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Peanuts no, pussycats (and mini-horses) yes?

Oscar the cat sits in his carry on

Oscar the cat sits in his carry on travel bag after arriving at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix in this Sept. 20, 2017 photo. In 2011, the National Service Animal Registry had 2,400 service and emotional support animals registered. Now they have nearly 200,000. Credit: AP/Ross D. Franklin

Waiting to escape to sunny Florida, the blonde woman seated beside me on Jet Blue at LaGuardia Airport suddenly began to sneeze and wheeze. Eyes watering, she noticed the culprit: a woman had stashed a cat container under the seat across the aisle from us. Both the blonde and the cat began whining loudly.

Yep, this was going to be a great flight!

The blonde cried, “What’s that cat doing here? I’m allergic!” When the cat lady protested that it was her “emotional support cat,” the other woman sneered, “Give me a break! Where’s the flight attendant? I need a Benadryl! And this toxic animal gone!”

Cat Lady whispered into the cat container “Don’t listen, Cleo,” but she started moaning even louder (the cat, not the woman), clearly distressed. Cat Lady kept trying to emotionally support Cleo, to no avail. What’s wrong with this picture?

The flight attendant hastily directed Cat Lady and Cleo to a seat in the rear of the plane, but the damage was done.

In 2011, the National Service Animal Registry had 2,400 service and emotional support animals registered. Now they have nearly 200,000. That leads many people, including me, to believe that many of these emotional support animals are not legit. In fact, critics are concerned that pet owners may be filing phony documents to avoid paying fees or to get permission to get their animals to places where they normally would not be allowed.

Last year, the Department of Transportation prioritized three types of service animals for travel on planes: dogs, cats and miniature horses. You read that right. I haven’t seen any of these flying horses on Jet Blue yet, but the year is young.

Disability professionals say mini horses offer a real alternative to service guide dogs for the blind. The horses are fast learners and live up to 40 years, about four times longer than dogs.

Fair enough. But many people today are trying to pass off their dogs, cats, ducks and other pets as service or emotional support animals. Sorry, putting a yellow vest on your Goldendoodle with the words “service animal” embroidered on it doesn’t make it one.

Later during the flight, I asked a flight attendant for peanuts. “We don’t serve them,” she said, explaining that if someone on the plane is allergic, the residue could get into the air vent. Yes, peanut allergies can be life-threatening. And exposure to animals can trigger asthma symptoms.

Can’t we take both seriously, and finally crack down on the fraudulent emotional-support-animal claims?

Follow playwright Mike Vogel at @mikewrite7.

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