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.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, send it to bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Is There An International Standard Governing Scientific Naming Conventions?

iStock/Grafissimo
iStock/Grafissimo

Jelle Zijlstra:

There are lots of different systems of scientific names with different conventions or rules governing them: chemicals, genes, stars, archeological cultures, and so on. But the one I'm familiar with is the naming system for animals.

The modern naming system for animals derives from the works of the 18th-century Swedish naturalist Carl von Linné (Latinized to Carolus Linnaeus). Linnaeus introduced the system of binominal nomenclature, where animals have names composed of two parts, like Homo sapiens. Linnaeus wrote in Latin and most his names were of Latin origin, although a few were derived from Greek, like Rhinoceros for rhinos, or from other languages, like Sus babyrussa for the babirusa (from Malay).

Other people also started using Linnaeus's system, and a system of rules was developed and eventually codified into what is now called the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). In this case, therefore, there is indeed an international standard governing naming conventions. However, it does not put very strict requirements on the derivation of names: they are merely required to be in the Latin alphabet.

In practice a lot of well-known scientific names are derived from Greek. This is especially true for genus names: Tyrannosaurus, Macropus (kangaroos), Drosophila (fruit flies), Caenorhabditis (nematode worms), Peromyscus (deermice), and so on. Species names are more likely to be derived from Latin (e.g., T. rex, C. elegans, P. maniculatus, but Drosophila melanogaster is Greek again).

One interesting pattern I've noticed in mammals is that even when Linnaeus named the first genus in a group by a Latin name, usually most later names for related genera use Greek roots instead. For example, Linnaeus gave the name Mus to mice, and that is still the genus name for the house mouse, but most related genera use compounds of the Greek-derived root -mys (from μῦς), which also means "mouse." Similarly, bats for Linnaeus were Vespertilio, but there are many more compounds of the Greek root -nycteris (νυκτερίς); pigs are Sus, but compounds usually use Greek -choerus (χοῖρος) or -hys/-hyus (ὗς); weasels are Mustela but compounds usually use -gale or -galea (γαλέη); horses are Equus but compounds use -hippus (ἵππος).

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Can Soap Get Dirty?

iStock/vintagerobot
iStock/vintagerobot

When you see lovely little bars of lemon-thyme or lavender hand soaps on the rim of a sink, you know they are there to make you feel as fresh as a gardenia-scented daisy. We all know washing our hands is important, but, like washcloths and towels, can the bars of hand soap we use to clean ourselves become dirty as well?

Soaps are simply mixtures of sodium or potassium salts derived from fatty acids and alkali solutions during a process called saponification. Each soap molecule is made of a long, non-polar, hydrophobic (repelled by water) hydrocarbon chain (the "tail") capped by a polar, hydrophilic (water-soluble) "salt" head. Because soap molecules have both polar and non-polar properties, they're great emulsifiers, which means they can disperse one liquid into another.

When you wash your dirty hands with soap and water, the tails of the soap molecules are repelled by water and attracted to oils, which attract dirt. The tails cluster together and form structures called micelles, trapping the dirt and oils. The micelles are negatively charged and soluble in water, so they repel each other and remain dispersed in water—and can easily be washed away.

So, yes, soap does indeed get dirty. That's sort of how it gets your hands clean: by latching onto grease, dirt and oil more strongly than your skin does. Of course, when you're using soap, you're washing all those loose, dirt-trapping, dirty soap molecules away, but a bar of soap sitting on the bathroom counter or liquid soap in a bottle can also be contaminated with microorganisms.

This doesn't seem to be much of a problem, though. In the few studies that have been done on the matter, test subjects were given bars of soap laden with E. coli and other bacteria and instructed to wash up. None of the studies found any evidence of bacteria transfer from the soap to the subjects' hands. (It should be noted that two of these studies were conducted by Procter & Gamble and the Dial Corp., though no contradictory evidence has been found.)

Dirty soap can't clean itself, though. A contaminated bar of soap gets cleaned via the same mechanical action that helps clean you up when you wash your hands: good ol' fashioned scrubbing. The friction from rubbing your hands against the soap, as well as the flushing action of running water, removes any harmful microorganisms from both your hands and the soap and sends them down the drain.

This story was updated in 2019.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER