ESA vs Service Dog Laws: Understanding the Difference!

By: Kathryn Anderson Updated: October 13, 2022

vizsla with gavel and judge robes

Yes, there are different laws covering the rights of emotional support dogs and service dogs! It is important to understand the difference! In this article, we take you through an explanation of the emotional support animal and service dog laws. We also look at what each type does, and the training they need.

Understanding the Difference Between Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals!

First of all, to understand the differences in the laws, get to know the difference in these animals. Emotional support animals and service animals can both assist people with a disability, but there are differences in how they do so.

Service animals

Service animals are most often dogs, but they can also be miniature horses. They are trained to do specific tasks to assist a person’s disability. In other words, a service dog may physically do whatever it is the person’s disability limits or prevents them from achieving on their own. Or they may be the helping “hand” that assists their handler to do an activity.

As an example, you may have seen a service dog help guide someone with limited sight get around. Service dogs can also be trained to fetch and reach items and do household tasks. They can also help with someone’s mobility. The main law that covers service animals is the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals are most often dogs and cats. However, they can be other types of animals too. Emotional support animals do not receive any special individual training to “become” an ESA.

People who benefit from emotional support animals usually have an invisible disability related to their mental health. The role of an emotional support animal is to provide comfort and companionship to someone with a psychological or emotional disability.

So for example, the effects of stress, depression, anxiety can limit and inhibit a person’s ability to function. The presence of an ESA may help relieve and improve these symptoms. The laws that cover ESAs are the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).

If What You Need is an Emotional Support Animal All You Need is an ESA Letter!

If you need the help of an emotional support animal for your disability, we can help you with your ESA letter!

CertaPet’s initial online pre-screening process is free and only takes you around 5 minutes to establish whether you may qualify for an ESA!

How the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Separates an ESA and a Service Animal

The American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the law that protects people with a disability from any form of discrimination. Within the Act, there are provisions that cover people’s use of animals to assist them with a disability.

Under the ADA a service animal is one trained to perform tasks directly related to the person’s disability. Within the Act, an emotional support animal is one that provides a person with a diagnosed mental health condition, emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship. They are not considered a service animal.

service animal laws young service dog opening door for woman in wheelchair

The Service Dog Laws That Do Not Protect ESAs!

The terms of the ADA allow for a service animal in a wide range of public locations with their handler. The provision for access to public places does not apply to an emotional support animal, because they are not legally considered service animals.

The Two Important Laws That Protect ESAs!

There are two federal laws that do protect people’s rights to have an emotional support animal with them to help with their particular disability. These two laws relate to housing and travel.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA)

The Fair Housing Act requires that landlords and property owners must make “reasonable accommodation” for a tenant with an emotional support animal. What this means in plain language is that a tenant cannot be refused rental housing on the basis they have an emotional support animal.

A landlord may ask for a copy of an ESA letter to confirm a person has a disability that benefits from the ESA. A property manager is not allowed to charge a person with an ESA any extra fees or deposits based on the request to have the animal. However, anyone with an ESA is responsible for paying for any damage caused by their animal.

Under the FHA there are some situations where a landlord can refuse a person’s request to have an ESA. These are around the size of some accommodation units, or if the ESA will cause the owner a financial or administrative burden, or pose a risk to the health and safety of other tenants.

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) 

The Air Carrier Access Act has provisions that allow people to fly with their emotional support animal in the aircraft cabin if needed for their disability during the flight, or at their destination. The animal is flown free of charge.

This is a provision that has been taken advantage of in recent years with people bringing all manner of animals on board an aircraft. As a result, many airlines have implemented, or are introducing policies to ensure that the health and safety of all passengers are taken care of.

Airlines may ask for at least 48 hours’ notice of intention to travel with an ESA and supporting documentation such as your ESA letter. Many airlines have also introduced policies asking for evidence of the animal’s basic training, and basic health. They may also have requirements and restrictions on certain breeds, carriers, and containment. Always check in advance before you fly!

golden retriever service dog cuddling on owners lap

Service Dog Requirements: Their Training is Intensive!

The training a service dog receives is intense, and for good reason! The role of a service dog is to help a person with a particular type of disability do something they can’t do on their own, so the training has to be spot on. They not only must be able to perform very particular tasks, but they also have to be able to do it on demand and command every time.

There are organizations that train service dogs to later match with people with particular types of disabilities. People with disabilities also may train their own service dog. This is usually done in combination with professional trainers to ensure the dog, and their handler, are able to safely achieve everything needed.

ESAs Essentially Only Need Basic Obedience!

Emotional support animals don’t need the training to help with specific tasks in relation to a disability. However, they should still receive the same basic training as any you would give any other pet!

Emotional support dog training should always include basic obedience. This includes standard commands that your dog will respond to as and when needed and, of course, toilet training!

Fraudster Alert: There is No Legitimate Service Dog Certification!

There may be a lot of websites out there offering service dog certification or registration – but know that these are not legit! These sites do not provide legal proof of your need for an assistance animal!

Also, know that the laws that apply to where assistance animals are permitted do not actually require special licensing or registration of the animal. The protections around service dogs and emotional support animals have been put in place for the person with the disability.

What you do need if you wish to fly or be in rental housing with your emotional support animal is an ESA letter signed by a qualified and licensed medical professional.

Knowing the Difference Between ESA and Service Animal Laws is Important!

Once you learn the difference between the laws that that apply to emotional support animals and service animals you know:

  • Where you can take your assistance animal. Service animals can be taken to a wide range of public places so long as they do not pose a health risk to others. Emotional support animals cannot be taken to the same range of public places, however, you may request to have an ESA in rental housing and when flying.
  • What training you need to ensure your assistance animal has. Generally, service animals receive extensive training directly related to helping an aspect of a particular disability. Emotional support animals do not require specific training, just standard obedience, and good manners!
  • What documentation you need. To protect the rights of a person with a disability, only questions can be asked of someone with a service animal. Someone with an emotional support animal can be asked to provide a copy of an ESA letter to confirm they have a condition that benefits from their animal.

service dog laws dog guiding man across the road

How CertaPet Helps People Get Their ESA Letter!

Here at Certapet we are involved in providing legitimate ESA letters! We engage with licensed mental health practitioners and people needing emotional support animal letters.

To request an emotional support animal letter, first complete our free pre-screening. After that, we will connect you with a licensed health professional in your State to complete your assessment and sign off your letter. The full process is usually completed within 48 hours.

Common Questions on ESA and Service Dog Laws

Do emotional support animals need to be registered?

Are emotional support animals legally the same as service animals?

Does an emotional support animal need to be trained?

You may also like

Page [tcb_pagination_current_page] of [tcb_pagination_total_pages]

All product and Company names are Trademarks™ or Registered® trademarks of their respective holders.