You may have read a lot online about emotional support animals and how they lend invaluable support to many people who suffer from stress, anxiety or other mental illnesses. These animals have special status and can go places that most pets can’t, such as buses, trains and airplanes. If you think that you may benefit from the support of an emotional support animal, it’s important that you make yourself aware of the legalities surrounding them and ensure that you follow emotional support animal laws.
The most important thing to do is to ensure that you have the relevant emotional support animal documentation in place. You can obtain an emotional support animal letter, which grants you certain legal recognitions, by either visiting your doctor or attending an online consultation with a certified mental health professional. You also must renew your emotional support animal letter annually.
Service Animals vs Emotional Support Animals
There is a difference between service animals and emotional support animals. Service animals are specifically trained to provide a certain service to someone with a physical or mental disability. This can include sensing seizures, acting as a seeing-eye animal to the blind, or even pushing and/or pulling someone who is in a wheelchair. On the other hand, emotional support animals are not specially trained. They can be any animal that provides a level of emotional support to someone who requires it. However, your emotional support animal has the same level of protection under the law as a service animal, and you have rights when it comes to housing and travel.
The Fair Housing Act
When it comes to housing, it can often be daunting finding somewhere to live when you have an emotional support animal. If you’re in the position of renting, the lack of places that will take pets is staggering. This can often add to the stress of the mental health condition that requires the help of an emotional support animal. However, there are certain legal obligations that landlords have when renting to individuals who have emotional support animals.
Although it is legal to refuse to rent to pet owners, those who have emotional support animals are protected. The Fair Housing Act provides certain protections for housing in the United States. Emotional support animals fall under what is defined as a “reasonable accommodation.” If you are someone who relies on an ESA animal to alleviate symptoms of stress or anxiety, a landlord is legally obliged to allow you to bring your ESA into your home, and you are not obligated to pay an extra deposit. As ESAs do not need training, the only documentation you need to provide is the letter from your doctor certifying your need for an emotional support animal.
The Air Carrier Access Act
Another situation that often brings panic to an emotional support animal owner is traveling. ESAs are commonly used on public transportation, especially on airplanes, so it is worth knowing your legal rights when bringing your furry friend on board your next trip.
The Air Carrier Access Act offers protection for emotional support animals and those who are reliant on them to travel. Again, the most important thing you need while traveling is your emotional support animal letter. The letter must state that your condition is in the DSM-IV, but it does not need to state your condition specifically. The letter must also state that it is essential for your ESA to travel with you. Airlines can also contact the provider of your letter to verify your need for an ESA, so it is worthwhile to let the airline know well in advance that you’ll be bringing your fluffy friend with you.
Emotional Support Animal Training
Although you aren’t legally required to train your emotional support animal, training your ESA will pay off in the long run. While flying, make sure that your companion is happy to sit still for long periods of time. Pack puppy pads, and bring them on frequent trips around the cabin and to the bathroom so that they can relieve themselves if need be. If your ESA is calm, they will do their job better, and you will run less of a risk of frustrating your fellow passengers.
Although the legalities surrounding ESAs can seem confusing to an everyday person, the law is on your side. ESAs are doing an important job supporting people in their struggles with mental illness, and it is up to landlords and travel providers alike to ensure that you and your ESA animal are treated with respect and care so that they can do their job and you can go about your day-to-day business.