An emotional support animal (ESA) helps its handler deal with everyday life when they are suffering from a mental health condition. From anxiety and depression to post-traumatic distress disorder (PTSD), many animals, including dogs, cats, birds, and horses can be classed as emotional support animals to help with these conditions.
Service animals (SAs), on the other hand — usually dogs — take this support even further. These animals have been specially trained to help disabled people with daily tasks. However, this requires more than just teaching your dog a few skills, buying it a vest, and calling it a service animal. There are strict federal and state laws for these unique four-legged friends.
While ESAs and SAs seem similar, there are key differences when it comes to their 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 Ohio.
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. 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 who require emotional support due to a mental health issue or following 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 Ohio
Like other states, Ohio 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.
Emotional support animals are protected in Ohio under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), a federal law that states anyone with a disability should be granted reasonable access to housing. This includes a handler who is supported by an emotional support animal.
Under the FHA, property owners or housing providers must allow an emotional support animal even if the property has a no-pet policy. An ESA letter from a mental health professional will need to be shown to the landlord to verify that the emotional support animal is registered.
The landlord is also not allowed to charge fees or additional expenses for the ESA residing in their property. However, they are permitted to ask for a deposit for any damages potentially incurred by the animal. The landlord also has the right to give a warning and evict tenants with ESAs if the animals are noisy, out of control, and destructive.
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 the size of your ESA, you should be fine on most forms of public transport.
However, when it comes to air travel, unfortunately emotional support animals are no longer covered by the Air Carrier Access Act. The ACAA once required airlines to allow ESAs to ride with their owners for free, but this has since been changed. Now, only service dogs are given this right.
If you want to travel with your ESA, you may be able to bring it onto an airplane as a carry-on. Of course, it will have to meet the weight and dimension specifications of the airline, and there will be a fee. Not all airlines allow pets as carry-ons, either.
Unlike housing, there are no state laws in Ohio that grant you legal access to the workplace with your emotional support animal. However, if you make a case with your employer, stating the need for your ESA, they may be lenient and allow them to accompany you into the workplace. In these cases, it’s a good idea to show your ESA letter to your employer so that they can evaluate your case. However, this is up to their discretion, so it is not guaranteed.
Public Access Laws
Laws in Ohio are strict when it comes to service animals and emotional support animals. Only fully certified service animals have full access to public places. ESAs and other types of assistant animals such as therapy dogs are not given full public 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 Ohio?
An ESA letter needs to be provided when requesting accommodation for you and your emotional support animal. We can provide you with everything you need to register your emotional support animal correctly. Speak to one of our licensed mental health professionals at US Service Animals to see if you qualify.
Once all the information is taken, you will receive your letter via email. By having this letter, you can rest assured that you will be protected under the Fair Housing Act.
How Can I Register My Dog as an Emotional Support Animal in Ohio?
There is no need to register your animal in a database or get them a special license to take advantage of ESA protections. A doctor letter is all that is needed for access to housing. Even if you don’t plan on moving home, you never know when you may need an ESA letter. With the easy and hassle-free registration from us at US Service Animals, you can get your ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional via email, ready to print and use.
How Can I Choose a Reputable ESA letter provider?
Unfortunately, because there are so many patients seeking the protections provided to emotional support animal owners, many shady companies are seeking to take advantage of them. One common scam is to provide patients with fake ESA letters from doctors who are not licensed to practice in the United States. Other operations have been caught selling forged ESA letters using the scanned letterhead of unsuspecting doctors. This can lead to problems for the animal owner trying to use these letters.
Reputable ESA providers like US Service Animals connect patients with medical professionals who are licensed to practice in their home state. A patient’s need for an ESA can only be properly evaluated through consultation with a professional, not an online form or a survey. Any site that claims otherwise should be avoided at all costs.
US Service Animal Laws in Ohio
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 Ohio 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 Ohio 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 Ohio
Before diving into the specifics surrounding housing, employment, and public accommodation laws for service animals in Ohio, we must first understand how the state defines these animals.
In Ohio, service animals are termed “assistance animals,” and there are two different sets of laws that describe which animals qualify: Ohio law defines animal assistants as any animal that assists a person with a disability.
Assistance dogs, for example, may accompany their disabled owners into public accommodations under the Ohio Revised Code’s service dog laws. However, these dogs must have been trained by a special non-profit agency and are limited to:
- Guide dogs that have been specially trained to assist blind people.
- Hearing dogs that have been specially trained to assist deaf or hearing-impaired people.
- Service dogs that have been specially trained to assist mobility-impaired people.
These laws exclude psychiatric service animals and assistance animals trained to assist people with other disabilities, such as seizure alert animals who alert their owners to an oncoming seizure, assistance animals who alert their diabetic owners that their blood sugar is low, or assistance animals trained to detect specific allergens.
In contrast, a provision of the Administrative Code of Ohio law that interprets the state’s specific civil rights laws relates more closely to Ohio’s broad definition of assistance animals. This is likely because the Administrative Code’s definition of disability encompasses both physical and mental impairments, thereby including psychiatric service animals and assistance animals trained for specific disabilities, such as the ones mentioned above.
These laws come on top of the American Disability Act (ADA), which broadly states that a service animal is specially trained to do work or perform specific tasks for the benefit of a disabled person. All combined, service animals (even those that assist with psychiatric conditions) are granted rights to fair housing, employment, and access to public spaces.
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.
To qualify for these protections, a disabled person must have a disability-related need for their assistance animal, meaning the animal must perform tasks or services that are specifically related to their disability.
Naturally, these federal protections extend to disabled Ohioans as well. As for Ohio’s Administrative Code, though, disabled people with animal assistants can have these animals on any premises they rent, lease, sublet, or purchase.
Furthermore, your landlord may waive any animal housing fees he or she has, but you will be held liable if your animal assistant damages the property or hurts another person.
Transportation & Air Travel Laws
Service animals 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 additional fees. In other words, SAs (defined as “animal assistants” under Ohio law) are entitled to full and equal access to public accommodations as long as they are leashed.
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 proper sanitary measures). While each airline differs in their require paperwork, it’s best to contact them ahead of your flight so that you can submit the right documentation.
The ADA also prevents employers from refusing to grant “reasonable accommodations” to disabled people. This means that if the animal is legally qualified as a service animal, your employer must allow you to bring your animal into the work environment.
A reasonable accommodation is defined as “any change to the work environment or in the policies or practices of an employer which enable a qualified employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of his or her position or apply for a job.” The Ohio Revised Code provides almost the exact same protections regarding reasonable accommodations in the workplace.
However, an employer could refuse your request if the presence of an animal assistant 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
SAs have special rights and are allowed in places that other animals typically aren’t. This means you can take your SA to public places without having to show proof or documentation.
Establishments can only 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 up to $300 and asked to do community service. The only other exceptions where restrictions may be in place for SAs 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
The Ohio Administrative Code’s definition of public accommodations closely mirrors that of the ADA, defining them to include any place that offers accommodations, advantages, or facilities to the public. It also includes additional places not necessarily outlined in the ADA’s definition, such as hospitals, insurance companies, video arcades, and skating rinks, to name several examples.
One exception is public pools; although service animals may accompany their disabled owners in the pool area, they are not permitted in the pool itself.
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 service animal’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. Ohio, among many other states, is eager to accommodate disabled people’s rights to animals to help them live functional and fulfilling lives.