Emotional Support Animal Laws
Dog people know and understand how canines, when properly cared for and trained, have proven invaluable to one’s health. Medicine and science, in fact, have realized the dog’s healing powers as therapeutic, especially for depressed and anxious patients. These emotional support animals help give the assistance and companionship to people who face illnesses and cope through their ordeals from diagnosis to treatment.
The ESA, the ADA, and Psychiatric Service Dogs
Make no mistake about it and get all confused about an ESA and a service dog. An ESA is not a service dog, strictly speaking. The latter is trained, individually, to perform certain tasks to mitigate its owner’s disability. Service dogs are considered, in fact, as medical equipment and allowed to accompany their disabled owners to locations where pets normally would not be allowed such as restaurants and shops.
A doctor determines whether the presence of an ESA becomes necessary for a disabled person, regardless of “no pets allowed” regulations should the person concerned rents his/her an apartment, condominium unit or house. A written prescription from the doctor should always be on hand to confirm the patient’s need for an ESA even during the patient’s travel to allow the ESA in an aircraft’s cabin.
Laws differ regarding ESA’s as far as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are concerned. The ADA distinguishes ESA’s from psychiatric service dogs and treats them accordingly. The ADA does not grant access to owners of ESA’s the same rights given to those who have psychiatric service dogs, defined as service dogs providing assistance to individuals diagnosed with disabilities such as:
- Anxiety disorders.
- PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
- Severe depression.
Psychiatric service dogs provide room searches and safety checks, block individuals experiencing dissociative episodes from going into dangerous situations such as ongoing traffic, and interrupting or preventing destructive or impulsive behaviors like a suicide attempt or self-mutilation. Psychiatric service dogs are given access to movie theaters, restaurants, museums, and other public places.
The FHA and the ACAA
Under the 1988 Fair Housing Amendments (FHA) Act, an ESA is considered “reasonable accommodation” and, upon verification that its owner has mental and emotional disabilities, may be allowed in residential premises, even those with rules of “no pets.” Failure to comply with this FHA stipulation is considered a violation unless said accommodation is due to financial obligation of the owner or alteration to the premises.
Some states, however, provide extensive coverage to ESAs better than the ADA. In Rhode Island, for instance, the law extends to protect trainers of ESAs. The assistance of the ESA, however, should relate directly to the person’s disability in order for the FHA to take effect and enable the individual concerned to use as well as enjoy the residence. Another federal governs the use of ESAs on board commercial aircraft.
Commercial airlines are mandated by the ACAA (Air Carrier Access Act) to accommodate ESAs to accompany passengers with disabilities. These passengers should have a letter from a duly-licensed doctor or certified mental health care professional that states the passenger’s need for the ESA. Still, whenever federal law is applicable, the ADA can preempt any state law that is more restrictive.
According to Special Legal Counsel Phillip L. Breen of the Disability Rights Section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights, ESAs are not going to be under ADA jurisdiction because the animals, especially dogs, are not trained to perform tasks or do work that would be beneficial to a disabled person. While ESAs bring comfort by their mere presence and therefore perform valuable service, this is their innate ability.