When Pets Fly: More and more animals take to the friendly skies

COLONIE, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Thousands of animals fly across the country every day while sitting on the plane with their owners, but now Delta Airlines is cracking down on which pets can fly.

More and more pets are flying but not down below in baggage. They’re up in coach. And it’s not just dogs going up, up and away.

Turkeys. Pigs. Ponies.

So how did the friendly skies become Noah’s Ark? By using three letters: ESA or Emotional Support Animal. All you need is a letter from a doctor saying you need your pet to fly with you for emotional reasons.

It’s easy to get one. Online companies are popping up like fleas.

NEWS10 ABC wanted to find out how to get an ESA letter. Anchor John Gray has three dogs, but instead, used a Christmas ornament for the application.

There are dozens of companies to choose from.  John chose petletter.com. He entered the dog’s name – Ornament – and then answered seven psychological questions such as ‘Do you have trouble sleeping?’ ‘Do you get anxious or frightened?’ ‘Are you ever sad?’

John qualified, and the ESA letter was $99. The website wanted his credit card information but it didn’t charge until he spoke with a doctor who called and evaluated him.

A Beverly Hills, Calif., number called, and it’s a woman who said she is a doctor. She didn’t ask any questions about mental health. The call lasted less than three minutes.

John was charged the $99 and received an e-mail that said he was getting the letter. The letter states John is under a doctor’s care, she personally evaluated him, and in her professional opinion, he has an emotional disorder and needs a support animal to fly. The letter even states the dog’s name is Ornament.

“That’s a racket,” clinical psychologist Rudy Nydegger said.

Dr. Nydegger looked at the letter John received and was really annoyed. He has written letters for emotional support animals, but only after meeting and spending time with a patient. He said quick-buck websites do a disservice to everyone.

“Sending a letter of support based on seven questions and a phone call I think is completely inappropriate and it does discredit a legitimate need that many people have,” he said.

As for Ornament, the only trip he’s taken is to John’s basement to hang out with the other Christmas decorations.