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

Emotional/Medical Support Animals and The Americans With Disabilities Act

Effective since 1990, The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination in all areas of “public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public”, stated by ADA.

Public places must allow “reasonable modifications” for these individuals, and therefore; service animals are accepted as such.

So the ADA recognizes service animals, but what about emotional support animals and therapy animals?

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

Service Animals or Psychiatric Service Dogs

A service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Tasks performed can include, among other things, pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, alerting a person to a sound, reminding a person to take medication, or pressing an elevator button.

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals, comfort animals, and therapy dogs are not service animals under Title II and Title III of the ADA. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not considered service animals either. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability. It does not matter if a person has a note from a doctor that states that the person has a disability and needs to have the animal for emotional support. A doctor’s letter does not turn an animal into a service animal.

The ADA and ESAs

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. 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.

Housing Protection for Emotional Support Animals: The Fair Housing Act

According to the Fair Housing Act, individuals who are disabled cannot be denied housing based on their diagnosis or requests for reasonable accommodation. Under the FHA, a disability is defined as a “physical or mental impairment”, which substantially limits one or more major life activities. These activities can include caring for oneself, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, sleeping, and learning.

The FHA allows tenants with mental or emotional disabilities to request a reasonable accommodation for their Emotional Support Animals.

Individuals with verified ESAs (diagnosed by a LMHP 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.

Another important note: landlords cannot ask for a pet deposit or any fee for an emotional support animal (unless the animal is destructive to the property or you, the owner, is neglecting them).

Flying Protection for ESAs: The Air Carrier Access Act

Under the Air Carrier Access Act, ACAA, anyone with a diagnosis of a mental disability and an emotional support animal letter from a mental health professional verifying the emotional benefit of the animal will be allowed to travel with the animal.

If the requirements are met, the airline is not legally allowed to ask questions about the disability and cannot restrict ESA owners and their animals from boarding the airplane.

And like the housing law, you are not required to pay a pet fee if you wish to travel with your emotional support animal.

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

Take our free screening to find out:

See If You Qualify For An ESA

Any Questions?

You can go to our FAQ section,
Email us at [email protected],
call us at (877) 207-0561,
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  • Samantha Adcock says:

    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 says:

    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 she denie my request for reasonable acomidations for a ESA if I have a doctors prescription ?

  • kayla says:

    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 says:

    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?)

    • Amanda says:

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

    • minlee says:

      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.

  • Linda W. says:

    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 me because they see my baby first. I don’t feel so isolated. My Maltese only weighs 3 lbs and is as big as she’s ever going to get. She is harmless unless you consider licking dangerous. Please let me know as soon as possible.

    • 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 says:

    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 12 years living on the streets I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, depression and explosive anger disorder. She has been a blessing for me the last 11 years we have been together and losing her will be devastating to me, even though she will die someday and that will be hard someday atleast I will be there comfort her.

    • CertaPet says:

      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 says:

    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. Is there anything I can do to be able to have him with me? He is a great comfort.

  • Heather Lancaster says:

    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 to step back out and trust people again. When I had shut downs, each time I embraced him, deep inside me, I would feel this peace that seemed to wash away fears. Because I finally had one friend who would NEVER YELL AT ME!! Would kiss my face!! Would never walk away when I had a bad day!! In my hardest moment when I couldn’t move due to my mind closing down my actions for a moment from a trauma news, it was the touch of my rabbit that popped me out of it. Nothing else worked. Because again! I knew deep inside, HE wasn’t leaving! Just because others were. I still had him. So I was ok! — now I take him everywhere!!! I am a totally different person!!!! Only every once in a while I have a panic episode. I grab him, and hold him close till I settle down. HOWEVER…….
    I have moved to a new county, the people here in some towns are harsh and cruel against poor and people who are different and emotionally unstable.. I have been attacked!! Kicked out!! Disrespected!!
    I can’t leave my rabbit home! This defeats the perpose of why I have him!
    I need the people who set up this system, to realize how important this is to people!!! How much it really effects people’s life’s!!!! That putting restrictions on us, is like making the actual people stay inside their house all day!!!! Do you want to help them or not????
    Because I stepped out, walked every day up and down in shops, with my rabbit, took him everywhere, I changed from a fear based lonely isolated abused person who was waiting for the next person to abuse me again!!— to a happy lady who was excited to meet people, and see who she could encourage out there!!!! I changed!!!!!! In fact, I got a second rabbit to train as a theraphy bunny for other people to hold!!! So other people can experience this peace!!!! I get countless positive comments in the bayarea of San Jose CA over this!!! They can’t just be restricted to my room!!! how else am I suppose to heal if this is all I have????

  • Chanel says:

    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 support and she can have her without having to pay deposit plus monthly fee that she can not afford. Do you think this is possible still?

    • certapet says:

      Send us an email at [email protected]. If you mother struggles with a mental or emotional disability we will definetely be able to connect her with the right person. Once she gets a recommendation letter, she will be protected under the Fair Housing Act, and will be able to leave with her pet, without paying hefty fines.

    • Haley says:

      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.

      • Teri says:

        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

      • Chris says:

        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 different, nothing presents the same and no condition is treated the same. (just my opinion) It is very hard to understand the individual event, especially if you are not the person experiencing it. (Outside persons do not factor into that consideration, the individual is the person, who matters.)

  • JoAnn Blang says:

    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?

    • certapet says:

      Landlords can ask for additional paperwork but if you have specific legal questions, I suggest you speak with a lawyer that is knowledgable about tenant law. In the meantime, you can check out this guide.