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Service Animals vs. Emotional Support Animal

Overview

Service Dog: Service dogs are trained (either by a professional trainer or the handler themselves) to do work or perform task(s) for people with disabilities. Examples include:

  • guiding people who are blind,
  • alerting people who are deaf,
  • pulling a wheelchair,
  • alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure,
  • reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications,
  • calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or
  • performing other duties.

Emotional Support Dog: Emotional support dogs simply provide love and support for people with disabilities. Unlike service dogs, they have not been trained to do work or perform any specific tasks. Their presence alone is all the support the handler needs. 


Access

Service Dog: Almost anywhere the general public has access.

Under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs are allowed to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the general public is normally allowed to go. This includes local stores, restaurants, shopping malls, rideshares, hotels/motels. Service dogs are also granted protection to accompany their handler during domestic air travel (Air Carrier Access Act) and housing (Fair Housing Amendments Act).

Service animals may not be charged a pet deposit or pet rent in housing situations, regardless of any pet policy. Also, no fees for air travel.

Emotional Support Dog: Only housing and domestic flights.

An emotional support dog does not receive special protection to accompany its handler in most public places. There are some instances where a facility is emotional support dog friendly, but it is at the discretion of management whether they choose to grant an emotional support dog access.

The two areas of protection an emotional support dog is granted access, however, are housing and flying.


Requirements/Medical Documentation

Service Dog: When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions:

  1. is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and
  2. what work or task has the dog been trained to perform.

Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

Emotional Support Dog: A letter from a doctor or mental health professional is required for an emotional support dog. The letter must state that the handler is under their care, that they have a condition, and that they recommend the use of an emotional support dog for the condition. The letter must be current (less than a year old) and on the letterhead of the doctor or mental health professional.

It may be required to present the letter to the building manager/landlord or to airline representatives when flying. It is recommended to contact the airline at least 48 hours in advance when flying with an emotional support animal so that they can make the proper accommodation.

The letter may be from the following:

  • a physician
  • psychiatrist
  • social worker
  • therapist, or
  • LCSW (licensed clinical social worker)
  • other mental health professional.