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Process to register your pet as a support animal is easy, and it's easy to abuse

Posted at 3:11 PM, Sep 06, 2018

You see service dogs everywhere—from airports to walking on the streets. But some people are abusing the system, in order to save on pet fees on planes and apartments. It’s a whole lot easier to get your dog registered as a support pet than you may think.

Shana Duffy, who has bipolar disorder, is someone who medical professionals agree needs Apollo, her emotional support dog.

"I had a traumatic experience happen, and I no longer felt safe in my own home," says Duffy.

Duffy says Apollo has improved her life.

"Ok, I'll be blunt; there was one night I was thinking about killing myself and the thought popped into my head, 'Who is going to take care of Apollo?' What's going to happen to my dog if I do this?’ And that was enough for me to stop thinking about it."

An emotional support dog is not the same as a service dog, which does something physical for its owner.

The law allows emotional support dogs on an airplane for free. In a hotel or apartment, a landlord cannot ban the dog or charge a pet fee. There's no requirement for an emotional support dog to be trained.

So, how easy is it to get a certification for a support dog? The NOW’s investigative reporter Jace Larson went through the process to try and his get his pet designated as an emotional support dog.

First, Larson went online to Pet Certify Express. The service costs $99, and then you are prompted to answer a lol of questions online. The questions inquired about life events that may have cause great physiological stress, including situations like divorce, breakups, financial trouble, unemployment and deaths in the family.

After answering the questions honestly, Larson’s pet Rocky was deemed an emotional support dog.   

Cathy Castagna-Petersen was the supposed licensed professional counselor who approved Rocky. She claimed to be licensed in Colorado until 2020. However, an investigation revealed her license expired in 2013.

Calls to Pet Certify Express and Castagna-Petersen went unanswered.

Shana Duffy says stories like this ruin it for people who need the help, often times having to answer to people doubting her.

"I have no fear in telling people, 'Hey, I was inpatient in a psych facility and a doctor told me to get a dog. So, when you get your medical degree we can have this conversation again. But my doctor said I should do this and there are a lot of benefits to it.'"