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  • Jodi Follina Rose

Emotional Support & Service Animals

Many have questions regarding emotional support and service animals; in this article we will explain the differences.


Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) and Service Animals are important tools for many with physical and mental disabilities. While they both have certain entitlements under the law, it is very important to know the differences between the two and the laws governing them.

Emotional Support animals are essentially pets that help a person cope with certain symptoms of their illness. For example, a person who has anxiety may have a cat or dog whose presence, or the act of petting it, helps to calm them. For a pet to be legally considered an ESA in the US, the owner must have a letter signed by a psychiatrist, qualified mental health worker, or physician who is currently providing care to the patient stating that the pet is necessary. (Websites that claim to certify your pet are not legal and can lead to charges in many states if caught, as this counts as misrepresentation.)


People with ESAs cannot be denied housing based on having an ESA in accordance with the fair housing act, and in most cases cannot be denied transport on mass transit or airlines provided that the ESA is a dog. The Department of Transportation is in the process of changing the law for flying to allow only service animals that are dogs. They are not covered under the same public access laws as service animals, so they cannot be taken into stores, restaurants, etc.


A Service Animal is a dog or mini horse that is trained to perform certain tasks for their handler. Examples are guide dogs used by legally bling individuals, or service animals who warn diabetics when their insulin is low and fetch their medication for them if necessary. There are service animals trained to do many types of tasks. They undergo training for several years, usually starting from birth.


People with service animals are legally allowed in any area that is open to the public. Owners and managers of establishments are only allowed to ask if the animal is a service animal and what task they perform. They cannot inquire about the person’s disability or ask for proof that the animal is a service animal. That being said, it is against the law to represent a pet as a service animal.


More information regarding laws and regulations regarding ESAs and Service Animals can be found on the ADA or HUD websites.


ADA website here.


HUD Website here.


Content in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking treatment because of something you have read on this website.


Written by Jodi Follina Rose.

Edited by Brindley Kons Brooks

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