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There are major legal differences between emotional support animals and service animals. Knowing the difference will help you in understanding your rights. It will also determine how you go about obtaining the right documentation and identification for your animal.What is the Purpose of Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals
By helping individuals with disabilities function better in society, emotional support animals (ESAs) serve a higher purpose than regular house pets. The sole purpose of an emotional support animal is to provide therapeutic benefits to individuals with mental, emotional or psychological disabilities.
On the other hand, service animals provide direct assistance to people with disabilities. A service animal’s main purpose is to perform functions and tasks that individuals with disabilities cannot perform themselves. Direct assistance includes guiding individuals who are blind, picking up items, or alerting and calming a person experiencing a panic attack/anxiety.What Kinds of Animals can be Emotional Support Animals?
Emotional support animals are not limited to just dogs. All domesticated animals can qualify as an emotional support animal as long as they are not a nuisance and are manageable in or around public areas.
Under titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals are limited to dogs and, in some cases, miniature horses. The animal must be able to perform tasks directly related to the owner’s disability. Although service animals are limited to dogs and miniature horses, the ADA does not restrict the type of dog breeds.Training Requirements for ESA’s and Service Dogs
Emotional support animals are not required by law to have special training because their role is to provide emotional comfort, companionship, friendship, and affection to their owner or handler. Their presence mitigates stress associated with the owner’s psychological or emotional disability.
However, service animals are required under law to be highly trained to work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. To ensure good public behavior and adequate support, dogs undergo extensive training before they become service animals. While every state has different laws regarding training, it can take roughly 1 to 2 years to train a service dog although there are not age requirements. Although training is required by law, people with disabilities are not required to use a professional service dog training program. They may train their service animal themselves.Documentation for ESA’s and Service Animals
Emotional support animals are not covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Owners are required to acquire an ESA letter, provided by a licensed mental health professional before they are granted access to apartments with a no-pets policy. The letter should state how the owner’s disability substantially limits their lifestyle and how an emotional support animal is necessary for treating their mental health.
Service animals, on the other hand, are entitled to accompany their owners in all public areas and facilities. Under ADA, businesses are only allowed to ask (1) if the dog is required due to a disability and (2) what task the dog has been trained to perform. Unlike owners of emotional support animals, service animal owners are not required to show documentation. Some service animal handlers may chose to carry an service dog identification card or have a vest on their service dog to avoid harassment by people who are ignorant to service dog rights.
We hope this helps clarify some misperceptions you may have had on Emotional Support Animals and Service Dogs! Share this article to help your friends or family find the help they may need.