CPTAS Understanding Service Dog vs Emotional Support Dog Laws - CPTAS

Understanding Service Dog vs Emotional Support Dog Laws in Details

by Cody Stehlik
February 20, 2023

They say life is better with a dog. Even better when it’s a dog with the job of taking care of you.

That’s what emotional support dogs and service dogs have in common. These dogs are brought up (and trained) to provide assistance during your times of emotional and physical distress. So, they are essentially logging a 9-to-5 (or more accurately, a 9-to-9) all the while being cute and cuddly.

Since Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) and service dogs are providing a service, they are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, which is a civil right law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. ESAs and service dogs have different job profiles. So naturally, the laws governing their rights are different. But before we get into the details of service dog vs. emotional support dog laws, let’s first understand what makes them different.

How are Service Dogs Different from Emotional Support Animals?

Service animals and ESAs are not your regular pets. The basic difference is that they are used as a part of a treatment plan. But how do they differ from each other? Let’s find out.

Service Animals

Service animals, usually dogs and sometimes miniature horses, are trained to perform specific tasks that the handler’s disability might prevent them from doing on their own. The disability can be mental, physical, sensory, intellectual, or psychiatric. Service dog requirements stipulate that the handler must be diagnosed by a licensed therapist for their condition and have a service dog prescribed as a treatment plan. A common example of a service animal is a guide dog for a visually impared person. Service dogs can also:

  • Assist those with limited hearing
  • Help with mobility for wheelchair-bound persons
  • Detect rise or fall in blood sugar levels in a diabetic person
  • Protect and help during seizures, etc.

Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD) is a subset of service animals that are specifically trained to help with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), etc. They can anticipate anxiety attacks, alert the handler, fetch medication and help, etc.

Emotional Support Animals (ESA)

ESAs do not receive any specialized training to recognize particular symptoms as service dogs do. They act as companions to those suffering from an emotional or psychological disability and closely bond with the owner as a source of support and comfort. The presence of an emotional service dog or an Emotional Support Animal will help you feel calm and relieve the symptoms associated with a mental health condition. Unlike service dogs, ESAs can also be cats, birds, ferrets, pigs, and other species.

Since the tasks of a Service Dog vs Emotional Support Dog are different, the rules governing them are also different. Let’s take a look.

Service Dog vs Emotional Support Dog Laws: How the ADA Separates an ESA and a Service Animal

Service Animals

Since service animals are considered working animals by the ADA, their handlers are protected by federal law. If you own a service animal, the following laws apply to you and your companion:

  1. Service dogs are allowed access to all government, business, and non-profit establishments that serve the public. For example, service animals are allowed in hospitals, stores, office buildings, school campuses, restaurants, public transportation, etc.
  2. A service dog is the sole responsibility of the handler and should always be leashed, harnessed, or tethered unless it causes a hindrance for the animal to perform its tasks. A handler is required to keep the service animal under control in public places and may be asked to remove it from a facility only in two instances – if it exhibits disruptive behavior and if it is not housebroken. However, fear of dogs or an allergic reaction to dogs are not valid reasons to deny access to an establishment.
  3. A person accompanied by a service animal cannot be charged extra fees or surcharges by any organization. A guest can only be charged for property damage if they normally charge the same to other guests without service animals. If the establishment charges a fee for regular pets, this does not apply to service animals.
  4. No handler should be treated differently from other patrons just because they have a service dog accompanying them.

When you take your service dog with you to a restaurant, store, or any other business facility, the staff can only ask you the following two questions:

  1. Is the dog required because of a disability?
  2. What tasks has the dog been trained to perform?

To be on the safer side, we recommend you to carry documentation with you. This includes a letter from your healthcare provider confirming the usage of the animal for your treatment and a service dog registration card. A service dog registration kit contains lifetime registration, an ID card, a certificate, a leash, a collar, a service dog vest, etc. You can purchase one of these at organizations like National Service Animal Registry.

Emotional Service Animals

An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is not a service animal. Therefore, the rules for service animals do not apply to ESAs. However, there is one particular law that applies to ESAs.

Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act was enacted in 1968 to protect people from discrimination when purchasing or renting a property. This law prohibits landlords and property owners from discriminating against tenants or buyers on the basis of sex, color, race, religion, origin, family status, or disability. This requires landlords and property owners to make reasonable accommodations for a tenant with an ESA even if they have a rule against pets on the premises.

In simpler words, this means that you cannot be refused housing on the grounds of having an emotional support animal.

To be protected under this law, you need an ESA letter from a licensed therapist that confirms your disability and that you benefit from an ESA for the same. You cannot be asked to pay extra fees or a cleaning deposit for your ESA. However, you are liable for the damages that it may cause to the property.

Two Things to Know About the FHA for Your ESA

An ESA cannot be discriminated against by the housing complex owner or landlord based on the breed or weight
The FHA is exempt on three occasions – when the owner-occupied building has a maximum of four units, when it is a housing operated by private clubs or religious entities with a limited member occupancy, when it is a single-family housing not sold through an agent

Air Carrier Access Act No Longer Protects ESAs

This change has been brought into effect from January 2021. A few airlines still continue with the ESA programs and you can fly with your ESA in the cabin for free or for a fee in those. For those airlines that have abolished the ESA program, your ESA will need to be in the cargo hold like other pets.

How CPS Helps People Get Their ESA Letter!

If you feel the need for an ESA, or better yet, already have a dog that you want to be certified as an ESA, all you need is an ESA letter. You can apply for an ESA letter on our website by completing our free pre-screening health assessment. Our network of licensed mental health professionals who provide diagnosis and prescription services for psychological and emotional disabilities will review your assessment. If you qualify, your ESA letter will be delivered to you in the shortest time.

Order your Emotional Support Animal Letter | Order your Psychiatric Service Dog Letter