Per the Americans with Disabilities Act, a "service animal" is a dog or a miniature horse that's trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities. That classification provides legal protections like allowing dogs into establishments that are otherwise unfriendly to pets.
It's not the same thing, however, as an "emotional support animal," an animal that helps a person's state of mind—sometimes by the suggestion of a doctor—and isn't included under the ADA. That classification has included creatures from ducks to alligators to the emotional support peacock someone tried to bring onto a United Airlines flight in 2018, a term with such flexibility that it has certainly caused a backlash for the entire category of assistive animals. Early last month, for example, a man in Arizona registered a beehive as a service animal to prove it was "too easy" to do so.
And of course, someone has gone and one-upped that: In late December, a Brooklyn resident named Floyd Hayes registered beer—yes, the beverage—as his "service animal," as first reported by Ale Street News. As with the beehive, this was done via the website USAServiceDogRegistration.com, where "Beer" (style unspecified) is now listed as an emotional support animal for Hayes' social anxiety disorder. "I travel from upstate to Brooklyn a lot, and on the bus they say its a federal crime to smoke or have an alcoholic beverage unless by prior written contest [sic], and I always wondered where you get that consent," Hayes told Brooklyn Paper.
It's safe to say that this is all a big stunt. Hayes calls himself a pioneer in "Guerrilla, Experiential Marketing," and his most recent tweet calls VICE's own Oobah Butler—who faked a TripAdvisor-approved restaurant from a London shed—his "Guerrilla Prankster hero." Per LinkedIn, Hayes is also soliciting beverage sponsors.
According to Brooklyn Paper, an unnamed employee of USA Service Dog Registration wasn't impressed. "He can register his beer all day long, it’s not going to get him anywhere," she told the publication. She also acknowledged the website's lack of "legal merit," in the paper's assessment; despite registering an animal—or in this case, a beer—on the site, people still need corroboration from a doctor in order to bring their support animal onto a plane or into a business.
According to the company's Better Business Bureau profile, people have complained for years about exactly that. "Hired this company to write a letter qualifying me for an emotional support animal. My landlord says it is not a valid letter," reads a complaint from last year. While websites like this one might make great meme fodder for folks like Hayes and the Arizona beekeeper, registry websites have been called out in the past for taking advantage of people with disabilities.
When it comes to Hayes' next bus beer, he can offer all the registration numbers he wants, but at the end of the day, it'll likely come down to the judgment of the long-suffering bus driver who's surely heard much more ridiculous explanations for drinking during a ride and probably isn't in the mood for more bullshit.