US Service Animals – Emotional Support Animal Laws | See What Rights You Have

Emotional Support Animal

Pets can provide companionship, love and support during our toughest times. Emotional support animals are more than just pets, but are certified and trained to provide assistance during times of emotional distress. These animals can provide support for a wide range of mental disabilities including general anxiety, social anxiety, Clinical Depression, Postpartum Depression, phobias, Bipolar Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and other similar mental conditions. Emotional support animals can remind the handler to take prescribed medications, distract the handler from panic attacks, self-harm or depressed moods and provide security and safety through crowd control or guiding the handler out of stressful situations. Unlike service dogs, an emotional support animal is not limited to dogs, as many types of animals can train to be a certified emotional support animal including cats, horses, pigs and even hamsters. 

Laws for Emotional Support Animals

Having an emotional support animal means your animal is covered by many laws that can prevent a person with a disability from being excluded or limited from certain benefits, accommodations and circumstances. There are several laws covering emotional support animals that every handler should know. 

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504 states that no individual with a disability may be discriminated against or excluded from the participation in any activity receiving federal financial assistance due to their disability. For example, a disabled person must receive a waiver for a pet fee for housing accommodation or travel. 

Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act

The Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) states that no individual can be denied housing based on race, gender, color or heritage. In 1888, the act was amended to include individuals with disabilities. This means that as long as the disabled person provides the proper documentation, they cannot be denied housing due to their emotional support animal, the same as a person with a wheelchair could not be denied. Under this act, apartments and housing communities that would normally limit or disallow pets are required to make reasonable accommodations for emotional support animals. This law not only applies to public housing or housing receiving Federal financial assistance, but also to private housing. Note that while the disabled person is allowed to have emotional service animals accompany them at their residence, this law does not cover any damage or endangerment caused to fellow tenants, as the handler is responsible for the dog’s care and behavior. 

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires that public universities accommodate students with emotional support animals in college housing or dorms. The universities are not allowed to charge a pet fee as long as the proper documentation is provided. 

The Air Carrier Access Act

The Air Carrier Access Act states that individuals traveling by air cannot be denied or limited due to their disability. Airlines cannot require advanced notice to individuals with a disability in order to allow them to travel. However, they can require advanced notice if certain accommodations are necessary for travel, such as special equipment for the animals. Handlers must provide verified documentation and identification for their emotional support animal. The rules and regulations may vary across different airlines, so it’s always a good idea to check before arriving at the airport. It’s also important to remember that other countries may have different policies regarding emotional support animals, so make sure to check with your destination’s consulate if flying internationally. 

Americans With Disabilities Act

A common misconception is that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers emotional support animals. However, the ADA only states that a person can bring a trained service dog to any public place, so it’s important to keep in mind that this act does not cover emotional support animals or animals other than dogs, meaning a public place reserves the right to deny entry to an emotional support animal. 

For someone suffering from a mental disability, an emotional support animal can have a huge impact on his or her quality of life. There are a range of laws protecting the rights of people with disabilities and their emotional support animals. It’s important for each handler to research and learn all of the laws to avoid unfair discrimination and know the regulations that are in place for support animals.