For many with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD, an emotional support animal can make daily life easier to get through by providing companionship and comfort. Residents in the state of Maryland who require assistance from an emotional support animal do have specific rights regarding their ability to live and travel with their animal.
In this guide, we will discuss the specific laws you need to understand if you have, or are considering getting, an emotional support animal in Maryland.
What Is an Emotional Support Animal?
Emotional support animals, also known as ESAs, are animals that provide comfort and emotional support to their owners on a daily basis. To be recognized as needing an ESA, you must have a prescription or notice stating your need for one from a licensed psychologist, therapist, or psychiatrist.
ESA are granted some travel and housing accommodations by law, but policies are not as extensive as they are for service animals. ESA differ from services animals in that they are not trained to perform specific tasks for their owner (in fact, most ESAs are not trained), and that they are not allowed access to establishments such as restaurants and malls. Services animals are able to accompany their owner everywhere, whereas emotional support animals are limited in the public areas they can go.
Benefits of an Emotional Support Animal
Extensive research has concluded that owning a pet is beneficial to our health. For anyone struggling with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD, or those who suffer from loneliness, an ESA can help combat these disorders and make daily life easier.
In addition to companionship and giving the owners a sense of purpose, ESAs can help improve their owner’s physical health. Science has shown that petting an animal lowers blood pressure, improves the ability to cope with pain, and decreases respiration rates.
Owning an ESA that is a dog also increases a person’s opportunities for socialization and exercise when they take their dog out on walks as part of its regular care routine.
Which Maryland Laws Apply?
Both the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act provide additional protections to ESAs and their owners in Maryland. These laws ensure that residents who need to have their animal with them for living or travel are able to do so.
The Air Carrier Access Act states that ESAs can accompany their owners on flights for no additional fee. To be legally covered, you will need to let your airline know at least 48 hours before your flight that your ESA will be traveling with you. You will also need to provide your ESA need letter written by your therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist, and guarantee that your ESA will behave while onboard.
Some airlines may request extra documents such as veterinary health letter and vaccination records. Check with your specific airline about their requirements before your flight so you can prepare the correct documentation.
The Fair Housing Act will protect your rights to an ESA when you look into renting in the Maryland area. The act states that landlords are obligated by law to provide a “reasonable accommodation” to anyone with an ESA and the proper documentation. This accommodation must also come with no added fees or pet fees.
In apartments or housing that have a no-pets policy, owners still have the legal right to live with their support animal.
On-campus housing and dorms must also provide appropriate accommodations to owners with an ESA. Campus housing counts as a form as regular housing, which is why it is covered by the Fair Housing Act.
You will likely need to provide the correct legal documentation in both of these situations to secure your rights to live with your ESA.
Note that even an ESA letter for your animal will not suffice if the animal themselves is poorly behaved, excessively loud or deemed out-of-control.
There are no specific laws that allow ESAs into the workplace like there are with service animals. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces the employment section of the Americans with Disabilities Act, does not have any regulations that prevent an ESA from being brought into the workplace.
The ADA states that mental disabilities are included when it comes to discrimination protections, so there is a case to be made for bringing your ESA to work with you. Many employers will be accommodating, but it’s important to remember they are not forced to by law. Discuss your needs with your employer and present them with your ESA certification paperwork in order to begin the process of getting your companion animal allowed at work.
Exceptions to the Laws
There are some instances where your ESA may be denied access to certain areas, or your rights to an ESA may be revoked. These include occurrences of your animal turning violent or aggressive with other animals, your animal causing damages (you will be required to pay if this happens), and not carrying the proper ESA certification paperwork with you.
Can You Be Punished for Misrepresentation?
Misrepresentation is when you pass off your pet as an emotional support animal. This involves taking advantage of laws intended to assist those with an ESA while you don’t have a specific need for an ESA, or without having the proper legal paperwork to identify your pet as an ESA.
Maryland is not one of the 19 states in the USA that punishes pet owners for misrepresentation. That being said, however, if you feel you have the need for an ESA, it is probably better to go the legal route for getting your pet certified.
Things You Should Know
Before getting an emotional support animal, you should know that they can be more than just dogs. Cats, miniature horses, rabbits, and other animals can all be regarded as ESAs. Whichever animal you have will need to be well-behaved both at home and in public. If you neglect or mistreat your animal, the proper authorities do have the right to take them away from you.
Additionally, keep in mind that only a licensed mental health professional can write a notice or letter for you stating your need for an ESA. This letter is awarded to you, not your animal, and is a key part of your paperwork when it comes to accessing your legal rights and accommodations.
If a website purports to offer a certification, license, or any other type of ESA qualification – this is a scam. The only accepted documentation is a letter from a licensed mental health professional.
Where to Find an Emotional Support Animal
Emotional support animals can come from anywhere, as long as they are non-aggressive and well-behaved. If you have need for an ESA, look around shelters and pet rescue organizations in your area for a companion. Most shelters will allow you to spend some time with the animal privately before adopting it to ensure you are a good match for each other.
In the case of smaller animals such as rabbits, birds, and hamsters, you can visit a local pet store. There, you will be able to find a suitable ESA and purchase all the supplies you will need to take care of them.
Receiving an emotional support animal is something that has changed the lives of many. ESAs provide the much-needed comfort and calming an individual with mental health disabilities needs, and can be a perfect companion for daily life. Thankfully, in Maryland, there are laws that protect owners and their ESAs, and which provide the opportunity to access fair and reasonable accommodations.