US Service Animals – Emotional Support Animals and Apartment Pool Policies

An emotional support animal (ESA) is a companion animal that a medical professional has determined provides benefit for an individual with a disability. Unlike service dogs, An animal does not require specific training to become an emotional support animal. Emotional support animals (typically dogs) may be used by people with a range of physical, psychiatric, or intellectual disabilities. The animal can ease the pain (mental or emotional) of a disability through companionship and affection.

Apartment Pool Policies

There are many laws and health regulations to review that affect whether or not your emotional support animal can receive access to your apartment complex’s pool area.

First, you should make sure to read the regulations that govern your specific building or complex. They are usually called Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs). They should spell out exactly what is and isn’t allowed.

Secondly, your city, county or state’s health department may also have a health regulation against dogs in the pool, or in the pool area. For example, some State Administrative Codes dictate that “animals and glass containers are prohibited within the fenced pool area, or 50 feet from pool edge when no fence exists.” If the authorities discover residents violating the code, the pool could be shut down or drained.

Moreover, in some States that law may even apply to service animals. However, the U.S. Department of Justice and the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) can run counter to state law. The ADA states that service animals are allowed in the swimming pool area and enclosures at public recreational bathing facilities. The Department of Justice and the ADA define a ‘service animal’ as “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.”

ADA Policies

The ADA does not override public health rules that prohibit dogs in swimming pools. But according to the ADA, service animals must be allowed on the pool deck and in other areas where the public can go. A service dog in the pool area is considered a reasonable ADA accommodation.

That all being said, a service dog is not the same as an emotional support, therapy, comfort or companion animal. These terms are used to describe animals that provide comfort just by being with a person.  Because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.  That’s why it is so important to know your state and local government laws regarding taking support animals into public places.

The issue becomes less black and white when you consider the fact that service animals do not need to be professionally trained. People with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program.

Even more interesting is that the ADA makes a distinction between psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals. If the dog has been trained to sense that an anxiety attack is about to happen and take a specific action to help avoid the attack or lessen its impact, that would qualify as a service animal. However, if the dog’s mere presence provides comfort, that would not be considered a service animal under the ADA.

Also, in a situation where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, staff may ask only two specific questions:

  • Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  • What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

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Service Dog vs ESA

Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability. The ADA does not require service animals to wear a vest, ID tag, or specific harness.

So, it is possible that your emotional support animal may be considered a service dog and be allowed in the pool area under federal law. It truly depends on your unique situation and affliction. If your apartment complex and state administrative codes to do not allow support animals in or near public pools, then you may want to explain to the complex’s administration personnel what the federal regulations are and see if an exception can be made for you and your animal.

In trying to determine if your emotional support animal is allowed entry to your apartment complex’s pool area or pool, please consider the following three steps: