When it comes to Emotional Support Animals, misconceptions and myths abound. People often believe Service Dogs and ESAs are the same things, with similar access rights. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Emotional Support Animals aren’t Service Dogs, they don’t have public access, and they don’t require specialized training. Keep reading and dig into the nitty-gritty facts about ESAs.
Emotional Support Dogs Don’t Have Public Access
Contrary to popular belief and pop culture, Emotional Support Animals don’t possess public access rights. They do not belong in grocery stores, restaurants, or in places of public accommodation. This includes hospitals, doctors offices, pharmacies, and other medical environments. Nothing grants ESAs public access rights, not even a vest or an ID card, because, under U.S. federal law, ESAs do not have public access rights. Period. End of story. ESAs may accompany their handlers only in places where pets are allowed, with a couple of notable exceptions — housing and air transport.
ESAs Have Access to Housing and Air Transport (But Only With Proper Documentation)
Two exceptions exist to the “no public access” rule for ESAs — housing and air travel. With proper documentation, an ESA with the appropriate temperament and training may be allowed to accompany their handler during flights and in no-pets-allowed housing. Documentation standards can vary, but generally speaking, airlines require proof of the handler’s need for the ESA, adherence to behavioral and training standards, proof of vaccinations, and advanced notification of intent to travel. For housing, most landlords require a letter from a person’s doctor or psychiatrist, proof of vaccinations, and a signed statement of liability. ESA status does not exempt someone for being responsible for any damages caused by their ESA.
ESAs Don’t Require Specialized Training (Unless They Do)
Unlike Service Animals, Emotional Support Animals don’t (usually) require specialized training. If someone plans on traveling via air with their ESA, though, then their ESA must meet training and behavioral guidelines. They must be capable of working safely in public, which means no timidity, no fear, no aggression, no out of control behavior, and no excessive vocalizing.
Emotional Support Animals Aren’t Service Dogs
Emotional Support Animals, including Emotional Support Dogs, are not Service Dogs. Let’s say it again for the people in the back — ESAs differ from Service Dogs. While ESAs add value to their handler’s lives, legally, they have the same rights as pets, unlike Service Dogs. Service Dogs receive accommodation under America’s disability access laws, whereas ESAs do not. To learn more about the difference between therapy dogs, Service Dogs, ESAs, and other working dogs, check out this article.
Emotional Support Animals Are Pets
Legally, ESAs are pets. They’re allowed in no-pets-housing and on air transportation with the proper documentation, but outside of that, ESAs are simply pets. Someone gets an ESA when their doctor, psychiatrist, or therapist says animal companionship would benefit them and writes a letter documenting that fact. Most ESAs were simply family pets before their handler obtained a letter of necessity from a medical caregiver.