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,
or chat with us below.

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  • Mike Dace says:

    What is the FAA or Frontier law/policy regarding a small quiet service dog sitting in a dog bed on a empty seat next to me!!
    I have been threatened 2x for her sitting on a empty seat on her bed. She is a 16# female

  • Judith Farley says:

    I need to know I can keep my pet chickens, all hens. They do not leave the property..

  • Tina says:

    A friend with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is about to move into a supportive / assisted living group home for people who are disabled with TBI. The owner is saying that they will not accept any animals including ESA. My friend has a cat who is his ESA. Does this establishment have the legal right to deny my friend’s ESA? Thank you.

  • Kenneth Bell says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

    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 says:

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

      • mark barton says:

        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 says:

          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 says:

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

    • Michelle says:

      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.

      • Dee says:

        Not just any doctor It should be done by the psychiatrist who has been treating you for the disorder would be the best to get it from. The longer the history is documented the better.

  • SDAdvocate says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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.

    • certapet says:

      Kevin,
      Emotional Support Animals are not Service Animals which means they are not guaranteed access to hotels. I recommend you check with the hotel at your destination prior to travel, so that you prevent any issues. 🙂 Feel free to email us at [email protected]

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