A service animal undergoes specific training and certification and performs a specific set of duties and tasks for their owner. For example, a seeing eye dog provides physical guidance and other duties to a vision-impaired owner. Keep in mind, the cost of training can be very costly. Costs can be as high as $15,000 for training over a two year period.
In contrast, an emotional support animal does not undergo any type of specific training and is not responsible for carrying out certain tasks. Instead, the animal provides support and comfort through simple companionship and affection.
Many people confuse emotional support animals with psychiatric service dogs, which are trained to do certain tasks that help their owner effectively cope with a mental illness. For example, a psychiatric service dog might be responsible for reminding their owner to take their daily prescribed medication. Or, a person who suffers from dissociative episodes as a symptom of their mental illness may have a psychiatric service dog to prevent them from dangerous situations when they are disoriented. A psychiatric service dog may provide benefits through companionship, much like an emotional support animal, but it is also trained to do certain jobs as well.
An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Letter is valid from one year of the date of issue, at which point it will need to be renewed. In certain situations, you might need to request specific information be included in your ESA Letter, such as the type, breed, and weight of your ESA animal.
Unlike certified service dogs, emotional support pets don’t require professional certification and training. This means that your future emotional support animal might just be a pet you already consider a furry family member.
If your pet provides emotional support and comfort in a way that helps you deal with the symptoms of your mental, emotional, or psychological condition, they can become your emotional support animal. You’ll simply need an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Letter.
While your ESA does not need to complete specific training, it’s important that he or she can behave properly in public around people and animals.
If you don’t currently have a pet that you would like designated as an emotional support animal, there’s not necessarily a specific place to adopt an ESA. Because ESA Letters are issued to a specific human, in contrast to the service animal certifications that are provided to a certain animal, there aren’t places that provide ESA-specific adoptions.
That being said, there are a few good characteristics to look for if you’re hoping to adopt an animal to become your ESA. Ideally, the animal will be friendly, easy to train, calm, and affectionate. Aggressive animals do not usually make good emotional support animals, because they can be challenging to handle in public environments.
No. There is no specific comfort animal certification program or requirements for emotional support animals. You may see online advertisements for websites that claim to offer certification or entry into a government database. However, at this time, there is no such this as a national or state government database for emotional support animals, nor is there companion animal certification of any kind.
No, but they are helpful. It’s much easier and recognizable to have your pet wear a vest rather than continuously having to pull out your documentation. You do not need an ESA vest, harness, uniform, or identification card. However, you may find it helpful to keep some form of documentation on hand when you’re planning to bring your ESA to a public place.
Technically, there’s no regulation that limits you to only one emotional support animal. However, a licensed mental health professional or doctor will need to provide a valid recommendation that states that multiple ESAs are vital to your wellbeing.
If you believe you need multiple emotional support animals, you should know that the requirements for each individual animal do not change. You will still need to complete the proper procedure and obtain documentation for each ESA.
Because emotional support animals are legally categorized differently than service animals, they do not necessarily have the same rights. Keep in mind that most business owners are going to be more accepting of well behaved verified emotional support animals. But, they still have the right to deny entry. This means that you may not be able to take your emotional support animal anywhere, including restaurants, hotels, and private businesses. However, if you clearly communicate with owners and managers of various establishments, you may find they are willing to do their best to accommodate you and your ESA.
Despite the fact that you may encounter certain limits on where you can bring your ESA, there are laws that protect your rights in specific situations.
Emotional support animals are covered by the HUD laws. If you’re planning to have an emotional support animal, educating yourself on basic companion animal regulations is a good way to prepare.
Here are the primary laws that address or include ESA rights in some way, shape, or form:
Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act makes it unlawful for any program that receives federal financial assistance to discrimination against disabled persons. In 1988, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) passed specific regulations under this statute, which state that no disabled individual can be excluded from a program or activity that receives federal funding.
Section 504 is typically applied in the context of public housing, prohibiting public housing authorities to deny housing to someone based only on their disability. Additionally, if a reasonable accommodation can be made in order to provide housing for a disabled person, then the landlord or property manager must do so. This means that an exception to any “no pets” policies is required if the person seeking the accommodation meets specific requirements.
For ESA owners, this means that they cannot be denied public housing solely because of their emotional support animal.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing for reasons of disability, race, religion, national origin, color, sex, or familial status. Under the FHA, anyone seeking to buy or rent a home, obtain a mortgage, or qualify for housing assistance cannot be discriminated against based on these factors. Both public and private housing is subject to the FHA, and additional protections are placed upon federally-assisted housing. Certain types of housing can be exempt from the FHA, such as owner-occupied buildings (with four or less units), private members-only clubs, religious housing, and single-family homes rented or sold without an agent.
Interestingly, the original FHA did not include provisions for disabled persons, but a 1988 amendment made the important change. Today, the HUD is responsible for enforcing the FHA and all amendments.
If you have an emotional support animal, you are included in the FHA protections. In addition to preventing you from renting or buying a property, these prohibit a landlord or property owner from imposing different terms or conditions based on a disability and possession of an ESA. The HUD requires a housing provider to ask the following two questions when faced with a request for housing that includes an emotional support animal:
If the answer to both questions is “yes,” then the FHA requires that the housing provider makes reasonable accommodations for the ESA, even if the property has a “no pets” policy. The concept of “reasonable accommodation” means that if allowing your ESA would put undue financial stress or administrative burden on the housing provider, they can deny the request. Additionally, if you are seeking approval for an exceptionally large ESA, such as a horse or llama, they can legally refuse as well.
The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) prevents discrimination against disabled individuals in all aspects of public life, such as employment, education, transportation, and both public and private places that are accessible by the general public. While the ADA does include provisions for service animals, it’s important to understand that emotional support animals do not currently fall under this category. Because ESAs are not specifically trained to perform a specific job for a disabled owner, they do not have the same rights as service animals. For example, unlike a service animal, and ESA can be denied admission to a public place.
However, ESAs are included in some portions of the ADA, specifically those that address reasonable accommodation and housing. Under Title II of the ADA, EDA owners must be provided with reasonable housing accommodations (regardless of “no pet” policies), and are protected from pet policy deposits and fees.
At Support Pets, we understand that an emotional support animal can be a life-changing addition to many people’s lives. That’s why we offer a simple, hassle-free route for getting your ESA Letter, and provide a growing library of resources to help you learn about ESAs.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to qualify for a companion animal, we invite you to take our instant qualification quiz by clicking the button below!
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