Emotional Support Animals

ESA, Emotional Support Animals

They’re four-legged psychiatrists, 911 operators, bodyguards, and border-protection officers. What would we do without humanity’s oldest partners and friends?


There are all kinds of animal-assisted therapy. (see Beyond Guide Dogs: New Animal-Assisted Therapy).

Types of Assistance Animals: ESAs | Service Animals | Therapy Pets

1) Emotional support animals (legally NOT pets) are for assisting people who have mental health/emotional  disabilities or who have emotional components to serious physical conditions.  For instance, a study by the World Health Organization found that people who had arthritis, diabetes, angina, or asthma were more likely to suffer from depression than people without these conditions.

ESAs are meant for use in the home setting. The right to have ESAs is covered under federal fair housing law, administered by HUD (the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Read more in our legal information section. The US Department of Transportation also allows ESAs on flights. See http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/rules/382short.pdf for more info. You need a service animal if you require other kinds of assistance outside the home. Click here for information on the right to have emotional support animals for home use.

ESAs do not need specialized training to help with specific emotional conditions or to do specific tasks to assist their humans.  Dogs should have general obedience training, though.  Animals do NOT need to learn how to do the things they instinctively do to help calm people down, and reduce stress, anxiety and depression.  Little things like petting a companion animal, watching animals at play, having an animal nuzzle up to you are all therapeutic.

Emotional Support Animals Are Not Fake!
They are as real as our emotions.
http://www.ccfj.net/condoemservpetnofake.htmlIn his article attorney Herb Milgrim tries to explain the legal side of the Emotional Support Animal issue. It seems that more and more associations are getting into very emotional fights over this issue. But no matter where you stand on pets, emotions shouldn’t guide you. There are some Federal Fair Housing guidelines that everybody should know before listening to emotions. We are not talking here about barking and/or pooping nuisances (there are ways to get rid of them!) — we are talking here about peaceful pets, who can really be good company. Just read the article!
“Although they may present no outward signs of a disability, those who struggle with mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, and phobias experience legitimate debilitation. Emotional Support Animals have proven effective in mitigating many symptoms of mental health disorders. Emotional Support Animals are not required to perform a specific task, thus making them different from service animals.,” Kristy R. Becraft, MS, LMHC, Healing Through Animals from letter to the editorpublished in Dog Fancy magazine, August 2012.

Click here to read more about the right to have Emotional Support Animals.

[NOTE: Citizens for Pets in Condos had attempted to file a bill in the Florida legislature to clarify the right to have emotional support animals, but new HUD rules make it easier to request and get an emotional support animal as a reasonable accomodation. What happened to the Emotional Support Animal bill? Click HERE to find out.]

“The Department of Justice explained an important distinction between a service animal for ADA purposes and a support animal for FHAA purposes. The new rules limit service animals to dogs, but that doesn’t mean that housing providers can prohibit the use of other animals as a reasonable accommodation for a disability pursuant to the FHAA.

“In the final rule, the Department excluded emotional support animals from the definition of “service animal.” The ADA definition says that emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship will not qualify as “work” or “tasks” for the purposes of determining whether an animal is a service animal. Therefore, emotional support animals are not necessarily service animals (although a dog can qualify as both at the same time).  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development confirmed exactly that in a memorandum directed to fair housing enforcement officers and regional counsel.” (source, Florida Condo Law Blog, Posted on March 10, 2011 by Lisa Magill). [Note – the memorandum from HUD says, “Disabled individuals may request a reasonable accommodation for assistance animals in addition to dogs, including emotional support animals, under the FHAct [fair housing act] or Section 504.”]

See also, Recent Changes to ADA’s Definition of Service Animals Do Not Apply to Community Associations.
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2) Service animals (legally NOT pets) are covered under the Americans with Disability Act, through the U.S Department of Justice. See http://www.ada.gov/svcanimb.htm. Service animals are used to assist people with physical (and emotional) disabilities, however, are generally required to be trained to do specific tasks, such as dogs for the blind or deaf, in additional to obedience training. Owners can train their own service dogs. While other animals can be trained to do assistance tasks (even cats have been trained, eg., to press a button in an emergency), new ADA definitions now only allow dogs (and more recently miniature horses) as service animals.

“If you or your dependent receives assistance from a service dog such as a seeing-eye dog, you can deduct the cost of buying, training, and caring for the dog. Such dogs are considered medical expense deductions.” (reference: 6 Ways Your Dogs Can Give You a Tax Break, by Cathy Weselby, Mar 21st 2013. The costs associated with training a service-animal are usually considered medical expenses and are therefore tax deductible. (Some tax programs, such as TurboTax Military Edition, are set up specifically to account for this kind of tax situation, which is often faced by military men and women.) While it can make it easier to get a dog accepted in a condo if the dog has certification, it is important to know that the American’s with Disabilities Act does NOT require service dogs to be certified or professionally trained.

It is obviously much more challenging to meet the requirements for a service animal than for an ESA.
Mick Walsh’s service dog Jagger

Some uninformed condo managers and boards are not aware that there are other kinds of assistance animals allowed by law. They will ask, “What task(s) does the animal perform to assist you?” They are stuck in “old think” and only know about service animals and do not know about emotional support animals. If you can show you have a disabling condition and have a service animal, the courts will generally decide in your favor. It can take more effort and possibly more legal assistance to get an emotional support animal allowed.

For help in training and certifying a service dog in south Florida, go to Service Dogs of Florida, Inc., www.ServiceDogsFL.org.

Also, check out this resource on service animals:  https://www.rover.com/service-dogs-intro/

3) Therapy Pets for assisting people in the field. There are formal programs where animals are trained to work with strangers and in unfamiliar settings.  The training helps ensure that that the animals behave appropriately when out in public at schools, nursing homes, hospitals, etc.  (Some religious organizations and other groups arrange for members to bring their own household pets to institutions for similar therapeutic results.) Using the correct legal terminology can be very important. People have lost court cases trying to keep their assistance animals in their homes when they have labelled them therapy animals, rather than emotional support animals or service animals. Delta Society trains and certifies animals to be therapy pets. Therapy Dogs International provides a similar service but for dogs only and many local humane societies offer this kind of training, as well.

Pet Therapy:  Animals as Co-therapists

Studies: The Amazing Healing Power of Therapy Dogs

Canine cuddles: therapy dogs make a difference to Hobart residents living with a disability

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For more information on this topic, especially on the first two categories – ESAs and service dogs, go to the National Service Animal Registry at http://nsarco.com. Certification is NOT required for ESAs, but it might make it easier for you to convince a board to let you keep your assistance animal.

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