Service animals are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws to ensure a person’s privacy. But do Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) receive the same treatment?
This is a gray area for many ESA owners, one that deserves clarity to ensure you are treated within your rights. While emotional support animals are not trained to complete any special tasks or training, they still serve a very valid purpose in helping to reduce stress and anxiety and helping the owner live a normal daily life.
Here’s what you need to know about disclosing an emotional support animal to anyone who asks.
There’s a bit of confusion between service animals, therapy animals, and emotional support animals, especially as more people try to take advantage of ESA “loopholes.”
Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks, usually in life-saving cases. For example, a service dog or pony might lead a blind individual so they can perform daily tasks.
Therapy dogs also receive special training to provide support. It’s not uncommon to see therapy dogs in the halls of a children’s hospital or nursing home.
Emotional support animals are different. While they do not have any special training to perform tasks, they can only receive ESA status if they are prescribed to you by a healthcare professional. This prescription is obtained by being diagnosed with a condition or illness in which an ESA may help to improve life for that individual.
The problem is that it’s become easy for almost anyone to obtain an “official” ESA letter online. Within just a few minutes, an individual can certify their pet as an ESA through a simple qualification process. This is a dangerous growing practice, as it takes away from the legitimacy of ESAs that truly do help someone to live a better, stress-free life. It also makes stores, airlines, and other public places question the legitimacy of the animal and its role as an ESA.
Regardless of how an ESA letter is obtained, ESA owners do have certain protections and rights. For example, if you are applying to rent a house, you will need to furnish your ESA letter and/or other reliable documentation of your disability and the need for an assistance animal.
This is because not all disabilities are easily recognizable. You can submit proof of your ESA in writing and how the animal helps you manage your disability. While you do not need to disclose information about your disability to your landlord, you may need to provide documentation from a doctor or healthcare professional.
At no point are you required to share personal medical details.
Knowing your rights as an individual with disabilities can help you avoid unfair pet fees, breed restrictions, and hassle that can dampen your quality of life. For more insight on how to disclose an emotional support animal, start by seeing if you qualify for an ESA letter.