Emotional Support Animal & Service Animal Laws in Colorado

service dog with man in wheelchairEmotional support animals (ESAs) help thousands of individuals in Colorado improve their mental health. ESA ownership is a well-documented, drug-free treatment for mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Service animals (SAs) provide a similar support, but they take it even further by performing special tasks for disabled people. So, while ESAs are primarily for emotional support, service animals are trained specifically for handlers with disabilities who require help with daily tasks.

Because ESAs and SAs have helped so many people suffering from physical, emotional, and mental issues, laws have been enacted to provide protection to Colorado residents who benefit from their support. While SAs are granted more legal rights than ESAs, these laws prevent handlers from being discriminated against or denied housing based on their need for animal assistance.

If you are thinking of acquiring an ESA or an SA, 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 Colorado.

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 Colorado

Like other states, Colorado 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.

Housing Laws

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is one federal law that protects Colorado residents who have an emotional support animal. The act prevents landlords from discriminating against anyone with a disability and ensures that individuals with an ESA have equal access to housing.

What this means for ESA owners in Colorado is that it is illegal to be evicted or denied housing because of your animal, even if your landlord or property manager has a no-pet policy. However, if an ESA behaves badly or disruptively, a landlord has the right to charge you for any damages or remove them from the premises.

In terms of other housing, University campus accommodation is also covered under the FHA, but dorm rooms are not. Students wishing to have an ESA nearby while they study will want to keep this in mind. Like landlords, universities can request an ESA letter to determine its eligibility for housing.

However, one area that is not covered by the FHA are hotels. ESAs are not permitted to stay in a hotel room with you unless the facility is pet friendly. If you are unable to find a pet-friendly hotel, you may want to explain your situation and ask if an exception can be made, even though they are not required by law.

Transportation & Air Travel Laws

Because emotional support animals are not covered under the American Disability Act, they can be refused entry on public transportation such as buses or trains. However, many places allow small pets, so depending on your animal’s size, you should be fine on most forms of public transport.

When it comes to air travel, ESAs are also not allowed. Emotional support animals were once allowed to fly in the cabin of airplanes thanks to the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA); however, the Act has since been modified so that only service animals are offered protection.

The reason for this change is that most ESAs lack training and can be disruptive inside an airplane cabin. However, if your ESA is small enough, you may be permitted to bring it in a pet-safe carrier as your carry-on item which will be stowed under your seat.

Employment Laws

While employment is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, only service animals are protected under this law.

If you have an ESA letter and believe you have a need for their presence, you could still make a case to your employer in Colorado. While this is up to the discretion of your workplace, they may be accommodating to your requests. Companies around the world are seeing a change in flexible working practices as well as the demonstrated benefits that ESA bring in terms of boosting office morale.

However, if your employer doesn’t approve of having an emotional support animal on the work premises, there is not much else you can do.

Public Access Laws

There are no additional protections provided to ESA owners by state laws in Colorado. 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. 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 Colorado?

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 Colorado.

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 Colorado

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 Colorado are only granted if a person has been certified with 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 Colorado 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 Colorado

It’s important to mention that not all animals are recognized as service animals. These definitions vary between each state; for example, in Colorado, 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.

Housing Laws

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 both SAs and ESAs, allowing fair and equal access to housing opportunities to handlers and their animals.

Colorado and federal law prohibit discrimination in housing accommodations against those who use service animals. You must be allowed full and equal access to all housing facilities, and your landlord may not charge you extra for having a service animal (although you may have to pay for any damage your animal causes). If your lease or rental agreement includes a “no pets” provision, it does not apply to your service animal.

However, to fall under this provision, you must have a disability and you must have a disability-related need for the animal. In other words, the animal must work, perform tasks or services, or alleviate the emotional effects of your disability to qualify.

Transportation & Air Travel Laws

Service animals in Colorado are 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 accommodation.

However, SAs are required to always 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 allow 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.

Employment Laws

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.

Colorado law is even clearer than federal ADA rules. It states that any individual with a disability has the right to always be accompanied by their service animal at their place of employment. Employers must make reasonable accommodations to allow a service animal in the work environment unless doing so causes undue hardship.

However, an employer could refuse your request if the presence of a service animal would place “undue hardship” on business operations. The employer may also choose 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 all states, service animals in Colorado have special rights and are allowed in public places that other animals typically aren’t. This means you can take your SA to restaurants and shops 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 your 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 might 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

FAQs

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. Colorado, among many other states, is eager to accommodate disabled people’s rights to animals to help them live functional and fulfilling lives.