Harper Jefcoat
Harper Jefcoat

Guidelines for ADA Emotional Support Animal and Service Animals

Read Time

15 min read


On This Page

  • What is the Americans with Disabilities Act?
  • What is ADA for Emotional Support Animals?
  • What are Service Animals?
  • Emotional Support Animal vs. Service Animal
  • The Future of ADA and ESAs

The Americans with Disabilities Act, effective since 1990 protects the rights of disabled individuals in all areas of life such as schools, transportation, and all public places.

Public places must allow some reasonable modifications for these individuals with their support animals.

The ADA clearly recognizes the service animals but what about the emotional support animals?

It is important to take into account the differences between the ESAs and service animals as well as the legal protections for each kind of animal.

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enforced more than two decades ago. Under the ADA, discrimination against disabled persons is strictly prohibited.

This law ensures that people with physical and emotional disabilities should have equal opportunities and rights as others. It includes workplaces, public accommodations, educational institutes, transportation, telecommunication, and all other places open to the general public to make their services and programs accessible to disabled individuals.

It also helps in providing the same employment opportunities for disabled individuals as everyone else. This also requires employers to provide them with reasonable arrangements to do their jobs without any hassle or discomfort. Employers having 15 or more employees must follow this law.

When the ADA was first implemented in 1990, the number of protections offered was limited for the emotional support of animal owners.

Since then, the protections being offered to service animals, emotional support animals, and their owners have increased and modified greatly.

In the below sections, we have discussed the kinds of disabilities people may have and the kind of assistance animals need. Moreover, we have also mentioned how the ADA applies to them.

What is ADA for Emotional Support Animals?

Under the ADA, individuals suffering from mental and emotional conditions qualify for an ESA and as per the emotional support animals, ADA, no one is allowed to discriminate against them.

Emotional Support Animals or ESAs are also referred to as support animals and these are not specifically trained to perform tasks. They are commonly used in animal-assisted therapy sessions for the improvement of people with psychiatric or intellectual disabilities.

The main purpose of an ESA is to benefit its owner by providing him/her with comfort, love, and companionship.

It is important to note that emotional support animals, comfort animals, and therapy dogs are not considered as service animals.

You are more likely to see a dog or a cat to be someone’s emotional support animal. But the use of other animals like ducks, miniature pigs, rabbits, and chickens has been reported too.

Emotional support animals help reduce the symptoms of individuals suffering from mental/emotional disabilities, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Social Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Autism
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Stress Problems
  • Separation Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Social Phobia
  • Mood swings
  • Personality disorder

In addition to that, to qualify for an ESA, a person needs to have an emotional support animal letter.

However, it is important to understand that you don’t need to register your ESA. In fact, there is no such thing as “ESA registration,” in case you come across a website claiming to register your ESA, know that it is a scam, and immediately leave the website.

What are Emotional Support Animal Requirements?

There are no official requirements for an emotional support animal. Unlike a service animal, an ESA just needs to be disciplined and have basic training. As an ESA owner, it is your responsibility to teach your animal about the basic commands and make sure that it listens to you.

Furthermore, your animal must not be a threat or disturbance to other people, especially if you are living in an apartment or rented property, make sure that your animal knows how to behave and live without causing any nuisance.

While there are no restrictions on the size, weight, and breed of the dog, some dogs may be too big for certain housing arrangements. However, the basic requirements include that the dog is well-mannered, disciplined, and safe to live with other residents.

Flying Protection For ESAs: The Air Carrier Access Act

The Air Carrier Access Act effective since 1986, prohibits discrimination against people with emotional/mental disabilities, making sure that they travel with their emotional support animal.

Airlines cannot ask these individuals traveling with their ESA, to inform them before traveling, except for when special medical accommodations need to be made.

Airlines can’t legally ask an individual with an ESA to pay an extra fair. Or ask them to sit in specific spots away from the rest of the public unless their ESA is large and may cause hindrance.

However, emotional support animals and service animals are not given the same protection laws, under the ADA. Which often causes confusion for the ESA owners.

This is the reason why many people have asked to revise the ADA to avoid any confusion between the rights of ESAs, SAs, and PSDs.

Housing Protection For ESAs: The Fair Housing Act

Under the Fair Housing Act for an emotional support animal, the rights of disabled individuals against unfair housing regulations are protected.

According to these emotional support animal housing laws, landlords who have a “no pet policy” cannot deny housing to individuals with a service animal or an ESA having a legit ESA letter.

If the owner needs reasonable accommodations to be made for his or her animal; it is suggested that they write a letter to their owner.

A landlord is prohibited from discriminating between people with disabilities and others by denying them housing just because of their ESA.

Landlords cannot legally charge their tenants an extra fee or advanced deposits for their emotional support animals.

However, in the case of significant damage done to the property by the ESA, the ESA owner will be held responsible and will be asked to pay the amount accordingly.

Similarly, you cannot deny a person restricted to wheelchair housing because they are in a wheelchair.

In addition to that, landlords cannot ask an ESA or service dog owner that their animal goes through specific training or uses a harness or a collar.

Moreover, they cannot impose restrictions on the size/breed/type of animal.

Finding a pet housing society can be fairly difficult for ESA owners, but with a legitimate ESA letter, they can have reasonable accommodation for their pets.

Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA, requires landlords and house owners to make reasonable accommodations for ESA owners for their emotional support animal as an assistive aid.

Similar to the accommodations made for people with mobility impairments.

However, an ESA owner cannot ask their landlords for unreasonable accommodations and put them in a hard spot financially. For example, the request to put grass in the backyard instead of concrete so an ESA dog can play around can be denied by the owner.

The ADA also protects ESA owners from having to pay pet fees or deposits.

Key Benefits of Having an ESA

There is a lot of confusion about how an ESA can provide help with mental illness. But the fact is, there is much more than just providing help with medical treatment.

Following are some of how emotional support animal benefits us:

  • They calm anxiety
  • Provide unconditional love
  • Help in regulating everyday feelings
  • Help in stabilizing intense emotions

These are some of how an emotional support animal provides help and makes your life better.

Some of the common questions that many ESA owners have are answered below.

  1. Do I have to tell my landlord I have an emotional support animal?

    While there is no such law that tells you to inform your landlord about your emotional support animal the gesture is highly suggested. Informing the landlord saves you from any last-minute confusion and issues and though the property owners and landlords are not allowed to refuse you housing just because you have an ESA, there are fair chances of it.

    Informing them beforehand will give both of you time to consider the housing conditions and arrangements of the animal and if the idea could work in that particular housing unit.

  2. Are emotional support animals allowed in restaurants and other public places?

    Service animals are different from ESAs and a service dog enjoys all the rights and access to public places like restaurants, gardens, and hotels. Emotional support animals only provide mental and emotional comfort and unfortunately, these comfort animals are not allowed in many places.

    Especially in restaurants, since there are other guests also and they may not appreciate the idea of having a dog or any other animal on the restaurant premises.

    However, there are many places that do allow ESAs. Research your area and we are sure that you will find a number of local hotels and dog-friendly restaurants that will welcome your animal friend also.

  3. Emotional Support Dog Registration or Emotional Support Dog Certification?

    ADA for emotional support animals does not require the ESA owners to have any animal registration. Many people especially the ones that are first-time ESA owners do not know the difference between an emotional support dog registration and certification and whether they need to certify their animal.

    First, there is no such thing as an emotional support dog or animal registration and you do not need to certify your animal separately. All you need is an emotional support animal letter to live and travel with your animal freely and without any additional cost.

Responsibilities of ESA Handler

  • The owner is responsible for ensuring that the animal does not interfere in routine activities.
  • The handler must clean up all the mess created by their animal.
  • All support animals must be in compliance with the country’s licensing laws.
  • Animals should be vaccinated according to state and local laws.
  • Teach your ESA the basic sit, stand, leave it, and stay commands.

The owner/handler is completely responsible for all the actions of their animals. Any damage caused by the animals will be charged by the owner.

What are Service Animals?

A service animal is an animal that undergoes a specific training program to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with disabilities.

Who qualifies for a service dog? Service dogs and miniature horses assist individuals with the following disabilities:

  • Physical disability
  • Psychiatric disability
  • Sensory disability
  • Mental disability

In the USA, service animals or service dogs are used to help people who are blind, deaf, or suffering from mobility impairment, or seizures; by performing specific tasks.

These animals undergo a training program to perform several different tasks such as:

  • pulling a wheelchair,
  • performing household tasks (turning the switches on/off, opening doors, etc.),
  • signaling the hearing impaired,
  • guiding the visually impaired,
  • pressing an elevator button,
  • reminding the owner to take his/her medicines,
  • picking up items when dropped etc.

Therapy animals especially therapy dogs are also a type of service animals, provided that their ‘service’ is more of a therapeutic kind. However, they are not trained to carry out tasks; instead, they are taken to different places such as schools and offices to spend time with people having a difficult time.

However, outside the USA these service dogs are used to describe animals who work for the police, rescue and search services, or the military. The term “assistance animals” is used to describe animals who assist disabled individuals.

Along with dogs, miniature horses and monkeys are being used to assist individuals with disabilities.

Miniature horses are trained to help people restricted to a wheelchair by moving them around, also, for guiding the blind and supporting people with Parkinson’s disease.

Helper monkeys are similar to assistance dogs and provide help to people with spinal cord issues, paralysis, or other mobility issues. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) protects the rights of these service animals.

How to Get a Service Dog?

To get your service dog, you do not need to get any letter. Since physical inability can be seen, people will know that your service dog or miniature horse is a service animal. Still, many people have questions about them. Some of these questions are answered below.

  1. Do I need Service Dog Registration or Service Dog Certification for my Dog?

    No, there is no such thing as a service dog registration. For ESAs, the owner needs to have an ESA letter but for a service animal, you do not need any certification or registration.

  2. How to Get a Service Dog for Anxiety? Or any Other Disability?

    You do not need to get separate dogs for anxiety, PTSD, and other disabilities. You just need a dog or miniature horse that is trained to do the required tasks.

  3. How to Train a Service Dog?

    You have three options; train the dog yourself, get it trained by a professional dog trainer, or buy an individually trained service dog. Buying a fully trained and prepared service dog is considerably pricier than training him yourself. Or, make your existing pet dog a service.

  4. How to Make My Dog a Service Dog?

    Get it trained by a professional trainer or train yourself to do the required tasks and duties.

  5. Does my Service Dog need a Service Dog Vest?

    As per the law, no it does not. Still, we suggest that you make your dog or miniature horse wear a service dog for clear identification. Using these vests will save you from any issue or problem. You can also use service dog vests with pockets to carry additional things.

  6. Are there any Service Dog Organizations?

    Yes, there are some organizations, both profit and non-profit, that offer fully-trained service dogs for various physical limitations. All you have to do is to contact them and inform them about your condition and needs.

Responsibilities of a Service Animal Handler

A good service animal handler must know the following things:

  • He/she is responsible for ensuring the safety of the animal while at school, at home, at work, and in public places.
  • When outside, keep the dog on a leash.
  • In public, a service dog should wear a service dog vest as a piece of identification equipment. (although it is not required by the law it is a good practice)
  • Clean up the mess created by the animal.
  • Animals should be vaccinated according to state and local laws.
  • Keep the dog neat and clean.
  • Teach your dog to be responsive to the owner/handler.

Best Service Dog Breeds

When looking for a suitable dog breed to be your service dog, choose from the breeds given below.

  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Pitbulls
  • Bernese Mountain Dog
  • Pomeranian
  • Border Collie
  • German Shepherd
  • Golden Retriever
  • Great Dane
  • Boxer
  • Poodles

All of these dogs have a great and strong work ethic and they do great as service dogs.

Emotional Support Animal vs. Service Animal

What is the difference between an emotional support animal and a service animal? Many people think that pets, emotional support animals, and service animals are all the same, which is not. A pet is an animal that a person keeps without any specific purpose or service while an emotional support animal and a service animal are there for a purpose. They are working animals with service animals having much more purpose and duty than an ESA.

An ESA provides mental and emotional support to its owner. They do not need to have any special training but they do need to be disciplined and have basic training of identifying and listening to your commands. Moreover, the ESA should be safe to live and travel with and should not be a nuisance or threat to others.

A service dog or animal is professionally trained to perform specific tasks and duties. Generally, people who are blind, deaf, have seizures and those who are in wheelchairs need such kinds of animals. Besides dogs, miniature horses are also gaining popularity as they are believed to be more trainable and easier to manage than dogs.

The Future of ADA and ESAs

There are many elements in the ADA and other legislation that have been called out for the use of emotional support animals.

One example is the issue of housing policy on college and university campuses. Because the ADA is not always consistent with the language and definition of ESAs and SAs. There are some questions on the legality of ESAs on campuses as well.

Another area of concern is the use of ESAs in the workplace. Because ESAs are not given the same level of protection as given to SAs. There is confusion regarding the legal rights of employees and the responsibilities of ESA owners.

These factors are important to further access the ADA and revise the distinctions between ESAs and SAs. Their use and protection should be afforded to all individuals with disabilities.

So, would you benefit from having an ESA? Do you Qualify?

Fill out our simple questionnaire and find out if you qualify for an ESA!

Harper Jefcoat


Harper Jefcoat

Harper Jefcoat is a dedicated pet enthusiast and esteemed author at RealESALetter.com. With a profound passion for animals, Harper combines extensive knowledge and personal experience to provide insightful and informative content. Specializing in canine behavior and wellness, he strives to empower pet owners with the tools and understanding they need to nurture and care for their furry friends effectively. Harper’s writings reflect his commitment to enhancing the lives of pets and their owners, making him a trusted voice in the pet community.

legally complaint


Apply Now

Share this Article