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Episode 23: Pets are people too?

When dining at high-end restaurants and strolling through local galleries, writer and humorist Patricia Marx started to notice something peculiar: an increasing number of pets. She was puzzled about how people were getting their furry friends into typically pet-free establishments. But with a little research and a bit of help from some not-so-snuggly animals, Patricia revealed the secret. On this episode of Relate: the lengths people go to to keep their pets by their side wherever they go.

Featured in this episode:


TAMARA STANNERS: So, imagine you're at a fancy restaurant and your delicious meal has just arrived at the table. You're so excited to dig in but all of a sudden, from behind you, you hear this really high pitched whining sound. Then, a scratching sound and then, there's this waft of air that brings in this musty smell that just reminds you of the pet shop that you used to visit when you were a kid. You turn around to see what's going on when you make eye to eye contact with a miniature Yorkie, who's just about to dig into its delicious meal. And you're like, "What?"

You wave down the waiter and he really quietly explains to you that normally pets aren't allowed in the restaurant but they've had to make a special exception for this one.

Today on Relate, the lengths that some people go to, the lies they tell, the laws they break, just so they don't have to be separated from their furry friends. I'm Tamara Stanners and this is Relate by Zen Desk. It's a show about relationships and today's show is no different, except for this one involves pets.

ANDY SHEPPARD: Emotional support pets.

TAMARA STANNERS: This is my emotional support producer, Andy Sheppard. So, what's going on here?

ANDY SHEPPARD: Well, you know folks love their pets.


ANDY SHEPPARD: Sometimes they love their pets more than they love each other. I mean, there's a statistic out there. 40% of married women, who are dog owners, say that they get more emotional support from their pets than from their husbands or their kids.

TAMARA STANNERS: As sad as that sounds, I believe that that is true and that sounds like part of the big problem.

ANDY SHEPPARD: Yeah, it might be. I mean, some people have become so attached to their dogs or cats or snakes or whatever, that they refuse to leave home without them. So, Patty Marx, who writes for the New Yorker, she noticed this trend and she started to look into it.

PATRICIA MARX: I found out that there were a lot of people abusing the laws and taking animals places that they legally weren't allowed to take them.

TAMARA STANNERS: So, let's clarify now. We are not talking about service animals?

ANDY SHEPPARD: No, we're not talking about seeing eye dogs and that sort of thing. Those animals that are highly trained to help someone with a disability. We're also not talking about people with depression or who are suffering from PTSD, people who would get significant support from having an animal around. We're really just talking about people who don't want to be away from their pets and they've found this loophole that lets them take their animals anywhere and everywhere with almost no questions asked.

TAMARA STANNERS: And they get away with this by saying they're emotional support animals?

ANDY SHEPPARD: Yeah. I mean, it's slightly more complicated than that.

PATRICIA MARX: First of all, there's a confusion about the difference between an emotional support animal and a service animal. So, emotional support animals are companions to human beings and help them get through the day. Help them function psychologically. They are not trained animals, unlike service animals.

ANDY SHEPPARD: And I should say here that there are certain privileges awarded to emotional support animals. For example, the fair housing act allows them to live in buildings that otherwise prohibits best, which makes sense. The air carrier access act will let your animal, usually a dog or a cat, fly with you for free as long as you have a letter from a medical professional saying that they're an emotional support animal, or an ESA.

But here's the thing, people are testing. They're seeing how far they can bend these rules by taking their animals almost everywhere with them by claiming that the animal is an ESA, an emotional support animal.

PATRICIA MARX: How are people getting away with this? It's easy. Nobody really knows the difference. The difference between an emotional support animal and a service animal. If you break the law and are on the side of kicking someone out how who really is legitimately allowed to be there, you could be fined hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If you let somebody in who has no right to be there, it's a slap on the wrist. I should know because I took these five animals all sorts of places where I wasn't allowed.

TAMARA STANNERS: Okay, wait, what did she do? What's she talking about here?

PATRICIA MARX: I picked five particularly non nurturing, non comforting animals, and asked their handlers if they would accompany me to preposterous places that animals don't usually go.

ANDY SHEPPARD: So first, just know that no animals were harmed as a result of Patty's reporting.

TAMARA STANNERS: Oh, I love hearing that.

ANDY SHEPPARD: But she did manage to pull off some pretty unbelievable stunts with five ... Well, let's just say these aren't your typical warm and fuzzy pets.

PATRICIA MARX: So, the first animal that I took on the town it was a large, large turtle on a leash. It's name was Turtle and it was, I believe, 15 pounds and 13 inches. I first took it, I think, to Libuton Shu Boutique where I wanted to take pictures and I put the turtle inside a $7,000 shoe, which they let me do. Then, when I wanted to take a picture they said, "No pictures of the shoes." So, you can destroy their shoes with turtles but you can't take a picture of it.

Then, I took the turtle to the Frick Museum. The Frick Museum in New York is a wonderful museum that doesn't even allow children under the age of 10. So, I get in line with my turtle and everyone is looking at the turtle. I get to the front of the line and I said, "One adult, one turtle." He said, "Well, animals aren't allowed in the museum." I said, "Well, I have a letter." The guy says, "You have a letter?" Then, he calls his superior and says, "She has a letter."

Then, the superior comes and reads the letter and calls somebody else and pretty much goes through the same thing. It was, "She has a letter. She has a letter. She has a letter." Finally, that letter was read by a person who can say, "You can go into the Frick." But, he did say, "How old is the turtle?" Because as I said, children who are under 10 can't go into the museum. So I said, "Seven." He just says, "Hmm, looks good for seven."

TAMARA STANNERS: Okay, that sounds like the turtle had the best day of its life out on the town. What exactly is the letter that Patty is talking about?

ANDY SHEPPARD: So, this is the key. This letter is a key to getting your animal into almost any establishment where they might otherwise be banned. It's a letter from a health professional saying that the animal plays an essential role in the emotional well being of its owner.

TAMARA STANNERS: Okay, well how did Patty get this coveted letter?

ANDY SHEPPARD: Well, she says anyone can just Google emotional support animal letter and find a ton of websites with health professionals who are willing to issue a letter for emotional support animals for around $100. Patty found a therapist in California who agreed to access her needs over the phone.

PATRICIA MARX: I prepared a lot because I thought that this was going to be a much more rigorous interview than it turned out to be. I came up with my story about Augustus, my snake. I said that when I was a little girl I fell into a pond and I was very frightened until I saw a snake in the pond and this snake really rescued me psychologically. But, ever since, I've had to have a snake with me at all times.

Okay, that's a fairly preposterous story but I thought I'll go with it. So, this therapist talk to me on the phone, in a voice that you use if somebody has one day left to live. She's very soothing and kind and she said, "How does your snake help you?" I said, "Oh God, it helps me get through the day. It's an icebreaker if I don't have anything to talk about." She was very, very, very sympathetic. She wrote me a letter that certified that the animal was an emotional support animal. So, it's really easy to do.

TAMARA STANNERS: This is the shadiest thing ever.

ANDY SHEPPARD: Clearly, clearly shady. While you're at it, you can get a degree from the university, right?

TAMARA STANNERS: What is the number?

ANDY SHEPPARD: Yeah, yeah. So, another animal that Patty traveled with proved to be the most popular of the bunch.

PATRICIA MARX: I took a pig on a plane. The pig's name was Daphne. I met Daphne and her owner. I get to the ticket counter and I show my credit card. The person [inaudible 00:09:58] sees the pig and says, "Just a minute please." And gets on the phone and I hear, "Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). A pig. Yes, in a stroller. Yes. Yes." Then, she says, "Just a minute." And she asked me, "Does it run fast?" I said, "No." Although, in fact it runs really fast.

TAMARA STANNERS: How fast do pigs really run?

ANDY SHEPPARD: I looked this one up and apparently a domestic pigs are pretty good sprinters and they can get up to around 11 miles an hour.

TAMARA STANNERS: Oh, that's so fast. Imagine that running down the aisle and that could be a problem.

ANDY SHEPPARD: It's like traveling with a toddler.


ANDY SHEPPARD: But Patty had the pig pre securely strapped into a baby carriage so, they were good to go for the time being.

PATRICIA MARX: We're going through the airport, rolling in its stroller. We get to security and one of the security guards says to another, "Hey Frank, I didn't know you had a sister."

ANDY SHEPPARD: So, aside from the pig behaving like a pig, the flight went pretty smoothly. Once Patty arrived at her destination it was Daphne's time to shine and rub elbows with some high society types.

PATRICIA MARX: Then, we went to tea at the Four Seasons. I roll the pig in in its stroller. So, you can't exactly see what it is at that point. Two very proper ladies walk by and one of them says, "My God, do you know that your baby is oinking?"

We sat down and we had tea. Sophie fed the pig some scones but we drew the line at the prosciutto sandwiches. I said to the waiter, "Have you ever had a pig in here before?" He said, "Not on four feet." Then, we went back and that was the end of my animal adventures. I'd been wanting to get jury duty so I can take a skunk in with me but I haven't yet.

TAMARA STANNERS: So, Patty's able to get a turtle into a museum that kids aren't even allowed and a pig to high tea at the Four Seasons and no one refused her, nobody.

ANDY SHEPPARD: It's amazing isn't it?


ANDY SHEPPARD: I mean, and there's more too. Remember Patty's conversation with the therapist to register her pet snake, Augustus, as an emotional support companion. Well, she took Augustus, who is a yellow, black, and red, 30 inch long Mexican milk snake, on a couple of adventures. Their first stop was Chanel, of course.

TAMARA STANNERS: Of course, it was.

ANDY SHEPPARD: Where a sales person showed her wallets that would match Augustus' skin.

TAMARA STANNERS: What? That seems so wrong on so many levels.

ANDY SHEPPARD: I know. I know. Well, think of it from the snake's perspective.

TAMARA STANNERS: Right, that's what I was doing.

ANDY SHEPPARD: So, her next stop with Augustus was the only time Patty was ever refused entry anywhere.

PATRICIA MARX: I think there was one person at a fancy restaurant, the Maitre D, who just said, "I will not allow a snake in this restaurant." I said, "But, it's an emotional support snake." He said, "I don't care." I said, "You're breaking the law." But he didn't care. I was also lying.

TAMARA STANNERS: So, what does all of this say about people and animals?

PATRICIA MARX: What my take away ... I mean, on the one hand it's amazing what you can get away with. On the other hand, I'm not sure it's right. I don't know, I talked to Peter Singer who's a philosopher who does a lot of thinking about animal rights and he said, "First of all, it's not particularly nice to the animals. Maybe they don't want to go to the Frick Museum and maybe if you need an animal to get you through the Frick Museum, maybe you don't even need to go to the Frick Museum." So, it's not nice to animals but I think it's here to stay.

TAMARA STANNERS: Patricia Marx is an American humorist and writer. She currently works as a staff writer for the New Yorker and teaches at Princeton University and the 92nd Street Y. Special thanks to Ashley Walters for the interview and for producing this piece. Thank you emotional support's producer, Andy.

ANDY SHEPPARD: Anytime, you just need a letter.

TAMARA STANNERS: That's it for Relate this week. Next week, an episode about self awareness with Dr. Tasha Urich. She's got some useful tips on how to be more self aware and how that can lead to better relationships, less stress at work, and just an all around better you. In the mean time, subscribe to Relate for free on Apply podcast or where ever you listen and we'll get that episode to you automatically.

For articles on how to connect with your customers in deeper more meaningful ways visit and for a free trial of our customer service software, check out I'm Tamara Stanners, talk to you soon.