Everyone gets by with a little help from their friends, and those of the four-legged variety are no exception.
People are increasingly seeking emotional and mental support from animals, but this doesn’t mean that people are becoming more knowledgeable about the laws surrounding these support animals.
This article takes a deeper look at emotional support animals (ESAs), their duties, and the laws surrounding them in the Peace Garden State.
How North Dakota Defines ESAs
Even though ESAs are often conflated with service animals, there are some key differences between the two.
For starters, the North Dakota Century Code defines a service animal as “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal trained to do work, perform tasks, or provide assistance for an individual with a disability.” This can include hearing dogs, seeing-eye dogs, medical assistance dogs, or medical alert dogs. Service animals are specially trained to perform specific tasks that their owners are unable to perform themselves.
Emotional support animals, on the other hand, provide emotional comfort and support to those who need it, including veterans with PTSD. ESAs receive no special training to provide their owners this kind of support. They do, however, need to be a part of a comprehensive mental health treatment plan created by your mental health care provider in order for you to legally own them and bring them into spaces protected by federal law.
Psychiatric Service Dog in North Dakota
Psychiatric service dogs are trained to help people with mental health disorders. These dogs require years of specialized training to form a bond with people, so it’s not as simple as training your own dog or adopting a puppy. That said, the training is worth the trouble because psychiatric service dogs can help people with numerous issues and help individuals live a more independent life.
When it comes to benefits, psychiatric service dogs offer their owners many. We list a few of these benefits below.
- Recognize when someone is about to have a panic attack or seizure
- Remind someone when it’s time to take medications
- Escort people away from danger
- Find authorities or get help in case of an emergency
These are only some of the benefits and they vary based on the needs of the specific person.
In North Dakota, psychiatric service dogs have several protections by law. They’re able to live in rental properties and landlords can’t discriminate against them because of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Additionally, service dogs in North Dakota can visit public locations and travel on public transportation.
PTSD Service Dog in North Dakota
One type of psychiatric service dog is a PTSD service dog. These dogs help people who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, which can induce panic attacks and symptoms like anxiety or depression. PTSD service dogs help by providing relief for these symptoms. In fact, even being around a trusted companion can ease someone’s PTSD symptoms.
Moreover, PTSD service dogs can spring into action in a few ways. First and foremost, they can notice someone’s emotions and prevent panic attacks from developing. Secondly, PTSD service dogs can escort their owners away from dangerous situations. The last thing to note is that PTSD service dogs have specialized training that helps them connect with their owner.
So What Animals Qualify as Companion Animals?
While there are strict definitions as to what a service animal is and does, this is not the case for ESAs. For comparison, service animals usually fall into three categories: psychiatric service animals, allergen alert animals, and seizure alert animals.
Psychiatric service animals help their owners manage their mental or emotional difficulties by comforting them during anxiety or panic attacks, stopping self-harming behaviors, checking for intruders, or reminding their owners to take their medication. Allergen alert service animals let their owners know which foods could be potentially dangerous and/or life-threatening. Last but not least, seizure alert service animals inform their owners of oncoming seizures and may protect them during a seizure.
Of course, these service animals receive extensive, highly-specialized training to perform all these duties.
ESAs are there to provide their owners with a general sense of safety, companionship, and/or emotional comfort and support. Because this definition of an ESA’s duties is so broad, they don’t enjoy the same, federally-protected rights as service animals. They do, however, have some important rights with regards to housing.
ESA Housing Laws in North Dakota
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects disabled individuals against discrimination from landlords. This means the landlords are legally required to accommodate disabled individuals’ requests, provided that these accommodation requests are reasonable. The denial of an individual’s request for an ESA to live with them would violate this provision of the FHA.
Additionally, landlords cannot charge individuals with companion animals the standard ‘pet fee,’ which tenants are expected to pay in exchange for keeping a pet in their apartment. The only time a person may have to pay for their ESA is if they damage the apartment or house.
To have your ESA live with you without pet fees or in a non-pet space, you need to show a valid ESA letter – and nothing more. A letter can only be provided by a licensed mental health professional or doctor. If you can provide this letter, and it doesn’t cause an unreasonable financial burden on the landlord, then they must accommodate you. Bear in mind your animal must still be well behaved, quiet, and not cause a nuisance for you to continue to enjoy these rights.
Thinking about heading to college? You can bring your ESA there, too, as the FHA’s provisions extend to college dormitories. However, classrooms or other non-pet-friendly public spaces are prohibited for companion animals, so you’ll only be allowed to keep them in your dorm or living quarters.
If you have any doubts about a college or university’s companion animal policies, call ahead or visit their website to learn what the procedures are for bringing an ESA into your campus dorm. You’ll need to have your ESA animal letter on hand so you can prove to the school that your request is legitimate.
ESA Travel Laws in North Dakota
Did you know you can bring your service animal on a plane with you? The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) is a federal law that protects disabled individuals against discrimination for their disability. However, you are not guaranteed the right to fly with your ESA.
Keep in mind, though, that if your service animal is aggressive, noisy, or otherwise disruptive, then the airline carrier is within its right to prohibit it from boarding the plane. Larger ESAs, such as miniature horses, may also be refused to board the plane simply because there’s not enough space for them.
ESA Employment Laws in North Dakota
The American Disability Act (ADA) states that employers must provide their disabled employees with “reasonable accommodation,” which includes service dogs. However, the ADA does not require your employer to accommodate your ESA at work, and the decision is fully at their discretion.
Reasons for your employer’s refusal to accommodate your requests may be that your employer is uncertain how your companion animal will specifically help you perform your job better or alleviate the symptoms of your condition. This doubt may be bolstered by the fact that ESAs receive no special training on how to recognize and respond to the symptoms of your condition.
It’s best to speak with your employer directly about your concerns. It may help you a lot to show them your official ESA letter written and signed by your mental health care provider, as this will legitimize your case. Your employer is allowed to ask if your service animal has been trained, but federal law prohibits them from asking you to provide a demonstration of this training.
ESA Public Accommodation Laws in North Dakota
How the ADA defines ‘public accommodations’ is simultaneously broad and specific. Generally, this includes public spaces like schools, parks, gyms, zoos, stores, theaters, and even homeless shelters. The state of North Dakota also allows you to bring your service animal (but not an ESA) onto public transportation, into healthcare facilities, restaurants, shops, offices, hotels, arenas, hospitals, service establishments, and any other public spaces or areas.
Both the ADA and the state of North Dakota prohibit public accommodations from charging you extra fees to keep your companion animal with you. Similar to housing laws, though, you may be subject to extra fees if your companion animal damages the public space or area.
Similar to travel laws, a public accommodation may prohibit your service animal from entering the premises if they display aggressive, noisy, or otherwise disruptive behavior. It may also be prohibited if you’re unable to control your animal or if it isn’t housebroken.
An Overview of an Emotional Support Animal Letter
As we mentioned earlier, you must obtain an emotional support animal letter in order to be protected by these federal anti-discrimination law. Moreover, a licensed mental health care provider must write and sign this letter in order to validate it.
While it may be tempting to go through a website that provides these letters without an initial meeting with a health care provider, it’s best to do things the right way, as the “certificates” or “registrations” these websites offer do not offer any legal protection.
A mental health care provider is qualified to assess your condition and determine whether you need a companion animal, but you’ll also never have to worry about the legitimacy of the letter they’ll provide you.
An ESA letter has several requirements. It must:
- Be written by a certified mental health provider.
- Include their contact information, license number, and what medicine they practice.
- Be printed on their official office letterhead.
- Include a date of issue for the ESA prescription. (The letter will remain valid for a year from the date of issue.)
- Include their handwritten signature.
- Certify that you are under their professional care for a qualifying disability.
- Explain how and why this animal ameliorates the ill effects of your disability.
If your letter doesn’t meet all these requirements, it won’t be considered legally valid in North Dakota.
Get an Emotional Support Animal Letter in North Dakota
If you’re thinking of getting an ESA to alleviate your mental or emotional distress, you’ll be happy to know that you learn more about the registration process and even complete it on our website.
All you have to do is fill out our registration forms, and then you will schedule a consultation with a licensed mental health care provider who will assess your symptoms and circumstances, and determine whether a companion animal will benefit you and your situation.
If your evaluation is successful, then you’ll receive your companion animal letter in the mail so you can start enjoying the benefits of having a companion animal.