Comfort Animals and Amending Laws

I don’t like crowds. Can I bring a comfort skunk? I think a skunk would help me persuade crowds that I’m more comfortable when they scatter far and wide. When skunks let you know their opinion, they get right to the point.

A law allowing comfort animals, where those same animals are not allowed except for the accompanying humans being psychologically disabled, when psychological standards, especially as applied, are almost meaningless, should be voided, because human psychology should not be a factor. Even to the extent psychological tests are available and offer interrater consistency, psychologists are legally licensed to rely on their own professional judgment without those tests.

Some exceptions could be justified. An example might be one permitting comfort animals which are allowed in public spaces, such as most dogs and cats, to be in a human’s home for a psychological purpose even if a rentier or landlord does not allow such animals in the home. (A rentier with a no-pets policy likely pays less for liability insurance, which may let rent be more competitive.)

Evidence may support a role for a therapy animal for diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). An open question is whether the role must be during all of the human’s hours awake or if substantial benefit, as with many forms of therapy, is available from part-time accompaniment by the animal. Where part-time therapy would suffice, an exception would be enough for walking a dog for outside relief and for taking any animal to a veterinarian, but not to a store or post office that does not allow it. If the therapy must be full-time, and the person should be independent, that would require that the person be able to go anywhere a person can even though accompanied by an animal that can’t go to all the same places, and that raises the issue of the standard to be used to determine whether that person should have an exception. Even though PTSD is serious and disabling, if being able to bring a comfort animal everywhere is attractive enough many people will claim to suffer symptomatologically low PTSD in order to get permission for the comfort animal they don’t really need.

In those cases, both parties (e.g., master and rentier) should be free to get current psychological evaluations and prognoses of the human in question with adjudication to resolve any relevant difference in opinion between the evaluations. The process could be repeated when ordered by the adjudicator or when indicated by the consensus (perhaps an arithmetic average) of the prognoses unless the parties agree to delay or waive a repetition.

Perhaps the bars to admission into some public spaces in state law should be reduced. It’s likely a wide variety of animals are brought into pet stores, so, if the concern is with human health, in modern times that’s likely exaggerated and studies can be reperformed at intervals as new information about diseases is available. But I don’t know if those bars should be reduced. Dogs do bite, even dogs that are domesticated.

One could argue that most animals should be allowed as pets and that masters (or owners) should be allowed to bring them anywhere. That proposition has almost no public support. Circuses with elephants collide into lack of public support in many communities. Fears of attack and disease, or desires for safety and health, are widespread and lead to restrictions on animals as pets. In early 2020, the world is battling a virus that likely came to humans from a certain species of animal, and those animals are generally reasonably inappropriate as pets. Zoos could have them because zoos likely have the means to keep humans safe from them, just as they do with lions and porcupines. Few species should qualify as pets.

The issue is political, keyed to statutes. What the statutes should say is a decision left to the public (and reviewable whenever the public so wishes). The public should offer its thoughts on whether to amend any laws, and how.

If someone wants to violate the law, we have a tradition of civil disobedience, but that includes taking the penalties, including possible taking away of pets, and trying to persuade the larger public about the issue. I’m not aware of civil disobedience to increase acceptance of comfort animals. I’m not even aware of a public relations campaign without civil disobedience to increase acceptance of comfort animals. Any major campaign of that sort can’t wait for the public to discover the campaign, so a blog wouldn’t be enough.

Animal-rights advocates, it has been said, are less involved in electoral politics than are some other issue-defined communities, and thus likely have less influence among politicians. At the same time, the advocates are likely no less able, on average, to be involved in political arenas and represent their interests. If so, the lower involvement is the advocates’ problem, and other people don’t have to stand aside for them.

Thus, there is not much reason to ignore the laws and the values they represent for other people, even though the laws are restrictive and even if the safety and health concerns are exaggerated (and I’m not sure they are).