What Is An Emotional Support Animal (ESA)?

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Emotional Support Animal

Emotional Support Animal (ESA) – as defined by Wikipedia: “An emotional support animal (ESA) is a companion animal which provides therapeutic benefit, such as alleviating or mitigating some symptoms of the disability, to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. Emotional support animals are typically dogs and cats, but may include other animals.

In order to be prescribed an emotional support animal by a physician or other medical professional, the person seeking such an animal must have a verifiable disability. To be afforded protection under United States federal law, a person must meet the federal definition of disability and must have a note from a physician or other medical professional stating that the person has that disability and that the emotional support animal provides a benefit for the individual with the disability. An animal does not need specific training to become an emotional support animal.”

I Read The Definition, But Again I Ask: “What Is An Emotional Support Animal?”

Wait a second, an emotional support animal sounds an awful lot like a Service Dog!?  Confusing, I know…let me see if I can help clarify muddy these waters.

Revised ADA Requirements: Service Animals

First of all, lets take a look at the Revised Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Requirements for Service Animals and see what it has to say.  From the Revised ADA Requirements: Service Animals doc:

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act.

Some State and local laws also define service animal more broadly than the ADA does. Information about such laws can be obtained from the State attorney general’s office.

Check out the bottom of the first paragraph: “Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.”  So, the ADA does not cover ESA’s, but it appears there are definitions under the Service Carrier Act, the Fair Housing Act, and also maybe some specific state laws that define things differently so lets research a little further.

Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) As It Relates To ESA’s

This excerpt is from the following document: http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/rules/20030509.pdf

The 1996 DOT guidance document defines a service animal as ‘‘any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If the animal meets this definition, it is considered a service animal regardless of whether it has been licensed or certified by a state or local government.’’ This document refines DOT’s previous definition of service animal by making it clear that animals that assist persons with disabilities by providing emotional support qualify as service animals and ensuring that, in situations concerning emotional support animals, the authority of airline personnel to require documentation of the individual’s disability and the medical necessity of the passenger traveling with the animal is understood.

So lets look more closely at this line: “This document refines DOT’s previous definition of service animal by making it clear that animals that assist persons with disabilities by providing emotional support qualify as service animals.”  So according the the ACAA an emotional support animal does qualify as a service animal.

Fair Housing Act As It Relates To ESA’s

This excerpt is from the following document: https://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/huddoc?id=servanimals_ntcfheo2013-01.pdf

Persons with disabilities may request a reasonable accommodation for any assistance animal, including an emotional support animal, under both the FHAct and Section 504.

I researched through FHAct and Section 504 on the HUD.gov website and couldn’t find specific definitions of Emotional Service Animals.  The above clip does show that “assistance animals” include “emotional support animals”.

As for the individual state laws?  Since there are 50 states I don’t think I’m going to try and dig into that one, but Service Dog Central does a very good job looking at different legislation state by state.

So what does this all mean?  My take and I could be wrong:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not include Emotional Support Animals (ESA) in it’s definition of Service Animals.
  • The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) includes ESA’s in it’s definition of Service Animals.
  • The Fair Housing Act (FHAct) includes ESA’s in it’s definition of Service Animals.

That was a bit of a long definition, but as you can see different bodies define ESA’s differently so their really is no clear answer.  What about your guys?  Is this how you view Emotional Support Animals?  Am I missing something?  Tell me your thoughts in the comment section below.

These are my interpretations and as always, it is best to discuss your rights with a qualified attorney.

We’ve altered our Wordless Wednesday posts.  Rather than being Wordless we are using our “Word Wednesday” posts to define a term that relates to the content in our blog.

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7 Comments

  1. Wow! I didn’t realize that an Emotional Support Animal was different from a Service dog. Great article. Thanks for posting!

  2. There is a big difference between a service dog and an emotional support animal. People need to be educated about the differences and the level of access for both service dogs and emotional support animal’s. Fraudulent service dogs make it difficult for legitimate handlers of both service dogs and ESA’s.

  3. Wow interesting. You would think that they would all have the same definition. Seems confusing if you are someone with an Emotional Support Animal. I guess you’d have to do your research before traveling with the anima. Great article!

    1. Yes, you really need to do your research before traveling with your pet. There are lots of rules and regulations and we’ve also heard that some airlines are much more lenient then others when it comes to these rules.

  4. I was just chatting with a dog trainer friend of mine about this yesterday. Sometimes people try to pass their dog off as a service dog so they can get the dog in places they are not usually allowed. This can really hurt the service dog accessibility if stores have bad experiences with non-service dogs in service dog clothing. Great article! Thanks for posting!

    1. This is a huge problem in the service dog and puppy raising community. Yes, you are correct this really does hurt service dog accessibility as many of the “non-service dogs” in service dog jackets are not well-behaved. One of the larger service dog organizations, Canine Companions for Independence has a petition circulating in an attempt to stop service dog fraud. If you have a moment check it out at http://cci.org/stopfraud. Thanks for stopping by!

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