The injured passenger sustained several bites to the face and sought medical attention immediately after the incident.

The training behind emotional support animals

While the passenger did not sustain any serious injuries, it makes other people question the training required for ESAs and what to do if a support animal bites you. In the case of training, ESAs animals are entirely different than service animals.

Essentially, service animals have years of strict training before they serve an owner. They also can be specialized to fit the specific needs of an owner. For example, one service dog may be able to guide a blind person around their neighbor, while another service dog can identify when their owner has a seizure.

For ESA, there is no training required. Therapists and psychiatrists suggest you pick a well-behaved animal to act as your emotional support companion, but they won’t make you train the animal for specific tasks. People can register ESA online and receive a formal certification in a few weeks.

The lack of training for ESAs puts others at risk in case the animal is frightened or threatened in a public space; the ESA may not know how to react and act aggressively to protect itself or its owner. So what should someone do if an ESA injures them?

Injured victims should react the same to any other animal bite: seek immediate medical attention, notify the Division of Disease Control and record the details of the attack. In Pennsylvania, you can also file a claim to seek compensation for medical bills or lost wages. Do not feel intimidated to report just because the animal was an ESA.

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