emotional support animals

Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals

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Can you keep a pet in your rental apartment, even if there is a “no-pets” policy, by calling it an emotional support animal? People with disabilities are allowed to keep service animals, such as dogs that help the blind, deaf, mobility impaired, or even those with a mental impairment; but emotional support animals do not fit into this category. One crucial difference between the two is that Service animals are trained for specific tasks that aid the disabled, while emotional support animals are not. Nevertheless, the law states that people who have disabilities must be allowed to have an emotional support animal if there is psychiatric documentation to show that the animal helps ameliorate the disability. This is considered a reasonable accommodation.

If you already have an Emotional Support Animal, then you can prescribe ESA letters to allow you to fly with it or live in a “no-pets” policy housing unit with us!


In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the positive impact that animals can have on our emotional and physical well-being. Both emotional support animals (ESAs) and service animals play essential roles in providing assistance and companionship to individuals with various disabilities. While these animals serve similar purposes, it is crucial to understand the key differences between them, including their legal rights and roles. This article aims to shed light on the distinctions between ESAs and service animals to promote better understanding and support for those who rely on these remarkable companions.

  1. Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)

Emotional Support Animals, as the name suggests, offer emotional support and comfort to individuals dealing with emotional or mental health issues. These animals can be of various species, including dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, and more, depending on the person’s preference and the therapeutic benefits they provide. ESAs are prescribed by healthcare professionals as part of a therapeutic treatment plan to alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other emotional or psychological conditions.

1.1 Legal Protections for Emotional Support Animals

Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), individuals with a qualifying disability are granted specific rights to have their emotional support animals live with them in housing units that have a “no pets” policy. Additionally, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) allows ESAs to fly with their owners in the cabin of an aircraft without an additional pet fee.

1.2 Certification and Registration of Emotional Support Animals

Unlike service animals, emotional support animals do not require specific training or certifications. However, to avail of the legal protections, individuals must obtain a recommendation letter from a licensed mental health professional, stating that they would benefit from an ESA as part of their treatment plan.

  1. Service Animals

Service animals are highly trained to perform specific tasks that assist individuals with disabilities. These disabilities can range from physical impairments, such as blindness or mobility limitations, to sensory, psychiatric, or intellectual disabilities. Traditionally, service animals are dogs, but miniature horses are also recognized as service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

2.1 Tasks Performed by Service Animals

Service animals are trained to perform tasks that directly mitigate the impact of a person’s disability. For example, guide dogs assist individuals with visual impairments in navigating their surroundings, while mobility assistance dogs help people with physical disabilities by retrieving objects, opening doors, or providing balance support.

2.2 Legal Protections for Service Animals

Service animals have extensive legal protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They are allowed to accompany their handlers in public places, including restaurants, stores, and public transportation, regardless of any “no pets” policies. Service animals are not considered pets but rather as working animals, making it illegal to deny them access to places where the general public is allowed.

2.3 Certification and Registration of Service Animals

The ADA does not require service animals to be certified or registered. Business owners and employees may only ask two questions to determine whether an animal is a service animal: (1) whether the animal is required because of a disability, and (2) what task(s) the animal has been trained to perform.

  1. Distinct Differences

While both emotional support animals and service animals offer valuable support, it is essential to recognize the key differences between them:

3.1 Training Requirements

Service animals undergo rigorous training to perform specific tasks that directly relate to the handler’s disability. On the other hand, emotional support animals do not require specialized training; their primary role is to provide comfort and companionship.

3.2 Legal Protections

Service animals have broad legal protections under the ADA, allowing them to accompany their handlers in most public places. Emotional support animals have legal protections under the FHA and ACAA, mainly concerning housing and air travel.

3.3 Access to Public Places

Service animals have the right to enter places where pets are typically restricted. Emotional support animals may not have the same level of access and can be restricted from certain public areas.


Both emotional support animals and service animals play critical roles in enhancing the lives of individuals with disabilities. Understanding the distinctions between them is essential for promoting awareness and ensuring that the rights of those who depend on these animals are respected. Whether it’s an emotional support animal offering comfort or a service animal performing specific tasks, their companionship and assistance are invaluable to those they serve.

Note: Massachusetts court cases are following this trend.

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