” width=”400″ height=”267″ />Emotional support animals (or ESAs) are growing in popularity rapidly throughout the country. For those who suffer from anxiety, depression, or any number of other emotional difficulties, having an animal at their side can be very comforting. While they can absolutely provide you with pleasure and companionship like a normal pet, they can also be so much more.
If you live in the state of Maine and either have an ESA already or are looking into getting one, you will want to make sure you have a good understanding of the laws that will apply.
Do ESAs Qualify as Service Animals?
In the state of Maine, emotional support animals do not qualify as service animals. Service animals must be dogs or miniature horses, and they must go through specialized training that teaches them to provide very specific support to the person who they will be helping.
Emotional support animals are legally defined as “assistance animals” under Maine law. This legal status does grant some additional rights that a pet or other animal would not enjoy.
There are no restrictions as to what species of animal an ESA must be under Maine law. Animals also do not require any type of training in order to qualify. Instead, the animal simply needs to provide you with benefits for emotional or mental difficulties, including things like depression, anxiety, social difficulties, and more. In most situations, you just need an ESA letter confirming that your animal is providing you with these benefits.
State and Federal Protections
ESAs do not have nearly as many legal protections as service animals. While service animals can generally be brought with you anywhere that you go, that is not always the case with assistance animals. There are, however, some state and some federal laws that do grant protections in limited situations. The following are the main areas where you and your ESA can enjoy legal rights.
When traveling on a commercial airline, your right to bring your ESA with you is protected by the Air Carrier Access Act. This is a federal law that will apply to all commercial airlines on all domestic flights. Most international flights will also benefit from this law, but it is important to look up any laws related to emotional support animals in your destination country as well to avoid any problems.
The law makes it clear that you are allowed to bring your assistance animal on the flight with you, and the airline is not allowed to charge you any extra. When you make your purchase, make sure you reach out to the airline’s customer service department to let them know that you are planning on bringing an animal with you so they can have the needed accommodations ready.
Apartments or other Housing Rentals
The Fair Housing Act is a federal law that protects your right to have your emotional support animal living with you when you rent an apartment, home, or other place of residence. The landlord can not charge you extra when you tell them that you will have your ESA living with you. Even if they normally charge an extra fee for pets, it will not apply to you because ESAs are not legally considered pets.
Dormitory and University Campuses
College and university students undergo a huge amount of stress and often suffer from a variety of different emotional difficulties. While many students have had animals in their homes throughout their life (as pets), only about 4% of colleges actually allow pets to attend with students. If you are living in a campus dormitory, however, you are permitted to bring your emotional support animal.
When you are talking with your school’s admissions counselor, make sure to mention to them that you have an emotional support animal that will be living with you. They may require that you live in a single person dorm or match you up with someone who does not have a problem living with animals.
Restrictions on These Rights
These laws are all intended to help ensure that you are able to keep your emotional support animal and benefit from their presence in your life. While they do provide a significant amount of legal protection for the situations listed above, there are limitations to these rights. The following are some key things to be aware of:
- Disturbing Others – If your animal is causing a disturbance to other people, the airline, landlord, or university may not allow your animal to stay
- Reasonable Species Limitations – While any animal can be an ESA, airlines, landlords, and universities can place reasonable restrictions on what species are allowed.
- Cleaning Up – You are responsible for cleaning up any messes made by your ESA.
- Repairing Damage – If your ESA causes any damage, you’ll be responsible for the cost of repairs
Bringing Your ESA to Public Places
While the above-mentioned locations have laws in place that help to ensure your emotional support animal is allowed, there are many other situations with no legal protections. For example, if you want to go out to eat at a restaurant or visit an amusement park, you do not have a legal right to bring your assistance animal. This does not, however, mean that you will never be able to have your companion at your side.
If you want to bring your ESA with you to a place that is not required to permit animals, the best thing to do is to call ahead and speak with the owner or manager of the property. Explain to them that you have an emotional support animal that you would like to join you when you visit. Let them know that you have an ESA letter (if you do) and that you would be happy to show it to them upon arrival if needed.
Legally speaking, emotional support animals do not require any special training, but you want to make sure that they will not be causing a disturbance when they are with you. If you have properly trained your animal to ensure it will not be a nuisance, let the person you speak with know this as well. They are not legally required to allow you to bring your animal, but you may be surprised at just how often it is permitted. Business owners want to accommodate customers as much as possible, and as long as your ESA does not cause any problems, they will likely be very welcoming.
Bringing Your ESA to Work
Another place where animals are not typically allowed, but an ESA could provide significant benefit, is in the workplace. If you work in an environment where it would be safe for your animal, you may want to bring them with you to help you emotionally throughout the day.
Employers are not required to allow their employees to bring an emotional support animal with them to the workplace. Similar to other public locations, however, it does not hurt to ask for an exception to the normal rules. To maximize your chances of getting permission, bring your ESA letter to your manager or human resources representative when making your request.
Explain to them that your animal would not cause any distractions to you, your co-workers, or customers and that you will be more productive at work thanks to the emotional benefits you receive. If you are given permission, make sure you do everything possible to avoid any problems so that your employer does not revoke this privilege.
Working to Change Laws Governing ESAs
The laws that apply to emotional support animals in Maine are much better today than they were several generations ago. ESAs, however, still do not have nearly as many rights as other service animals. This is something that many activist groups are working to change both within the state of Maine and on a national level.
In recent years there has been a lot of progress in helping people to understand the importance of mental and emotional health. Based on this, many supporters of emotional support animals are optimistic that the laws will be improved in the coming years. If you or a loved one has an ESA or is thinking about getting one, make sure to follow any proposed changes to the laws closely and contact your representatives to make sure they support any positive changes that they see.
On a more direct level, you can make sure to let local businesses know that you support companies that have ESA friendly policies. The more that business owners hear this type of thing from their customers, the more likely they will be to allow these helpful animals onto their property.