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Bogus emotional support animal letter gets Utah mental health counselor in trouble


State regulators publicly reprimanded a mental health counselor after finding she wrote a letter recommending an emotional support animal for someone who didn’t need one. (Photo: KUTV)
State regulators publicly reprimanded a mental health counselor after finding she wrote a letter recommending an emotional support animal for someone who didn’t need one. (Photo: KUTV)
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SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — State regulators publicly reprimanded a mental health counselor after finding she wrote a letter recommending an emotional support animal for someone who didn’t need one.

The counselor who practices in Salt Lake City, JeNae Sue MacFarlane, was also ordered to take additional classes.

The letters are often sold online, and they allow someone to take an animal on a plane or to live in a rental property for free.

The person who bought the letter for $149 online turned out to be a legal firm working on behalf of the airlines. In a letter to the Utah Department of Commerce Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, the purchaser called the bogus letters a “category of fraud and theft that is growing at an epidemic rate, victimizing airlines and physical endangering the traveling public.”

In a two-minute call with MacFarlane, neither mental health nor disabilities were discussed, according to the purchaser of the letter.

A mental health expert hired by the state found MacFarlane did a “flawed assessment,” essentially giving special privileges to a pet.

Those who rely on their service dogs say they’re getting more scrutiny and questions.

“The people that actually need the dog get ridiculed and get looked at because other people have broken the rules,” said Eric Anderson, a Marine veteran who lives in Salt Lake City.

No documentation or identification is required for service dogs, according to Teri Yool, who trains service dogs through the nonprofit Canines with a Cause.

Yool said emotional support animals aren’t trained to do anything; they provide comfort. Service dogs, on the other hand, are trained to perform specific tasks for their owners.

“There are dogs that are untrained wearing their fake (online) service dog vests, biting kids, defecating in public places, barking at people,” Yool said.

Anderson urges people not to seek the special status unless they truly need it.

“It impacts so much more than I just want to get my dog on the plane,” he said.

“That just puts a bad taste in everybody’s mouth for people that actually have service dogs and that need service dogs, because then the public starts looking at it — ‘Well, he’s not really a service dog,’” Anderson said.

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MacFarlane did not respond to several requests for comment.

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