Emotional support animals are having a big year in 2019, with the trend set to continue into 2020 – although describing them as a “trend” is to do them a disservice. ESAs are a valuable component of many people’s mental health treatment. They act much the same way as service animal, although they do not require any kind of special training. Instead, they simply aid their owner through continued presence in their lives. In this way, they help to ease symptoms of some of the most common forms of mental illness, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD, as well as assisting children to live with the symptoms of autism. Through certain laws, ESAs are allowed to accompany their owners into places other pets are forbidden. These include rented accommodation and airplanes. But do they include movie theaters?
Catching a movie at the theater is one of the nation’s favorite pastimes. Heading out to see a flick on a Friday night or a lazy Sunday afternoon can be one of the best ways to unwind. But if you need your ESA with you at all times, can you afford to go it alone? Unfortunately, there is an easy answer to the question, “Do cinemas allow emotional support animals?” – the short form of which is “no.” Movie theaters don’t automatically allow ESAs on the premises, and are not obliged by law to do so. Cinemas and emotional support animals just don’t seem to mix. Traditionally, dogs and other pets aren’t allowed into a cinema, as they may disturb other guests. And according to the law, when it comes to private businesses, ESAs are viewed as regular pets.
The only animals that are allowed into movie theaters are service animals. While people might think that ESAs fall under the category of service animals, they do not. Service animals go through rigorous training regimes to serve in their positions, and are specifically trained to deal with their owner’s issues. ESAs provide support by companionship, and although both are important elements in their owner’s treatment, service dogs are viewed differently in the eyes of the law. That’s not to say that ESAs have no rights at all; if that were the case, they really would be no different from other pets.
Emotional support animals specifically benefit from two laws: the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Airline Carrier Access Act (ACAA). The first of these allows ESAs to be brought into rented accommodation with their owner, regardless of the policy of the landlord. This also counts for student accommodation. It does not count for hotels or Airbnb, which are considered temporary housing. In the case of the ACAA, this allows ESAs to travel in plane cabins, accompanying their owner on flights. Both laws require the owner to produce an ESA letter as proof of their status. An ESA letter is provided by a certified health care professional, and confirms that the patient is suffering from a genuine mental health disorder.
An ESA letter can be obtained from your family doctor, or over the internet on specialist sites. The letter does NOT state what illness a particular person suffers from, and potential ESA owners should be aware that it is illegal for anyone to question the specifics of their disorder. ESA letters are valid for one year, and must always be in date; an expired one will legally result in refusal of rental or travel for the ESA in question. However, when it comes to cinemas and ESAs, the letter is no good, as the law doesn’t protect you or your animal. So what can you do if you desperately want to catch the latest flick without leaving your ESA at home?
Well, you have a few options. Firstly, just because theaters aren’t required by law to allow ESAs in the doors, it doesn’t mean they won’t. If you have a local cinema that you favor, the first thing you should do is go in and have a chat with the manager. Explain your position and what your ESA brings to your life, and provide your ESA letter as evidence of your condition. You could also bring your emotional support animal to demonstrate that they are well behaved and used to being around other people. If you lay out your case well and are able to show that your ESA is perfectly obedient, the manager might just let you in.
Remember, if you are allowed in, make sure that you and your ESA are respectful to other movie-goers. The obvious rule is to make sure they are totally quiet and still as can be. Beyond that, it might be courteous to check with the people sitting around you to ensure they’re not allergic to your pet. If you’re absolutely not allowed in with your ESA, be on the lookout for dog-friendly cinema screenings, which sometimes occur in independent chains. These usually happen during the day, and are very pet friendly! If all else fails, you can always take a night in on the couch. After all, Netflix has an open-door policy on animals of all shapes and sizes!