Emotional support animals (ESA) and service dogs (SA) are a life-saving asset for hundreds of thousands of Americans. From rabbits to dogs (and many species in between), these animals provide assistance to people with disabilities or emotional trauma.
ESAs, for example, provide comfort and make life easier for those struggling with issues like anxiety, depression, or bereavement. Service animals (SAs), on the other hand, are specially trained to assist disabled people with tasks such as fetching medication, alerting them to an oncoming seizure, comforting them during an anxiety attack, and more.
While ESAs and SAs may seem similar, there are differences when it comes to laws and legal status. If you are thinking of acquiring either of these animals, it’s important that you know what rights and responsibilities are afforded to each. This article provides information about the legal differences between emotional support animals and service animals in the state of Arizona.
Difference Between Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals
Before launching into the state-specific laws for emotional support animals (ESAs) and service animals (SA), it’s worth noting the differences between them.
Emotional Support Animal (ESA)
As its name suggests, emotional support animals provide comfort and support to their handler. However, these special creatures are not to be confused with therapy animals that often work with a group of people — say, in a care home. ESAs are usually assigned to one handler and will accompany them in social and public places.
The primary role of an ESA is to provide an ongoing sense of comfort and security. These animals are particularly useful for handlers with disabilities or who require emotional support following bereavement or a traumatic event. However, while ESAs are beneficial for physical and mental health support, their role is more like a pet than a service animal.
Service Animals (SA)
Service animals, on the other hand, are trained for specific tasks, and they provide help for individuals with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities. This includes conditions such as blindness, hearing impairments, physical disability, learning disabilities (e.g. autism), or mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or schizophrenia.
The main role of a service animal is to assist their handler with day-to-day tasks that are otherwise difficult because of their disability. For example, a service dog may fetch medication, protect the handler in public, provide distraction and comfort during an anxiety attack, or do a room search to put someone with PTSD at ease. These highly skilled animals are also trained to deal with emergency scenarios that may arise because of their owner’s impairment.
The Importance of the ADA
Another key difference between service animals and emotional support animals is that SAs are granted more special access rights, which we’ll cover in detail below. In other words, SAs are protected under the American Disability Act (ADA), while ESAs are not.
Under the ADA, SAs and their handlers are granted fair and equal access to housing, places of employment, transportation, and public areas. While each state has its own unique laws pertaining to service animals, the ADA is the guiding regulation which protects handlers and their SAs.
Emotional Support Animal Laws in Arizona
Like other states, Arizona does not provide legal protection or recognition for emotional support animals. While ESAs play an important role, handlers are only legally protected when it comes to housing.
In Arizona, the Fair Housing Act provides protections for individuals with emotional support animals. Under this act, handlers with ESAs have equal rights to accommodation without prejudice. This means landlords and property owners cannot charge additional fees or refuse to rent to a person because of their ESA.
Also, while landlords are permitted to request an ESA letter, they cannot demand to see certifications or qualifications to verify the animal’s services. The only thing they are allowed to ask is if the handler has a disability and whether the animal assists the handler with that impairment. Other considerations for landlords include:
- They can ask for documentation demonstrating the disability-need for an ESA.
- They can request proof of vaccinations.
- They cannot demand that the animal have specific training or certifications.
- They cannot judge the animal based on breed, size, or weight.
- They cannot make requirements that the animal wear specific collars, harnesses, or vests to identify as an emotional support animal.
The only time a landlord can refuse a handler and their ESA is if the animal poses a threat to others or if it would impose a specific type of burden to the property and its residents.
Transportation & Air Travel Laws
Because emotional support dogs are not covered under the American Disability Act, they can be refused entry on public transportation in Arizona. However, many places allow small pets, so depending on the size of your animal, you should be fine on most forms of public transport.
When it comes to air travel, emotional support animals used to be protected by the Air Carrier Access Act, but that has since changed. The Act used to require airlines to permit ESAs to ride in the cabin with their owners, free of charge. Now, this protection only pertains to service dogs.
If you’d like your ESA to travel in the cabin with you, one option is to bring your ESA as a carry-on if it is small enough. There will be a fee, and your pet will have to be in a carrier that is stowed under your seat but having them nearby may provide you with a sense of calm.
Although employment is covered under the American Disabilities Act — which states that employers cannot discriminate against anyone with a disability — ESAs are not protected under this law.
However, if you have an ESA letter to show your employer in Arizona, you may be allowed to bring them into the workplace. This is determined on a case-by-case basis, so if your employer does not approve of having an emotional support animal in the workplace, unfortunately, you must abide by their decision.
Public Access Laws
There are no additional protections provided to ESA owners by state laws in Arizona. Emotional support animals are not allowed to accompany their owners in any public areas that are otherwise off limits to pets. Only fully certified service animals have full access to public places. This means that public establishments have the right to refuse entry to you and your ESA or to charge you pet fees.
While it may be tempting to pass your ESA off as a service animal to offset these regulations, there are state laws that make it a crime to knowingly misrepresent them as such. Fines for falsely presenting your ESA as an SA can be as high as $500.
How Can I Get an ESA Letter in Arizona?
There is no need to go through a government agency or complete a registration process to qualify for the protections outlined in the previous section. The only requirement is that patients receive an ESA letter from their doctor or mental health professional licensed in Arizona.
When writing this letter, the mental health professional will include a brief outline of what conditions your animal provides support for. They will also indicate how spending time with your animal has a positive effect on your treatment. This letter can be delivered electronically, but it must be written on their letterhead.
Unfortunately, as the demand for emotional support animals has grown, so has the number of unethical providers selling fraudulent or invalid letters. That’s why it’s important for patients to be able to trust the provider who will be writing their ESA letters. Otherwise, they risk being left without a valid letter at a crucial time.
By registering at US Service Animals, you’ll gain access to our network of licensed providers that you can trust to issue a 100% valid ESA letter. If you have already been issued an ESA letter and you believe it may have been a scam, we encourage you to report it here.
US Service Animal Laws in Arizona
Service animals are afforded more rights than emotional support animals. For the most part, state laws are similar with only a few minor variations. It is important to check the laws in your specific state, however, so that you can obtain correct and up-to-date information.
Like most states, legal protections in Arizona are granted if a person has a disability. Under the ADA, a person with a disability is defined as having a physical or mental impairment that “substantially limits one or more major life activities”. While handlers are not required to show proof of their animal’s certification or training, it can be a good idea to use animal service vests or laminated cards for easier identification.
If you have a disability and live with a service animal, the laws in Arizona should make your journey a little easier since you and your SA will be protected on most public property.
Definitions of a Service Animal in Arizona
It’s important to mention that not all animals are recognized as service animals. These definitions vary between each state; for example, in Arizona, only dogs are classed as SAs. In some cases, a miniature horse is permitted so long as their services are directly related to a person’s disability.
Examples of service animals that are allowed in public under the ADA include:
- Hearing dogs: they alert hearing impaired handlers to sounds like signals, alarms, doorbells, etc.
- Guide dogs: they safely guide visually impaired handlers around obstacles.
- Psychiatric service animals: they help manage their handler’s mental and emotional instabilities by providing calmness, interrupting self-harming behavior, fetching medication, etc.
- Seizure alert animals: they let handlers know when a seizure is about to occur and will physically guard them to keep them safe.
- Allergen alert animals: they let their handlers know if foods or substances are dangerous (e.g. nuts).
Arizona law closely adheres to ADA regulations and states that service dogs or miniature horses that are trained to assist a disabled handler are granted public access.
As mentioned above, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal law that protects tenants from any discrimination based on their disability. The FHA protects service animals and their handlers, allowing fair and equal access to housing opportunities. Landlords are also not permitted to charge additional “pet fees” or to turn a handler away because of the animal.
Under Arizona law, landlords may only charge a security deposit for wear and tear on the property (and as long as they apply similar rules to other tenants). If there is no security deposit, the handler is liable to pay for any other damages incurred from the animal.
To be fully protected under the FHA, individuals must have a disability and have a specific need for their service animal. In other words, they must perform specific tasks and duties to alleviate your disability.
Transportation & Air Travel Laws
Service animals in Arizona are also permitted on public transportation, including buses, trains, taxis, etc. These entities must allow handlers and their service animals to board their vehicles and access services without prejudice. In other words, SAs are entitled to full and equal access to public accommodations.
However, SAs are always required to be on a leash, and they usually cannot occupy a seat on public transport. They are permitted under the seat or on your lap (if they’re small).
These laws also apply to air travel. Airlines must permit disabled handlers and their service dogs onto an airplane without charging fees. To assess whether your animal qualifies, the airlines will usually check to see:
- If the animal is required to accompany you because of a disability.
- What tasks the animal performs and how it relates to your disability.
- That the animal wears a harness or a vest.
- That the animal is behaving well.
Some airlines will also require you to fill out paperwork prior to your flight (e.g. a US DOT form attesting to the animal’s health and training and/or a DOT form attesting to adequate sanitary measures). While each airline differs in terms of required paperwork, it’s best to contact them ahead of your flight so that you can submit the right documentation on time.
Under ADA rules, service animals are also permitted in places of employment. In other words, employers must grant reasonable accommodations to disabled people and their service dog so that they can perform the essential functions of their job. This could be through amending the environment, practices, or policies to accommodate the animal.
However, their employer could refuse their request if the presence of an animal assistant would place “undue hardship” on business operations. The employer may also elect to provide a different, yet equally effective, accommodation than the one requested by the disabled person. For this reason, it’s up to the disabled person to prove that they need their service animal.
Public Access Laws
Like other states, service animals in Arizona have special rights and are allowed in places that other animals (such as emotional support animals) typically aren’t. This means that you can take your SA to public places without having to show proof or documentation.
Establishments are only allowed to ask about the tasks the animal is trained to perform and whether the SA is necessary due to a disability. Any establishment that refuses entry to you and your SA can be fined and asked to do community service. The only other exceptions where restrictions may be in place is if the animal poses a threat or risk to others.
In broad terms, your service animal is free to accompany you in the following public spaces:
- Hotels and other lodging establishments
- Public transportation terminals, depots, and stations
- Restaurants and other places that serve food and drink
- Sales or rental establishments
- Service establishments
- Any place of public gathering, such as an auditorium or convention center
- Places of entertainment and exhibit, like theaters or sports stadiums
- Gyms, bowling alleys, and other places of exercise or recreation
- Recreational facilities, such as zoos and parks
- Libraries, museums, and other places where items are collected or displayed publicly
- Educational institutions
- Social service centers
How Do I Register My Service Dog?
To register your service animal on our website, click here. For just under $80, you’ll receive:
- Lifetime registration for your service animal in the United States’ largest service animal database
- A Service Animal Registration Photo ID Card
- A Registration Certificate for your service animal
- Digital copies of your Registration Certificate, immediately available for download
- The option to order a vest for your service animal
- 24/7 access to our legal team and support staff
Additionally, you’ll receive a card explaining service animal laws and your rights if inquiries are made regarding your SA’s legal status. Keep in mind, though, that the registration itself will not grant you any additional rights, as these are already protected under the ADA and other related laws.
Are There Special Rules I Need to Know About Service Animals?
Despite the protections afforded to your service animal, they must also be well-behaved, non-aggressive and not cause a nuisance when using public accommodations. Threatening or otherwise ill-mannered service animals may result in your being asked to leave the premises, in which case, these federal and state protections will do nothing to protect your rights.
The Benefits of an ESA or an SA
There are numerous benefits to having an ESA or an SA. While these animals differ in terms of their duties, there is no doubting the physical, emotional, and mental support they provide for disabled individuals and those with mental health issues.
If you’re thinking of getting an emotional support animal or a service animal, it’s worth reviewing this guide so that you know what your legal rights are. Arizona, among many other states, is eager to accommodate disabled people’s rights to animals to help them live functional and fulfilling lives.