What you need to know about service dogs & emotional support animals
There seems to be some confusion in our industry as to the difference between a service dog versus an emotional support animal and the documentation needed. The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) defines service dogs as any guide dog, signal dog, who is trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability and a therapy dog provides healing to his or her companion or family, as well as hundreds of other people in a therapeutic setting — whether a hospital, a school or a retirement home.…Another difference between therapy and service dogs is that the latter are often picked by breed for certain characteristics. The ADA is specific about a service “dog” and states that it must be a dog, with some exceptions for miniature horses.
Since the Emotional Support Animal does not perform any specific tasks for a person, the accessibility it has is limited. The Emotional Support Animal does have a right to be kept in a “no pets” policy apartment/condo and also to ride in the cabin of an aircraft. By Federal Laws, these are the only two places that an ESA is legally allowed.
For your Emotional Support animal to be legitimate you will need the following;
- A letter from your mental health (or other medical professionals) stating your need for the ESA.
- Your ESA letter must be on your mental health professional’s letterhead.
- The ESA letter must also include the doctor’s license number, where it was issued and the date it was issued.
- The letter may need to be updated annually.
Although you are not required to register an ESA, you are required to have the proper documents when you are searching for housing or when taking your ESA on a flight. There is no national registry, and websites offering online registries are typically misleading, and may not meet the legal requirements for your ESA.
What you need to know about a service dog.
Keep in mind that you will have to have a condition that falls in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act definition. If your disability is not outwardly visible, you can obtain a letter from your physician stating your need for the Service Dog. The dog must also be trained specifically to assist you with the disability. The ADA makes a distinction between psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals. If the dog has been trained to sense that an anxiety attack is about to happen and take a specific action to help avoid the attack or lessen its impact, that would qualify as a service animal. However, if the dog’s mere presence provides comfort, that would not be considered a service animal under the ADA.
Once you have your service dog you will want to order a custom a special vest for your dog, although this is not a legal requirement. Landlords, or staff at an establishment can only ask two questions to a person with a service dog; (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability, nor does the dog need to be wearing a vest or special lease identifying it as a service dog