People who struggle with disabilities are afforded certain privileges and rights when it comes to their service animals. For example, service dogs that act as guides for their visually impaired owners are usually allowed into certain areas where pets would normally be banned, such as grocery stores and restaurants. But what of those who own animals that aid with mental illness? What rights are they afforded?
Emotional Support Animals vs. Service animals
Emotional support animals and service animals are not the same. Thus the law can get a bit tricky when it comes to distinguishing between the two. Service animals are typically trained to perform a specific task to aid their disabled owners. These tasks can range from pulling a wheelchair to guiding a visually impaired individual through a store. The sole purpose of a support animal, however, is to help their owners deal with mental illness such as depression and anxiety. For example, some individuals hold their pet snake when they’re feeling stressed. Others seek the comfort of their cat when they’re feeling depressed. Unlike service animals, emotional support animals don’t need specialized training.
How to get an ESA in Florida
If you’re interested in getting an ESA in Florida, you’ll need the proper documentation from a certified mental health professional. You can receive one from a psychologist, psychiatrist, or clinical social worker. Before receiving such a letter, you must first pass a screening process to see if you qualify for an ESA. Luckily, there’s a 10-minute online assessment you can take. This questionnaire is completely confidential and will allow you to ascertain whether or not you qualify for an ESA quickly.
Specific protection for Emotional Support Animals in Florida
Unfortunately, ESA’s don’t receive the same privileges as support animals when it comes to the law. However, ESA’s in the State of Florida (and many other cities and states) still have laws that protect them. Here are a few laws that protect ESA’s in the Miami area specifically:
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) comes into play for individuals who plan on flying with their ESA. In depth, documentation is sometimes required for this process, and the rules are strict. In most cases, before you set foot near an airplane with an ESA, a legally licensed mental health professional must write a letter that proves that you suffer from a mental illness and that you have need of an ESA. The letter must have the medical professional’s letterhead, should indicate the practice (such as psychologist or psychiatrist), and can’t be more than one year old. You might also have to give advance notice to the airline before traveling with your ESA (typically 48 hours in advance).
As an employee with a mental disability, it’s the responsibility of the employer to provide reasonable accommodations for your emotional support animal. It’s unlawful for an employer to discriminate against anyone who utilizes the support of an ESA though this is only the case for employers with five or more employees. That means that even if the business in question explicitly forbids animals on the premises, the employer must still allow support animals to accompany their owners. Just like traveling on a plane, your employer may demand documentation that proves your need for an ESA.
If you’re renting an apartment or house, it doesn’t matter if your landlord allows pets or not, they have to provide accommodations for you and your ESA. Of course, the landlord may require paperwork to verify your condition and your need for an emotional support animal, but as long as your documentation is legitimate, there shouldn’t be an issue. Your landlord can neither evict you nor charge a pet deposit due to your ESA.
Exception to Rules
With any rule, there’s always an exception. An ESA must also be house trained if they’re to be allowed in the workplace and they cannot pose a danger to anyone. These exceptions also apply to living conditions. Landlords can block an ESA from living with its owner if the animal is not properly trained and poses a threat to either the property or other tenants.
Where to Take your Emotional Support Animal in Florida
Animals are a lot like people. They need fresh air, a place to stretch their legs, and leisure time. Check out these pet-friendly locations in Florida:
Pet-friendly dog parks
Dog Park at Haulover Park – take your dog out for some exercise at this 3.3-acre dog park. Features include enclosures where your dog can run around off leash, water fountains for both dogs and humans, and pooper scooper stations.
Perrine Wayside Dog Park – this is an off-leash dog park with tons of raving fans. Open from sunrise to sunset seven days a week.
Doggie Bag Café Pet Boutique – bring your dog by for an organic cooked meal.
Hosteria Romana – a charming Italian restaurant that caters to both humans and animals.
Aloft Miami Doral – this pet-friendly hotel welcomes dogs up to 40 lbs with no additional fees attached.
Element Miami Doral – leave your cat at home, all dogs up 40 lbs are welcome with no additional fees.
5th annual Bow Wow Ween – if you’re looking for a little Halloween themed fun, bring your pet down to the 5th annual Bow Wow Ween which will feature costume contests, games, prizes, and much more.
You’re Not Alone In Florida!
It’s estimated that one in four Americans will develop some form of mental illness in the year 2017. That’s nearly 61.5 million people. If you happen to suffer from an emotional or mental illness, an emotional support animal may be able to help you cope with your condition. Get tested to determine whether or not you’re eligible for an ESA today so that you can benefit from the company of a new four-legged companion.