Distinguishing Between a Service Animal and an Emotional Support Animal
For centuries, humans have relied on animals for a variety of work. They were both pets and helpers. Dogs herded sheep, guarded farmhouses, pulled sleds and carts and assisted hunters.
In the 1930s, the first Seeing Eye dogs started helping the blind. Since the 1960s, the use of service animals has increased dramatically. They now help people who are deaf, those with autism, and veterans and others with post traumatic stress syndrome.
The newest addition is the emotional support animal, sometimes called a comfort animal. People with anxiety issues often keep them close to feel calmer.
With so many dogs helping humans out in public places, it’s natural that there are questions about what they actually do, what legal rights they have. Here is a quick overview to help you distinguish between a service animal and an emotional support animal.
Here in the U.S., support animals are either dogs or miniature horses that are trained to do particular chores for their owners. These are tasks that the owner, who is the dog’s handler, can’t do for himself.
These animals are chosen carefully for their personality traits like a calm demeanor, friendliness, ability to focus, and lack of both aggression and timidity. They go through extensive training before being matched with a person with a disability needing the specific type of help they’ve been trained for.
Service dogs help a variety of people, including:
- Guide dogs for the blind
- Stability dogs that help people stand and walk
- Seizure alert dogs
- Mobility dogs—they pull wheelchairs, open doors, turn lights on and other daily chores
- Autism dogs
- Psychiatric service dogs that help people suffering PTSD and other problems
- Diabetic alert dogs
Service dogs often wear distinguishing badges and vests, but this is not required by law. In fact, they don’t need to be registered or certified. Some owners actually train their own service dogs instead of choosing one from a training institute.
There are numerous laws that relate to service dogs in public areas. They must be accommodated even in areas where dogs usually aren’t allowed. Fees for animals, like rental deposits or hotel deposits, are not allowed.
It is legal for a business owner to ask about the dog, like what tasks it can do. In certain controlled environments or hazardous places, like operating rooms, it is allowed to keep the animal out. And if the service dog is out of control or being unruly, it can be removed.
Emotional Support Animal
Emotional support animals, often referred to as ESAs, don’t do any specific tasks. Their job is to simply be close by and in that way act as an emotional support for the owner. In a sense, they are hybrids, somewhere between a pet and a service animal. Any species can be an emotional support animal, like a dog, cat, rabbit, ferret, mini-pig and even a rat.
Most ESAs are used by people with a mental illness, like anxiety or PTSD. For example, a person with agoraphobia and PTSD might keep a dog as an ESA so they can feel safe when leaving the house. An ESA for a mentally ill person isn’t the same thing as a psychiatric service dog, which has received extensive training to perform specific tasks.
Because their job is somewhat hazy and ill-defined, emotional support animals don’t have the range of legal protections that support animals do. Laws vary from state to state, even city to city.
ESAs don’t need any specific training, but they must handle public spaces adequately. For example, dogs should be housebroken. No ESA should be aggressive around other animals.
Like service animals, ESAs are not required to wear vests or badges. They also don’t need to be registered or certified.
In some cases, ESAs have certain legal rights for accommodation. If the apartment or other facility allows pets, the ESA can get a waiver for deposits and related pet fees. If the housing situation does not take pets, the landlord is legally required to accept the ESA as long as the owner has a disability.
The landlord can ask for proof of disability, like a note from a doctor or other official document. The owner needs to request accommodation for an ESA in writing, which is not the case with service animals.
In some cases, the ESA can fly in the airplane cabin with the owner. The owner must provide medical proof of a disability and proof that the animal alleviates the disability.
While a service dog is allowed anywhere, an ESA is not allowed in public areas where animals are not allowed. For example, they wouldn’t be allowed in most theaters or restaurants.
Get Up-to-Date Information About ESAs and Service Animals
USA Service Dog Registration fully supports the rights of people with service animals and emotional support animals. They encourage the responsible use of these animals, protecting the rights and needs of owners as well as the public.
USA Service Dog Registration offers free registration for service dogs and emotional support animals. It’s quick, just 3 easy steps. And there’s no charge.
They also have an extensive list of resources available, like airline requirements, housing laws and state laws. The online shops have a variety of practical gear for service dogs and emotional support animals.
Have questions about your animal? Check out the USA Service Dog Registration website today.