Emotional Support Animals and the Americans with Disabilities Act - Emotional support animal - paw and elderly hand

What is the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA Act)?

Emotional and Medical Support Animals and The Americans With Disabilities Act

When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was implemented more than two decades ago, the protections offered for individuals utilizing animals for medical and emotional support were limited.

Since that time, the provisions have been modified, providing a greater scope of protection for service animals (SAs) and emotional support animals (ESAs), as well as the individuals who own them or utilize their services.

There is also an often-overlooked combination between SAs and ESAs, known as psychiatric service dogs (PSDs).

It is important to understand that there is a legal difference between SAs, ESAs, and PSDs, as well as the legal protections afforded to each distinction. A brief description of each classification of animal is as follows:

Service Animals

Service animals are traditionally dogs or miniature horses that are specially trained to assist individuals with disabilities. Individuals who are deaf, blind, restricted to a wheelchair, or suffer from seizure disorders benefit tremendously from the assistance of SAs. SAs can be trained to complete specific tasks, such as retrieving medication, performing household tasks, and assisting individuals with stability and mobility.

Emotional Support Animals

Unlike SAs, ESAs are not specifically trained to perform tasks or recognize medical conditions, and, in fact, there is no requirement that ESAs be dogs. ESAs are classified as animals offering support of the individual’s emotions, comfort, and wellbeing. Under ADA guidelines, in order to be considered an ESA, the owner must have a diagnosed psychological disability or condition, such as an anxiety or personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or depression.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric service dogs are a combination between SAs and ESAs in that they offer both emotional support and can be trained to recognize psychiatric episodes or destructive behaviors. To qualify for a PSD, individuals must be diagnosed with severe disorders that could place them in danger.

The ADA and ESAs

Now that we have discussed the important distinctions between SAs, ESAs, and PSDs, it is time to move on, more specifically, to a review of the protections offered to individuals with ESAs under the ADA.

After more than two decades, the U.S. Department of Justice ruled in 2010 to offer more distinction between service animals and emotional support animals.

More specifically, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) has moved to provide even greater distinction and to promote further protection for ESAs and their owners.

These more recent updates to the definition and protections have led to a greater awareness of ESAs and their importance to many individuals.

Under ADA guidelines, ESAs are not afforded some of the basic legal protections of SAs and PSDs, such as the ability to take ESAs to all public locations.

For example, SAs and PSDs are legally protected with the ability to accompany individuals to public areas, like theaters, whereas ESAs may not have the same protection. There are several specific provisions within the ADA, however, that do directly protect ESAs and their owners, including reasonable accommodation and housing.

Reasonable Accommodation

Under Title II of the ADA, individuals with ESAs must be provided reasonable accommodation for their animal as an assistive aid. As an assistive aid, ESAs are often compared to that of a wheelchair, which requires reasonable accommodation in order for an individual to enjoy certain activities.

Housing

While ESAs are not considered “service animals,” they are also not considered “pets,” because they do serve a specific purpose for the individual.

The ADA and FHA both have been updated to provide protection for individuals with ESAs from unfair housing regulations.

Individuals with verified ESAs (diagnosed and in possession of a legitimate ESA letter) cannot be denied housing, even if the housing complex or property owner has a “no pets” policy.

It is recommended that individuals with ESAs write a letter to the prospective property owner requesting reasonable accommodation for their animal based on the disability.

In order to receive the protections of the ADA, ESA owners must be able to verify there is an emotional relationship that supports their overall mental health and well-being.

Fees

Another protection under the ADA, and as part of the Housing & Urban-Rural Recovery Act of 1983, is the protection of ESA owners from fees or deposits.

Property owners cannot charge pet policy deposits and fees to individuals who are disabled and who own SAs, ESAs, or PSDs.

However, if an ESA significantly damages the property, the property owner can legally charge a fee to the individual vacating the property.

The Future of the ADA and ESAs

Several elements of the ADA and other pieces of legislation have been called into question as the use and awareness of ESAs increases.

One example is the issue of housing on college and university campuses.

Because the ADA and FHA are not always consistent in the language and definitions of SAs and ESAs, there is some question to the legality of ESAs on campuses, which are considered public places.

Court cases like United States v. University of Nebraska-Kearney and Alejandro v. Palm Beach State College address the issue of whether campus housing is classified as a “dwelling” under the ADA and FHA and whether SAs and ESAs should be allowed in classrooms and public areas.

Another area of concern is the use of ESAs in the workplace.

Because ESAs are not given the same protections under the ADA as SAs, there is some confusion regarding the use of ESAs, the legal rights of employers, and the legal rights and responsibilities of ESA owners.

Because of these cases and other factors, many believe that the ADA should be further assessed and revised to address the distinction between SAs, ESAs, and PSDs; their use; and the protections that should be afforded to the individuals with disabilities who benefit from them.

Would you benefit from having an emotional support animal? Do you qualify?

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33 Comments on "What is the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA Act)?"

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Kenneth Bell
Guest

We have an emotional support animal and we keep getting harassed when we go to certain mom and pop hotels, mainly in the Keys. The bigger chains don’t have a problem with it. He has been an emotional support animal since 2014. He is perfect, small, a chug. Can we make him something more? We have a Dr’s note, which is current and dates back to 2014.

David
Admin

Unfortunately, the Fair Housing Act in not applicable to hotels and locations of temporary stay. Kudos to the big brands for working with you. That said, there is nothing in the FHA or ADA that allows for Emotional Support Animals to accompany you in hotels, motels or other places you stay at on the road.

Anielle
Guest

I have my dog registered as an ESA because I suffer from an eating disorder. I also have an online doctors letter due to the fact that obtaining a mental health therapist in person is quite expensive. My pet has provided much comfort to me these past 2 years, however I am starting to have problems with my neighbor. I live in a community with an HOA, and they filed a violation against me for having a pit bull. Am I still legally allowed to keep him there? Or do HOA’s not abide by the FHA/ADA?

David
Admin

HOAs do not supersede Federal Law! You are still legally allowed to have him.

mark barton
Guest

I have a H.O.A. in town that has a 2 dog limit I have 2 dogs that are pets my wife and I have one E.S.A. dog each .They will not let me buy in the subdivision because they count the too e.s.a. dogs as a total of four dogs they should not count the too e.s.a. dogs in the total count should they?

David
Admin

This is a tough one we see time to time. There is no legal precedence establishing that an ESA is not a pet. Rather, an ESA is typically viewed as a pet that provides support. As such, the interpretation is that 1 pet and 1 ESA is actually 2 pets, one of which happens to be an ESA.

Maria E Taronji
Guest

I suffer from anxiety and my question is how i made my dog a emotional support animal?

Michelle
Guest

A doctor or a physician’s assistant will write a letter prescribing or recommending “pet therapy” if you have been diagnosed with an illness that could benefit from this. There isn’t a test or certification process for your pet to undergo.

SDAdvocate
Guest

ESAs are not covered by laws to have public access and bringing a dog into a grocery store other than a task trained service dog is a health code violation. Yes, they can legally deny allowing your ESA in a business unless it is pet friendly.

SDAdvocate
Guest

Emotional Support Animals are not granted public access under the ADA, so your dog would not be allowed even with a doctors note. Only task trained service dogs are allowed to go everywhere.

SDAdvocate
Guest

As this stayes above, ESAs are not covered by the ADA to be allowed public access, therefore, they are not allowed in hotels/motels unless the business is pet friendly.

Kevin
Guest

I’m looking into an ESA and I travel frequently for my work but I was looking for regulations for hotels and motels allowance of an ESA.

Samantha Adcock
Guest

There is a fine between an ESA and a Psychiatric Service Dog. Where an ESA could potentially be prohibited from public venues, a Service Animal cannot.

If your dog has been trained to perform services such as alerting you to COPD triggers, reminding you to take your medication or warn you of an impending panic attack it may quality as a Service Animal.

Andy
Guest
Under the recommendation of my family doctor (FNP) I was giving a letter and script for an emotional support animal. When I went to talk to my landlord she was rude and said I needed a ton of proof that for over a year I have been diagnosed. It may be in my doctors notes that I have sever anxiety but we are just not treating me. I did have meds I was given after the birth of both children for depression but they made me feel terrible so I stopped using them. So I guess my question is… Can… Read more »
kayla
Guest

I have anxiety and already have an emotional support cat would it be possible to register a second emotional support animal or are people limited to one?

Amanda
Guest

My 3yr old has Sensory Processing Disorder. At times it can be extreme, to the point of her hurting herself or even passing out. Do you know if they make service dogs to recognize these types of behaviors? (for instance, if she’s overwhelmed could a dog be trained to recognize this before she starts slamming her head into a wall or biting herself?)

minlee
Editor

Amanda, there are service dogs that are trained to address many different issues. We suggest that you investigate this through service animal websites. We address emotional support animals that are different from service animals as ESAs are not specifically trained to complete specific tasks like service dogs are. Good luck with your daughter, Amanda. Our hearts go out to her.

Amanda
Guest

I should also add that she has severe anxiety and social anxiety. She can not handle loud, busy places with lots of people.

Linda W.
Guest
I have my Maltese registered as my ESA but I don’t have a doctors note. Is it a law I have the doctors note? We are attending an outing in a park, put on by the county, tomorrow and they specify No Pets Allowed. I cannot stay if they won’t allow my dog to be with me. I have severe COPD and I suffer from depression, anxiety and panic attacks. Sometimes I can’t get my breath and feel no one sees me because I sit low in a mobility cart. With my pet, I’m never alone and more people see… Read more »
David
Admin

Hi Linda. Even if you have registered your Maltese, it is not legally an Emotional Support Animal without a recommendation/prescription letter from a Licensed Mental Health Professional or Physician. There are a number of sites that simply register the animal. These are generally regarded as scam sites, as a registration is not the legal requirement or legally recognized per the Americans with Disabilities Act, Air Carrier Access Act or Fair Housing Act.

Correy
Guest
Hi I’ve had my emotional support animal through my mental health for roughly eight years now. But I was givin this Animal by a friend when she was 6 weeks old and I was trying to drink myself to death in New Orleans to help me rebound and get my life straight. Over the past few years I’ve been having a problem with her escaping a fenced-in yard when I’m not around and the animal police are threatening to keep her and not her return her to me. Is that legal to do with an emotional support animal? I spent… Read more »
David
Admin

Unfortunately, yes. ESAs are required to be controlled and properly kept. There is precedence in case law regarding the expectations around the companion animals. These include repercussions regarding excessively disruptive or destructive animals and may extend to animals that place an undue burden on the public.

Lauren A. Shepherd
Guest
My dog is certified as an ESA. I have panic disorder and a walking disability and he is a comfort to me. My husband and I are homeowners and we no longer fly anywhere, because we are 80+ years old, and the only time I leave the house is to go grocery shopping. Our store has allowed me to have him on my lap as I shop (I use an Amigo electric cart) until a couple of months ago when he got frightened and barked for a moment. Now the manager will not allow me to have him with me.… Read more »
Heather Lancaster
Guest
I have a rabbit as an ESA. 6yrs old. Raised from 3 months. He has been my companion. I have lost more people in my life! Then add trauma of abuse from employers that have strong A type personality that down grade me, verbally abuse me. My mind finally went into protection mode, and me into many panic attacks. I withdrew from people. However, having this rabbit changed my life!! I began taking him out with me, and I saw he was a bridge to connecting to people, but causing THEM to soften before we talked. This opened me up… Read more »
Chanel
Guest
My grandmother moved into an apartment that requires a high pet deposit but is on disability and cannot pay. Plus $25 monthly pet rent. She still had her cat with her and than ended up getting fines the $400 for the unauthorized pet. Since then I have taken the cat into my home. But it’s hard because she misses her dearly and always tells me she is lonely and wants her back. She does have mental disorders that she shes a doctor for, anxiety, manic depressive disorder, and bi-polar. I am hoping I cann register the cat as a emotional… Read more »
Haley
Guest

Manic depressive disorder IS bipolar disorder. They are the same thing. But regardless, you couldn’t get her permission for her- she would need to seek out her own letter & mental health services. If she truly is bopolar, she would have a psychiatrist already as these people cannot function w/o meds.

Chris
Guest
Not all Bipolar individuals take medication, especially if coping abilities are achieved within their environment. Using a emotional supportive animal is extremely helpful because it allows the calmness in an environmental situation that can actually increase their activities of that “in the moment” event. Touching, smelling and holding a comfort support animal can be wall-breaking and allow that person to relax and reduce the episode and allow them to stop, think and react differently then they would in the heat of the moment. Remember, walk in the shoes of that person… everyone wears a different size. Unfortunately every situation is… Read more »
Teri
Guest

Yes she would have a psychiatrist. But you are wrong Haley! I am bipolar with other emotional issues and not on meds because of my support animal. Some of THESE people as you call us can function w/o meds! Get your facts straight before commenting on US people

JoAnn Blang
Guest

Our RV park has a 40 lb ruling on dogs in the park. A resident has a husky malamute dog. they claim that it is a companion animal. Can the manager request certification that they do indeed need a companion dog. The dog is in the pen most of the day . Does an individual have to show proof that the animal is a companion animal?