Service animals have become an essential part of our society. They provide the support needed so that their disabled owners can still lead independent lives. This is the reason why service animals are allowed into certain non-pet friendly environments such as grocery stores and restaurants. But what of those who own animals that aid with mental illness? What rights are they afforded?
Emotional Support Animals vs. Service animals
It’s important that you understand that emotional support animals and service animals are not the same. Because of these subtle differences, the law differs depending on what type of animal you have (an ESA or a service animal). Service animals receive specialized training to aid their disabled owners. These tasks can range from transporting a person to and fro (such as riding a horse) to guiding a visually impaired individual during their daily activities. The sole purpose of a support animal, however, is to help their owner deal with mental illness such as depression and PTSD. For example, some individuals pet their domesticated rabbit when they’re feeling stressed. Others seek the comfort of their pet rat when they’re feeling depressed. Simply holding an ESA can help to alleviate mental stress. Unlike service animals, emotional support animals don’t need specialized training, and they can be quite exotic.
Specific protection for Emotional Support Animals in Phoenix, AZ
Unfortunately, ESA’s don’t receive the same privileges as support animals when it comes to the law. However, ESA’s in Phoenix, AZ (and many other cities and states) still have laws that protect them. Here are a few laws that protect ESA’s in the Phoenix area.
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) comes into play for individuals who plan on flying with their ESA. In depth documentation is sometimes required for this process, and the rules are strict. In most cases, before you set foot near an airplane with an ESA, a legally licensed mental health professional must write a letter that proves that you have a mental illness and that you have need of an ESA. The letter must have the medical professional’s letterhead, should indicate the practice (such as psychologist or psychiatrist), and can’t be more than one year old. You might also have to give notice to the airline before traveling with your ESA (typically 48 hours in advance).
As an employee with a mental disability, it’s the responsibility of the employer to provide reasonable accommodations for your emotional support animal. It’s unlawful for an employer to discriminate against anyone who utilizes the support of an ESA though this is only the case for employers with five or more employees. That means that even if the business in question explicitly forbids animals on the premises, the employer must still allow support animals to accompany their owners. Just like traveling on a plane, your employer may demand documentation that proves your need for an ESA.
If you’re renting, it doesn’t matter if your landlord allows pets or not, they have to provide accommodations for you and your ESA. Of course, the landlord may require paperwork to verify your condition and your need for an emotional support animal, but as long as your documentation is legitimate, there shouldn’t be any issue. Your landlord can neither evict you nor charge a pet deposit due to your ESA.
Exception to Rules
With any rule, there’s always an exception. In Phoenix, service animals are allowed more liberties than emotional support animals (such as being allowed greater access to more public areas). An ESA must also be house trained if they’re to be allowed in the work place and they cannot pose a danger to anyone. These exceptions also apply to living conditions. Landlords can block an ESA from living with its owner if the animal is not properly trained and poses a threat to either the property or other tenants.
How to get an ESA in Phoenix, AZ
If you’re interested in getting an ESA in Phoenix, AZ, you’ll need the proper documentation from a certified mental health professional. You can receive one from a psychologist, psychiatrist, or a clinical social worker. Before receiving such a letter, you must first pass a screening process to see if you qualify for an ESA. Luckily, there’s a five-minute screening test that you can take here. This questionnaire is completely confidential and will allow you to ascertain whether or not you qualify for an ESA quickly.
Where to Take your Emotional Support Animal in Phoenix, AZ
If you’re looking to get out of the house with your ESA, here are a few locations that you should check out:
Pet-friendly dog parks & trails
PETsMart Dog Park at Washington Park – this is one of the most popular dog parks in Phoenix, especially if you want to let your dog off lease. This park is 2.5 acres and separates the big dogs from the small ones. There are plenty of watering stations and benches!
South Mountain Park and Preserve – ready for an adventure? Take your dog on this popular trail that stretches over 51 miles!
Pet-friendly restaurants & bars
O.H.S.O. Eatery + NanoBrewery – you can enjoy over 30 handcrafted brews as well as a diverse spread of good eats while your dog is welcome on the back patio.
Postino – if you’re a fan of wine bars you can bring your four legged friend as you enjoy some wine and bruschetta on the dog-friendly patio.
Pet friendly hotels
Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort – this resort allows two pets up to 75lbs (pet fees apply).
Westin Phoenix Downtown – you can bring two dogs up to 40 lbs to this pet friendly hotel! All other pets are not permitted.
3rd Annual Doggie Street Festival – pamper your pet at this dog friendly festival. You’ll be able to sample the latest pet foods, health supplements, pet accessories, and so much more! The next event will be held on January 20, 2018.
There are many more activities and events in the Phoenix area where you can take your ESA. Do your research and have fun!
You don’t have to suffer alone
It’s estimated that one in four Americans will develop some form of mental illness in the year 2017. That’s nearly 61.5 million people. If you happen to suffer from an emotional or mental illness, an emotional support animal may be able to help you cope with your condition. If you’re in the Phoenix area, the law is on your side. Get tested to determine whether or not you’re eligible for an ESA today, so that you can benefit from the company of a new four legged companion.