This paper probes the distinction between the so-called emotional support animals (ESAs), a term that is specific to the USA and that has recently been the subject of significant media attention, and service animals. The attention devoted to ESAs has largely taken on the form of jokes and critical comments related to the absurdity of the ‘political correctness’ that makes it possible for pigs to fly in the passenger cabin of airplanes and llamas to accompany their owners on trips to the supermarket. Much criticism is meted out, also from within the disability community, against animal guardians who try to ‘pass their animals off’ as service dogs and ESAs, with a call for the establishment of clear-cut criteria for the definition of ESAs and service animals. The paper’s methodology is an analysis of the media accounts of legitimate and illegitimate service animals; an analysis that reveals how the boundary between legitimate and illegitimate is constructed through the building blocks of these stories. ESAs are something of a limit case that points to the cultural paradoxes that govern Americans’ relationships with companion animals and with concepts of disability. The paper also argues that the insistence on establishing firm boundaries between ‘legitimate’ service animals and ESAs actually fosters a politics of suspicion, which can easily slip into suspicion directed at the human handlers of the animals.
- cultural studies
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