What Makes a Pet an Emotional Support Animal?

Stephen Chernin, Getty Images
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

When the term emotional support animal appears in the news, it's usually attached to stories of travelers trying (and often failing) to bring their exotic pets onto airplanes. But an animal doesn't need to be a pig, a peacock, or something just as unconventional to qualify. What constitutes an emotional support animal has little to do with the pet itself and more to do with its owner.

Emotional support animals are pets that improve the quality of life for people living with disabilities. Typically they help people with mental health disorders, such as depression, generalized anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or some other condition that affects their emotional state.

Emotional support animals shouldn't be confused with service animals, though they both play important roles. Service animals are trained to do a specific job that directly relates to their owner's health issue, whether it's sensing blood sugar levels, responding to seizures, or acting as their ears or eyes. Emotional support animals, on the other hand, don't need any training to qualify for their title; a person diagnosed with a mental or emotional illness gets to decide if their pet's presence is essential to their wellbeing.

People with emotional support animals aren't protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act, but there are federal laws that recognize them. One is the Fair Housing Act; under this law, landlords are required to make reasonable accommodations for tenants with impairments who say the emotional support they receive from their pets alleviates some of their symptoms. This applies to almost all types of living situations, including buildings where pets are normally prohibited.

Another law that mentions emotional support animals is the Air Carrier Access Act. This says that airlines should let passengers take their emotional support animals into the cabin with them rather than checking them as cargo. Of course there are exceptions to both of these rules: A landlord and an airline may reject an animal if they think it will be especially disruptive or pose a threat to the safety of others. So even if your emotional support alligator provides you genuine comfort, you likely don't have the right to bring it into business class with you.

Emotional support animals don't need to be registered, but you'll probably need to show some paperwork if you're looking for special accommodations when flying or signing a lease. If you want to make your pet an emotional support animal, make sure you're prepared with a written diagnosis and a pet "prescription" from your mental healthcare provider.

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In What Field Was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a Doctor?

Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

Martin Luther King Jr. earned a doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University in 1955. He’d previously earned a Bachelor of Arts from Morehouse College and a Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary. His dissertation, “A Comparison of the Conception of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman,” examined the two religious philosophers’ views of God in comparison to each other, and to King’s own concept of a "knowable and personal" God.

In 1989, some three decades after King had earned his doctorate, archivists working with The Martin Luther King Papers Project discovered that King’s dissertation suffered from what they called a “problematic use of sources.” King, they learned, had taken a large amount of material verbatim from other scholars and sources and used it in his work without full or proper attribution, and sometimes no attribution at all.

In 1991, a Boston University investigatory committee concluded that King had indeed plagiarized parts of his dissertation, but found that it was “impractical to reach, on the available evidence, any conclusions about Dr. King's reasons for failing to attribute some, but not all, of his sources.” That is, it could have been anything from malicious intent to simple forgetfulness—no one can determine for sure today. They did not recommend a posthumous revocation of his degree, but instead suggested that a letter be attached to the dissertation in the university library noting the passages lacked quotations and citations.

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Who Is 'The Real McCoy'?

Inventor Elijah McCoy is may or may not be "The Real McCoy."
Inventor Elijah McCoy is may or may not be "The Real McCoy."
Ypsilanti Historical Society, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

After taking a cool, carbonated sip of champagne from the Champagne region of France, you might say, “Ah, now that’s the real McCoy.” Sparkling wine from anywhere else is technically just sparkling wine.

The phrase “the real McCoy,” which can be used to describe any genuine version of something, has several possible origin stories. And while none of them mention champagne, a few do involve other types of alcohol.

According to HowStuffWorks, the earliest known recorded instance of the saying was an 1856 reference to whisky in the Scottish National Dictionary—"A drappie [drop] o' the real MacKay”—and by 1870, a pair of whisky distillers by the name of McKay had adopted the slogan “the real McKay” for their products. As the theory goes, the phrase made its long journey across the pond, where it eventually evolved into the Americanized “McCoy.”

Another theory suggests “the real McCoy” originated in the United States during Prohibition. In 1920, Florida-based rum runner Bill McCoy was the first enterprising individual to stock a ship with alcohol in the Caribbean, sail to New York, and idle at least three miles offshore, where he could sell his wares legally in what was then considered international waters. Since McCoy didn’t water down his alcohol with substances like prune juice, wood alcohol, and even turpentine, people believe his customers started calling his top-notch product “the real McCoy.” There’s no definitive proof that this origin story is true, but The Real McCoy rum distillery was founded on the notion.

There are also a couple other leading theories that have nothing to do with alcohol. In 1872, inventor Elijah McCoy patented a self-regulating machine that lubricated parts of a steam engine without the need for manual maintenance, allowing trains to run continuously for much longer distances. According to Snopes, the invention’s success spawned a plethora of poor-quality imitations, which led railroad personnel to refer to McCoy’s machines as “the real McCoy.”

Elijah McCoy’s invention modernized the transportation industry, but he wasn’t the only 19th-century McCoy who packed a punch. The other was welterweight champion Norman Selby, better known as Kid McCoy. In one story, McCoy decked a drunken bar patron to prove that he really was the famous boxer, prompting others to christen him “the real McCoy.” In another, his alleged penchant for throwing fights caused the press to start calling him “the real McCoy” to acknowledge when he was actually trying to win. And yet another simply suggests that the boxer’s popularity birthed so many McCoy-wannabes that Selby started to specify that he was, in fact, the real McCoy.

So which “the real McCoy” origin story is the real McCoy? The 1856 Scottish mention of “the real MacKay” came before Elijah McCoy’s railroad invention, Kid McCoy’s boxing career, and Bill McCoy’s rum-running escapades, but it’s possible that the phrase just gained popularity in different spheres at different times.

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