Emotional Support Animal (ESA) vs. Service Dog (SD)
The United States of America and some International countries recognize Emotional Support Animals (ESAs). This document will discuss ESAs in the United States as information is readily available. Those International countries that allow ESAs have specific rules and regulations regarding their access, so it is important to research information in your particular country.
The Department of Justice Disabilities Rights’ Section works to achieve equal opportunity for people with disabilities in the United States by implementing the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Executive Order 12250.
The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service animals as dogs (and sometimes miniature horses) individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability. The tasks may include but are not limited to pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, alerting to a sound, guiding the visually impaired, warning and/or aiding prior to an imminent seizure, as well as calming or interrupting a behavior of a person who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress. The work or task a service dog does must be directly related to the person's disability and must be trained and not inherent. Service dogs may accompany persons with disabilities into places that the public normally goes,
even if they have a “No Pets” policy. These areas include state and local government buildings, businesses open to the public, public transportation, and non-profit organizations open to the public. The law allowing access for a person with a disability with a Service Dog is the ADA.
Examples of Types of Service Dogs:
Under Title II and III of the ADA, service animals are limited to dogs and some miniature horses. Entities must make reasonable modifications when necessary to accommodate individuals with disabilities who utilize either a service dog or miniature horse. The work or tasks performed by the service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not considered service animals.
An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is a support animal, not a pet, that provides companionship, relieves loneliness, and sometimes helps with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but does not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities. An ESA is a companion animal that a medical professional has determined provides a therapeutic benefit for an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. Access for a person with a disability which requires an ESA is defined under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Fair Housing Act. In addition, HUD uses the term, “assistance animal.” Under HUD the assistance animal may not only be a service dog but includes other animals which perform tasks to assist persons with the disabilities. For example, Capuchin Monkeys, which aids a person with quadriplegia and other forms of paralysis, meets the HUD definition of “assistance animals,” and, therefore, is to be permitted to reside in housing with their handlers. In other words, even though Capuchin Monkeys do perform trained tasks, they do not have public access under the ADA. Emotional support animals, comfort animals, and therapy dogs are not service animals under Title II and Title III of the ADA. It does not matter if a person has a letter from a doctor that states that the person has a disability and needs to have the animal for emotional support. A doctor’s letter does not give an ESA, or therapy dogs public access rights.
The role of an ESA may include improving one or more identified symptoms or effects of the person’s disability. Emotional support animals are not species limited. To be afforded protection under the United States federal law pertaining to HUD, a person must meet the federal definition of a verified disability. A person must show a receipt of disability benefits or services (Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), Medicare or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for a person under age 65, veterans’ disability benefits, services from a vocational rehabilitation agency, or disability benefits or services from another federal, state, or local agency. Information confirming disability may also be provided from a health care professional – e.g., physician, optometrist, psychiatrist, psychologist, physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner, or nurse.
In the U.S., federal protection against housing discrimination is afforded to mentally disabled persons under two federal statutes: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). These statutes, and the corresponding case law, create the general rule that a landlord cannot discriminate against disabled persons in housing, and if a “reasonable accommodation” will enable a disabled person to equally enjoy and use the rental unit, the landlord must provide the accommodation. Persons with disabilities may request a reasonable accommodation, such as a waiver of a "no pet’s policy", for any assistance animal, including an emotional support animal, under both the FHA and Section 504. While the FHA does apply to most housing types including those for sale or rent (apartments, condominiums and single-family homes) there are some major exclusions such as buildings with 4 or fewer units where the landlord lives in one of the units. It also excludes private owners that do not own more than 3 single family homes, do not utilize real estate agents or brokers, and do not engage in anti-discriminatory advertising practices.
Neither the FHA nor section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act requires an ESA to be individually trained or certified. There are no specific breed restrictions relative to canine ESAs but if the housing provider determines that there is a “direct threat” that relies on objective evidence about a specific animal’s conduct then there are grounds for the housing provider to not allow that ESA. Additionally, if a housing provider’s insurance carrier would cancel, substantially increase the costs of the insurance policy or adversely change the policy terms because of the presence of a certain breed of dog or a certain animal, it would be found that this imposes an undue financial and administrative burden on the housing provider an ESA could be denied housing access. This type of claim must be substantiated by the insurance carrier directly and different but comparable insurance coverage must be considered by the landlord.
In 1980, President Carter signed Executive Order 12250, which provided for the consistent and effective implementation of various laws prohibiting discriminatory practices on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. The responsibility for implementing this Executive Order was placed with the Attorney General. This responsibility, except for the authority to approve regulations, was delegated to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. The Federal Coordination and Compliance Section carries out this responsibility on a day to day basis.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) is a law that makes it illegal for airlines to discriminate against passengers because of their disability. The Department of Transportation is responsible for enforcing the ACAA, which applies to all flights to, from, or within the United States. The ACAA states only Service Dogs (those trained to aid those with disabilities) and psychiatric animals will be considered service animals. Emotional support animals do not qualify as service animals on planes. Airlines will require passengers traveling with Service Animals to complete a Department of Transportation form “attesting to the animal’s training and good behavior and certifying the animal’s good health. Airlines can refuse animals that display aggressive behavior or pose a direct threat to others’ health and safety, although Service dogs cannot be barred based on breed alone. Airlines will be able to require that Service dogs be harnessed, leashed, or tethered and fit within the handler’s foot space. Carriers will also be able to limit each passenger with a disability to two Service dogs. It is important to remember that the goal of any airline is to ensure safe passage of its patrons. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the owner that the service dog is well behaved and has appropriate, reliable manners throughout all phases of air travel.