How To Make Your Dog an Emotional Support Animal in the US


Emotional Support Animals

 

Ok here’s the deal, you don’t really need to make your dog an emotional support animal per se, as there is no legitimate registration or certification required for the use of emotional support animals in the US. While service dogs are specifically trained to help a person with a disability – and the training must be directly related to the persons’ disability – emotional support animals are different. Service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support dogs are all different things. Yes, I know this is somewhat confusing.

 

Due to the very nature of an emotional support animal, they do not necessarily need to be trained; especially not in order to do a specific task for a person, as that is not necessarily their job. The reason people use emotional support animals is not related to a physical task the dog can do for the person (like a service dog would), but more that the mere presence of the animal can help a person who is dealing with depression, anxiety, or other mental issues.

 

What Is An Emotional Support Animal?

 

An Emotional Support Dog is not a pet; it is a separate designation from either service dog or therapy dog. ESA’s have different rights and restrictions under the law, and they require different “training,” if any. An emotional support animal is a companion animal that provides therapeutic benefit to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability.

 

The person seeking the emotional support animal must have a verifiable disability (the reason cannot just be a need for companionship). The animal is viewed as a “reasonable accommodation” under the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHA or FHAct) to those housing communities that have a “no pets” rule.

 

Emotional support animals are not considered the same thing as service animals under State law or Federal Law because they are not trained to do a specific task for a specific person.

 

What is a Disability?

 

Law Against Discrimination defines a disability as:

 

any abnormal sensory, mental or physical condition that is medically cognizable or diagnosable, exists as a record or history or is perceived to exist.

 

 

Difference Between Service Animal and Emotional Support Animal

 

Service Animals

  • Individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.
  • The work or task a service dog does must be directly related to the person’s disability.
  • Service dogs may accompany persons with disabilities into places that the public normally goes.
  • The law that allows a trained service dog to accompany a person with a disability is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

 

Emotional Support Animals

  • An animal (typically a dog or cat, although this can include other animals) that provides a therapeutic benefit to its owner through companionship.
  • The animal provides emotional support and comfort to people with psychiatric disabilities and other mental impairments.
  • The animal is not specifically trained to perform tasks for a person who suffers from emotional disabilities, as oppose to service animals which are individually trained.
  • Unlike a service animal, an emotional support animal is not granted access to places of public accommodation.
  • Under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), an emotional support animal is considered a “reasonable accommodation” in a housing unit that has a “no pets” rule for its residents.

 

An emotional support animal, often referred to as a companion animal, is defined as an assistance animal

 

the presence of which ameliorates the effects of a mental or emotional disability. Emotional support animals provide very private functions for persons with mental and emotional disabilities. Specifically, emotional support animals by their very nature, and without training, may relieve depression and anxiety, and help reduce stress-induced pain in persons with certain medical conditions affected by stress.

 

 

Emotional Support Animals and Housing

 

Are you wondering about being able to live with your emotional support animal? Keep reading to find out about the laws in regards to housing and assistance animals (which includes emotional support animals).

 

Definition of Assistance Animal – According to HUD

 

(U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development)

 

HUD – Reasonable Accommodation

 

HUD compliance guidelines define assistive animals as:

 

animals that serve as a reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities by assisting those individuals in some identifiable way by making it possible for them to make more effective use of their housing.

 

 

Under fair housing laws, the term ‘assistance animal’ includes animals who may also be known as service animals, support animals, assistance animals, therapy animals, and companion animals. While most assistance service animals are dogs, they may be other species, such as cats, birds or other domestic animals.

 

Kinds of Assistance Animals Permitted

 

Assistance animals may be any breed, size or weight. If a landlord has a rule about breed or weight of a pet, this can not apply to you under reasonable accommodation, since an emotional support dog is not a pet.

 

Identification of Assistance or Emotional Support Animal

 

Some, but not all, assistance animals wear special collars or harnesses. Assistance animals are not required to have special licenses, to be certified, or to have any visible identification.

 

Request to Live With Your Animal

 

If you need to live with an assistance animal because of your disability, make a request to your landlord or manager for a reasonable accommodation. It is best to submit such requests in writing, but verbal requests are acceptable.

 

About No-Pets Policies

 

Under the federal Fair Housing Act, a person with a disability who needs an animal that provides disability-related assistance may request that a housing provider waive a ‘no pets’ policy as a reasonable accommodation.

 

Documentation Required for Housing

 

If you are seeking a reasonable accommodation for an emotional support animal, you may be required to provide documentation from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional that the animal provides support that alleviates at least one of your disability symptoms or effects of the existing disability.

 

If your landlord or manager asks for this verification, you should obtain a signed letter from your doctor or other medical professional, or other qualified third party who, in their professional capacity, has knowledge about your disability and your need for a reasonable accommodation.

 

You do not have to provide details about your disability or about the specific tasks the service animal performs.

 

 

Emotional Support Animals DO NOT Need to be Trained

 

According to HUD

 

emotional support animals do not need training to ameliorate the effects of a person’s mental and emotional disabilities. For example, there are animals that have an innate ability to detect that a person with a seizure disorder is about to have a seizure and can let the individual know ahead of time so that the person can prepare. This ability is not the result of training, and a person with a seizure disorder might need such an animal as a reasonable accommodation to her disability.

 

 

Taking Your Emotional Support Animal into Public Places

 

Under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), emotional support animals are not service dogs because they simply provide comfort just by being with a person and have not been trained to perform a specific task or job. This means emotional support animals may be prohibited from entering public areas where pets and animals are not permitted. However, some cities and states may still allow these animals into public places where otherwise pets would be prohibited.

 

Registration & Certification is Not Required by the ADA

 

While it seems there are many places one could easily find online to register or certify a service dog, the truth is, there is no legitimate registration service, or official certification, required. There are many places offering a registration service (often on the internet); or ID, patches, backpacks, harness’, and other service dog identification equipment and paraphernalia; but this is completely optional.

 

Americans with Disabilities Act

 

People with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program.

The ADA does not require service animals to wear a vest, ID tag, or specific harness.

Covered entities may not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal, as a condition for entry.
Mandatory registration of service animals is not permissible under the ADA.

There are individuals and organizations that sell service animal certification or registration documents online. These documents do not convey any rights under the ADA and the Department of Justice does not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service animal.

— ADA

ADA FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) Service AnimalsOpens in a new tab.

 

Sam Amy Nelson

Sam Amy Nelson (she/her) is an advocate for people with disabilities and mental health.

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