In recent years there has been a massive increase in the number of emotional support animals (ESAs). The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects individuals with ESAs. They enjoy privileges such as free air travel for their pets. They are also able to live in places that have a “no-pet” policy. Because of these super benefits, there is a growing number of people faking their ESAs. Let’s take a look at some core facts and misconceptions about ESAs to help get to the bottom of this.
What is Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)?
Emotional support animals (ESAs), or “comfort animals”, provide their owners with companionship. They have a calming presence and lend a sense of security. This can be a great help to those who suffer from depression, post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD), and anxiety.
To be deemed an emotional support animal, the pet must be prescribed for an individual with a mental or emotional illness or disability. This prescription must be written by a Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP). The prescription must state that the individual has an impairment that significantly impairs one or more major life activity. The presence of the ESA, therefore, is essential to the mental or emotional well-being.
ESA vs Service Animal: What is the Difference?
In short, service animals have a job to do. Whether that is as a guide dog, leading its visually-impaired owner safely down the street. Or, protecting their owner from self-harm during a seizure. Service animals can also serve as psychiatric service animals. These might offer support by turning on a light for a post-traumatic stress disorder sufferer. According to Federal Law, service animals are working animals and not pets.
On the other hand, emotional support animals, fall into the pet category. Albeit, with a few perks! ESAs do not undergo specific training. They do not necessarily assist with tasks related to their owner’s disability.
Where Can ESAs Go?
Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), pet parents with ESAs enjoy the protection of two pieces of legislation.
The Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) states that owners of ESAs have the right to reasonable accommodation. This means that pet owners with a legitimate ESA letter can live in complexes or apartments that have a ‘no-pet policy’. In some cases, this extends to on-campus housing too.
The Air Carrier Access Act
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) makes accommodation for owners of ESAs. As an ESA owner, your comfort animal can accompany you on your flight. Your pooch or kitty may travel in-cabin with you. As long as they are well behaved and do not cause distress for fellow passengers. in-cabin with you. As long as they are well behaved and do not cause distress for fellow passengers.
This is particularly useful for individuals who have aviophobia (fear of flying) and agoraphobia (fear of places that might cause panic, helplessness, or embarrassment). Also great for individuals who suffer from forms of anxiety, including social anxiety.
Pet-Friendly Restaurants, Motels, and Parks
There are many pet-friendly restaurants, bars, parks, and hotels that you can visit with your ESA in tow. Have a look online before booking your next holiday!
Take Your Pet to Work Day!
There are several cases for pet owners who would like to take their ESAs with them to work. However, the ADA does not make provision for ESAs in the workplace. Thanks to the FHA, you are allowed to bring an emotional support animal into a “no-pets” policy building or complex. Yet, this law does not extend to working environments.
So, how do you go about getting your pooch to come to work with you? Firstly, you can ask your employer. Present your certified ESA letter. They are not legally obligated to say yes. However, employers might consider such requests on a case-by-case basis. They could agree to have an ESA in the workplace on condition that the animal does not disrupt other employees.
No-Go Areas for ESAs
Emotional support animals can go wherever other pets can go. Everything else is off-limits. In the U.S, very strict food hygiene laws are in place. This makes it difficult for animals to be in the same space where food and drinks are served. Owners of these establishments also consider the needs and preferences of their other patrons. You might be ok with your Fido eyeing your burger while you eat. The person next to you might not feel the same way.
6 Common Misconceptions About ESAs
1. Having Documentation is Enough
For some landlords or employers, a simple ESA letter will be enough. Others might ask for proof of visits to your healthcare provider. By law (the ADA), thy may not do so.
2. Only Trained Animals Can Be ESAs
This is not true. Emotional support animals do not need to be trained. However, you want to be sure that your comfort canine is a well-balanced member of society. For this reason, it is recommended to do obedience training with your pooch. The American Kennel Club (AKC) Canine Good Citizenship (CGC) is a great starting point for obedience training.
3. ESAs are the Same as Service Animals
As discussed above, there are a few key differences between service animals and ESAs. Service animals have more access to public places than ESAs do.
4. ESAs Can Go Wherever Service Animals Go
Service animals enjoy access to most public places. This is because their owners are dependent on them for functioning safely and optimally in society.
Conversely, ESAs are not covered by the ADA. Therefore, no restaurant, store or subway is obligated to allow them entry.
5. Put on an ESA Vest and You Are Good to Go
Not true. An ESA vest does not an ESA make! For a dog or cat to qualify as an ESA, the pet parent needs to have an ESA letter written by a licensed mental health practitioner (LMHP).
6. Do I Need to Register My Pet as an ESA?
Absolutely not! An individual with a mental or emotional disability is awarded an ESA letter, not a pet. You do not need to certify or register your ESA. Stay well away from websites offering to do so for a fee. These are quite possibly fraud.