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Rich Manieri: A new standard in emotional support

April 5, 2019

I know it comes as a terrible shock that there are those among us who attempt to breach the sanctity of “emotional support animal” appropriateness but, alas, we have arrived.

It seems two men boarded a Qatar Airways flight with two “emotional support falcons,” at least according to a passenger who tweeted from the plane.

And before we go any further, I must give credit to an online commenter who calls himself, or herself, “mrgeoff” and posted the following under the story on Foxnews.com:

“The falcons were allowed one piece of carrion each.”

Fantastic.

I’m not much of a birdsman, but falcons don’t seem very supportive. In fact, they seem very serious and intense, and a little intimidating.

I can imagine going through a rough emotional patch and a falcon grabbing me by the collar, much like Don Corleone did to Johnny Fontane in “The Godfather,” and slapping me around.

“You can act like a man!”

Falcons certainly aren’t very cuddly and I would think cuddliness would be a prerequisite for emotional support - kittens, koala bears, pandas, puppies, guinea pigs.

A turtle would make sense. Not because he’s cuddly but he’s just so laid back and steady.

“Turtle! I’m really stressed.”

“Whatever, dude. Relax.”

An “emotional support parrot” I can see. Parrots give me the creeps but at least they can be trained to be verbally supportive. “There, there...pretty bird. Hello! Night night.”

I feel happier already.

Now that I think of it, in the interest of diversity, why not falcons? I suppose we should be open-minded enough to consider some often-overlooked animals with emotional support potential. We might learn a thing or two from our Canadian friends.

In Calgary, you can now apply to have a livestock emotional support animal.

“Based on research on the most popular livestock animals that are considered in an urban setting, the city is expecting to see applications for such animals as chickens, pot-bellied pigs and horses - although a permit for a larger animal like a horse would need to come with sufficient space,” reported the Calgary Herald on March 29.

A chicken doesn’t seem very supportive either - easily distracted and terminally frustrated, what with their incredibly ironic wing predicament - so delicious to humans, yet so useless to get away from them.

“Hey, chicken. I could really use some help over here.”

“Later. I’ve got my own problems right now.”

A squirrel wouldn’t be a good emotional support animal - too nervous, too focused on nut gathering and wire walking.

“I need you, squirrel.”

“What? What do you want? Are you talking to me? For crying out loud! There’s an acorn in the middle of the street that I must have immediately and I’ve got a lot of traffic to deal with.”

While using an animal as a source of emotional support is popular at the moment, it’s not new.

As the Washington Post reported in 2017, “In the 17th century, a Quaker-run retreat in England encouraged mentally ill patients to interact with animals on its grounds.”

Also, whether your emotional support animal is a horse or a hedgehog, there’s no empirical evidence that it actually works as a viable source of comfort. The Post cited a Yale study that revealed a “murky body of evidence” that “has shown positive short-term effects, and often no effect and occasionally identified higher rates of distress.”

The last point actually makes a lot of sense. My wife and I have a two-year-old Corgi named Henry - God bless him - who is basically a 30-pound termite. He has eaten - not chewed but ingested - socks, underwear, carpet, plastic bags, among other inanimate objects. He certainly isn’t very emotionally supportive, especially when he’s barfing up an umbrella.

If my father were alive today, I’d like to ask him several questions, including, “What would you do if I asked you for an emotional support animal?”

I can guess, I suppose.

“I got your emotional support animal. Right here!”

But, I realize, this is a different time.

So, falcons, sloths, chipmunks, geckos - whatever gets you through the day and airlines sanction is OK by me. Who am I to judge?

Just don’t be surprised when more liberties are taken and don’t say I didn’t warn you when someone shows up on your flight to Orlando with an ostrich.

Rich Manieri is a Philadelphia-born journalist and author. He is currently a professor of journalism at Asbury University in Kentucky.

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