Animals provide so much more than companionship. When trained accordingly, animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, and more can offer support, stability, protection, and assistance with day-to-day living.
Known as emotional support animals (ESAs) and service animals (SA), these special creatures can ease loneliness and help people through difficult times. While ESAs are primarily for emotional support, service animals are specially trained to perform tasks for handlers with disabilities who require assistance with daily tasks.
While ESAs and SAs may seem similar, there are key differences when it comes to state 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 Texas.
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 Texas
Clients living in Texas who have been granted an emotional support animal by a mental health professional are entitled to certain federal protections when it comes to renting a home or apartment. The law states that any person with a disability, either mental or physical, is given fair and equal access to housing with their ESA.
Under this law, Texas ESA owners can live with their animals, even in accommodation where pets are not normally allowed. While it’s not legally required, landlords can request to see your ESA letter that demonstrates your need for the animal.
Landlords are also not allowed to charge additional fees for tenants with ESAs, and they are not allowed to refuse to rent to a tenant because of their animal. However, you are financially liable if your ESA causes a threat to the landlord or other tenants or damages the property.
University campus housing is also covered under the Fair Housing Act, but dorm rooms are not. So, students who wish to have an ESA nearby while they study will want to keep this in mind. Like landlords, universities may also request an ESA letter to confirm the animal is registered and to determine its eligibility for housing accommodation.
It’s worth noting that hotels are not covered by the Fair Housing Act. If you are planning to travel to Texas and stay in a hotel with your ESA, you are not entitled to stay unless the hotel is pet friendly.
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 do allow small pets, so you could be fine on some forms of public transport.
When it comes to air travel, you are not permitted to bring your ESA onto an airplane with you. The Air Carrier Access Act used to require airlines to make accommodations for these animals, but the Act has since changed. Now, only service dogs are allowed on airplanes.
If your ESA is small enough, though, some airlines may allow you to bring it with you as a carry-on that you stow under your seat. Your pet and its carrier will have to meet the dimensions outlined by the airline and you will be charged a carry-on fee.
By law, an employer does not need to accommodate emotional support animals because they are not protected under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). However, it is not against the law for workplaces to allow emotional support animals, so if you express the need for your emotional support animal at work, your employer may make an exception. There has been a recent rise in the number of employers allowing emotional support animals as they see the value and impact it has on their employees.
Public Access Laws
If you’re wondering whether you can take your ESA to public places like a store or restaurant in Texas, the answer is usually no. Unlike a service dog, ESAs are not guaranteed entry to public areas under the ADA. Also, if you’re thinking of claiming that your ESA is a service dog, falsely portraying an ESA or other animal as a guide animal is considered a crime and you can be charged.
How Can I Get an ESA Letter in Texas?
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 today 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 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 big 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 through an online form or a survey. Any site that claims otherwise should be avoided at all costs.
US Service Animal Laws in Texas
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.
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.
One thing that sets Texas apart is that they provide protection for the disabled if their service animal is attacked, injured, or killed by another individual. However, if your animal causes damage to public or private property, you will be held responsible.
If you have a service animal, the laws in Texas 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 Texas
Texas has specific criteria for defining a service animal: an SA is defined as being a helper or aid for a person who is physically, emotionally, or mentally disabled. Due to the many types of disabilities, the state indicates which ones are valid to be a service animal. These include:
- Deafness or another hearing impairment
- Visual impairment
- Speech impairment
- Mental disability
- Physical disability
- Intellectual or developmental disability
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Any health impairment for which the person needs special ambulatory services or devices.
In most cases, a dog is the only type of animal that can be of service in Texas; sometimes, though, miniature horses are permitted.
Texas’s service animal laws state that people with disabilities are entitled to full and equal housing. This falls in line with the federal Fair Housing Act that also protects people who have emotional support animals. Therefore, if you have a registered service animal, you do not have to pay fees while living in rented accommodation. However, you are responsible for any damages that your animal may cause while living there.
Transportation & Air Travel Laws
When it comes to travel and transportation, you should never be discriminated against for having a service animal, which means you are permitted on buses, trains, taxis, etc. These entities must allow handlers and their service animals to board their vehicles and access services without prejudice. In fact, Texas laws can penalize those who refuse your animal public accommodation. The state can also penalize individuals who wrongfully claim that their animal is an SA.
However, service animals are 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 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.
Unlike ESAs, service animals are protected under the American Disability Act (ADA), which means employers cannot knowingly refuse 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. In Texas, state employees are also allowed to take up to 10 days of paid leave to attend a training program for acquiring a service dog.
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 elect to provide a different, yet equally effective, accommodation than the one requested by the disabled person.
Public Access Laws
SAs have special rights and are allowed in places that other animals typically aren’t. This means that 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 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 US’s 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.
Do I Need to Register My Dog as an ESA in Texas?
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’s letter is all that is needed for access to housing. However, some poeple choose to have their ESA registered in Texas, since it can provide additional proof that you worked with a reputable company.
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.
Can I Have Multiple ESAs in Texas?
If your licensed mental health worker determines you would benefit from multiple emotional support animals, you can have as many as they deem necessary. You can also have multiple kinds of ESAs at once, including dogs, cats, birds, rodents, reptile, fish, or small mammals.
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. Texas, among many other states, is eager to accommodate disabled people’s rights to animals to help them live functional and fulfilling lives.