By: Tamara Ince
Especially important for those who plan to request certification for airlines, accommodations for college dorms, or accommodations for apartment living, all animals are not considered eqaual if they wish to register or receive public accommodations for their support animals. While it is true that animals classified as emotional support animals receive legal protections against pet fees for rental housing or fees for airline travel, along with allowances to live or be in places that pets can not, there is a difference between the protections afforded emotional support animals and those provided to support animals covered under the American Disabilities Act, and other Federal laws.
For example, under the Federal American Disabilities Act, service animals covered by this regulation must be permitted anywhere that is open to the public, including restaurants, and are not subject to fees. Whereas emotional support animals may be prohibited from restaurants and subject to access fees to venues, other than airplanes and housing in some jurisdictions. While most service animals receive formal training to do a specific task, many laws for service animals, such as the Federal American Disabilities Act, does not require official certification, leaving room for interpretation and owner training. The American Disabilities Act defines a service animal as an animal that “has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person's disability.” An example is a person with depression owning a dog trained to remind her to take her medication. Psychiatric service dogs may do tasks, such as providing bracing for a person dizzy from medication, waking the owner on the sound of an alarm when too medicated to wake, doing room searches for persons with PTSD, blocking persons in dissociative episodes from wandering, leading a disoriented handler to a place, and other similar dogs. In contrast, an emotional support animal does not need to have any training, though it does need to be owned by a person with a diagnosed disability. In general, for an animal who helps you to be classified as a service animal and not an emotional support animal it must be:
The definition of “disability” varies by law. For example, the Fair Housing Act states that in order for a person to meet this standard they must have a physical or mental impairment that “substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment. The Air Carrier Access Act protects any person who is a passenger with a disability. Similarly, the documentation and registration requirements vary by regulation. For example, in some jurisdictions, if the disability is not visible or the need for the animal is not evident, you may need to provide a letter from a medical provider, registration documentation from a regulatory or private entity, or other documentation. Registration requirements vary from forms and fees with self-affirmations of need to requirements for physician notes and specific diagnoses. In order to fully understand the registration requirements and what type of provider (e.g. physician, therapist, counselor, etc.) can provide needed documentation, please talk with your local regulatory agency, school or business disabilities department, leasing office, airline or other entity. Online resources are available at: