Emotional Support Animal Laws
We call them man’s best friend. Dogs, cats, and other animals are pillars for many of our emotional and psychological needs. Why? These furry companions have been around for centuries as humankind’s most loyal and oftentimes closest companions. So it’s not surprising that many of us now rely on emotional support animals (ESAs) for our mental health needs. One of the challenges ESA owners face is misinformation about ESAs. Below is a summary of emotional support animal laws to better understand your rights.
Difference Between an Emotional Support Animal and a Service Dog
If you’re an individual with an emotional or psychological disability, emotional support animals can be an excellent companion. While emotional support animals are used as part of some treatment plans for mental health, they are not considered service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As their name indicates, emotional support animals provide support for those suffering from mental or emotional distress.
If you suffer from anxiety, depression, panic attacks, or other psychological and emotional conditions, the law protects your right to have an official emotional support animal. It is important to know that, unlike service animals, emotional support animals are not required to undergo specialized training. A must be trained to assist with the handler’s disability, but an emotional support animal does its job just by being present. ESAs are also often used in Animal Assisted Therapy sessions to assist with their owners’ psychiatric or intellectual disabilities.
Emotional Support Animal Access To Public Places
Emotional support animals do not have the same legal rights as service dogs. As mentioned before, service dogs are protected by the ADA. The broad public access rights for assistance animals under the ADA only extend to service dogs that are individually trained to perform tasks to benefit an individual with a disability.
Due to this distinction, your emotional support animal is not protected by the ADA. Service dogs are allowed access to all public places such as stores, movie theaters, hospitals, and restaurants. On the other hand, emotional support animals are allowed access only to residences (including buildings with no-pet policies) and on select airlines. Please keep in mind that although ESAs do not need any special training, they still need to be well behaved and should have the ability to follow basic commands.
What Laws Protect Emotional Support Animals?
Although emotional support animals do not have the same access rights as service dogs under ADA, they are protected under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). If you meet the criteria for ESA qualification under the FHA, you are entitled to live with your emotional support animal free of charge and deposits, even if your building doesn’t allow pets. The FHA also prevents housing providers from imposing breed and weight restrictions on your ESA. Many state laws mostly mirror the FHA, which provides additional protection against discrimination for ESA owners. Housing providers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for ESA owners so they can have equal opportunity to use and enjoy their residence.
Until recently, emotional support animals also enjoyed the right to fly with their ESA in the cabin under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). However, due to regulatory changes that went into effect in January 2021, airlines are no longer required to accommodate emotional support animals (although a few airlines still have programs to allow them). However, psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) are still allowed to fly on planes, free of charge. A PSD is a type of service dog that performs tasks relating to an owner’s psychological or intellectual disability. Under the ADA and ACAA, PSDs have the same rights as service dogs that perform tasks for the physically disabled. To learn more about how to fly with a psychiatric service dog, please click on this link for a complete guide.
How Do I Make My Pet Into a Legitimate Emotional Support Animal?
To qualify for an emotional support animal, you need to obtain an ESA letter from a licensed healthcare professional, such as a therapist. The licensed healthcare professional will assess whether you have a qualifying condition and whether an ESA would help improve symptoms of your condition. Any licensed healthcare professional can issue an ESA letter, but many are not aware of the benefits of ESAs or familiar with how to write an ESA letter.
If your current health care provider is unfamiliar with ESAs (or is unwilling to issue an ESA letter), or if you don’t have anyone you’re currently seeing, ESA Doctors can help. ESA Doctors is a caring and reputable service that has operated since 2015 and can connect you to a licensed ESA specialist. Just click on the link below to get started.