Common Questions

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Are Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals (ESA) The Same?

No. ESAs are often dogs or cats, but they can be just about any type of pet—and unlike assistance dogs, they are considered pets. They provide emotional support, but they receive no special training and perform no special tasks to help their disabled owners. Their owners must, however, be disabled.  To have an emotional support animal, a person must have a confirmed diagnosis (usually of a mental illness) and be given a prescription for an ESA by an overseeing doctor who believes the pet will be of benefit to the patient’s mental health.  The ADA does not make provisions for emotional support animals. A disabled individual with an ESA does not have the same legally protected rights to take their pet into any place the public is permitted access.  ESA owners must receive permission from someone authorized to grant it at any property or facility prohibiting pets.  However, under the US Fair Housing Amendments Act, ESAs cannot be barred from any housing, even if pets are otherwise not permitted. Owners cannot be charged a pet deposit for an ESA either. Emotional support animals are also allowed to ride uncrated and at no extra charge with their owners in airplane cabins under the Air Carrier Access Act. In both instances, the owner may be required to produce proper documentation from their doctor and up-to-date vaccination records.  Be prepared and have all of your paperwork together.

Learn more About: Service Dogs | Companion Dogs  | Emotional Support Dogs

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So What IS the Difference between a Service/Assistance Animal and An Emotion Support Animal?

There’s a lot of confusion about the many names for the different types of animals that help people with disabilities. Assistance dogs (including guide, hearing, and service dogs) are protected by their human partner’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Then there are psychiatric service dogs, emotional support animals (ESAs), and therapy dogs… it’s no wonder some people are a little unsure  what’s what. Assistance Dogs: Assistance Dogs not only provide a specific service to their handlers, but also often greatly enhance their lives with an increased new sense of freedom and independence. The three types of Assistance Dogs are GUIDE DOGS for the blind and the visually impaired, HEARING DOGS for the deaf and hard of hearing, and SERVICE DOGS for people with disabilities other than those related to vision or hearing. Although Guide Dogs for the blind have been trained formally for over seventy years, the training of dogs to assist deaf and disabled people is a much more recent concept. There are organizations throughout the world that are training these wonderful dogs, however according to the ADA a Service Animal can be trained by its handler. Disabled individuals with Assistance Dogs are guaranteed legal access to all places of public accommodation, modes of public transportation, recreation, and other places to which the general public is invited. Emotional Support Animals: While Emotional Support Animals or Comfort Animals are often used as part of a medical treatment plan as therapy animals, they are not considered service animals under the ADA, but are covered under the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the  Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) when certain conditions are met. These support animals provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities. Even though some states have laws defining therapy animals, these animals are not limited to working with people with disabilities and therefore are not covered by federal laws protecting the use of service animals.  Therapy animals provide people with therapeutic contact, usually in a clinical setting, to improve their physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning.

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Can You Be Asked What Your Disability Is?

NO! When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

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Can You Be Asked To Have Your Service Animal Demonstrate How She/He Assists You?

NO!  You cannot be asked that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task. Under the ADA, it is training that distinguishes a service animal from other animals. Some service animals may be professionally trained; others may have been trained by their owners.  However, the task that the service animal is trained to do must be directly related to the owner’s disability.  

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What Questions Can I Be Asked Regarding My Disability And My Service Animal?

Business owners and staff are only allowed to ask two questions regarding service dogs. They may ask if the dog is a service animal that is required due to a disability and what type of work or task the dog has been trained to do. The ADA prohibits them from asking about a person’s disability!

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Does My Service Animal Have To Wear A Vest And Have An ID Card?

A public accommodation or facility is not allowed to ask for documentation or proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal. However, that being said, it is ALWAYS wise to have a vest on your service dog and an ID stating she/he is a Service Dog.  Always be prepared!  The more ammo you have, the easier it will be when dealing with public accommodation facilities.   Remember, Service animals are animals that are individually trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities – such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling wheelchairs, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, or performing other special tasks. Service animals are working animals, not pets.

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What Documentation Do I Need For My Emotional Support Animal?

For a person to legally qualify for an emotional support animal (ESA), he/she must be considered emotionally disabled by a licensed mental health professional (therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, etc.), as evidenced by a properly formatted prescription letter. Some airlines and property managers will accept a verification form completed by a family doctor.  An emotional support animal (ESA) is a person’s pet that has been prescribed by a person’s licensed therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist (any licensed mental health professional). The animal is part of the treatment program for this person and is designed to bring comfort and minimize the negative symptoms of the person’s emotional/psychological disability. Most Airlines currently require up-to-date vaccination records as well.

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