Emotional support animals, or ESAs, are an important companion for many people in the state of Wisconsin. If you have an ESA or are thinking about getting one, you need to take some time to learn about the various laws that will apply. There are both federal and state-specific laws that you need to look into. Having a good understanding of these laws will help ensure you are able to exercise your rights and be aware of your responsibilities if you have an emotional support animal.
Are ESAs Considered Service Animals?
No. Emotional support animals do not qualify as service animals under federal law or Wisconsin law. Service animals (which are almost always dogs) must receive specific training to help their owner with tasks related to a diagnosed disability. The best-known type of service dog is a seeing-eye dog, which receives extensive training prior to being assigned to an owner who is legally blind.
Emotional support animals, on the other hand, do not need to receive any special training in order to qualify. This means that ESAs do not automatically qualify for the legal benefits that service animals receive.
What Animals can be an Emotional Support Animal in Wisconsin?
According to Wisconsin law, an emotional support animal can technically be any type of animal that provides you with emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship. The most common emotional support animals are dogs and cats, though some people also keep bunnies, small pigs, and even chickens for this purpose.
While any animal can be an emotional support animal, the species you choose will definitely impact your rights and responsibilities. All relevant laws and guidelines have stipulations that state that business owners, employers, and other impacted parties can make reasonable restrictions to minimize the impact of the animal on others in the area.
For example, if you have a goat as an ESA, an airline does not have to permit you to bring it on a flight, even if they do typically allow certain other animals. Finding an animal that can truly provide you with emotional support is most important, but also consider how the species or breed will impact your overall life.
How Can I Register My Animal as an ESA?
There is only one valid type of documentation required to get your animal classified as an ESA, and that is a valid ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional or doctor. This letter will be what you can provide to landlords, airlines, and others to prove that your animal is an ESA. There is no such thing as “registration” for ESAs, nor is there certificates or training. Anyone who tries to say otherwise is wrong or purposefully misleading you. Your ESA letter is, currently, the singular proof you need in order to enjoy the rights and benefits that come with having an emotional support animal.
Traveling with an ESA
If you are planning a trip and you want to take your emotional support animal with you, it is a good idea to spend set aside some extra time for planning it out to avoid any problems. When traveling by air, your right to bring your ESA is protected under federal law. This law makes it clear that you do not have to pay an extra fare for your animal, and that reasonable accommodations need to be made.
However, you are required to contact the airline 48 hours beforehand to work out all the details and to fill in the forms they will provide you. If you fail to notify them ahead of time or don’t have an ESA letter with you, they can refuse your animal or charge you a fare.
While you are on the flight itself, you need to do everything you can to ensure your animal does not cause a disturbance for others on the flight. There are no specific requirements in this area, but a good rule of thumb is to keep in mind that your ESA is there to help you with anxiety or other emotional difficulties. The last thing you want to do is have your ESA cause difficulties for your fellow passengers, so make sure your animal is calm, not making a mess, and not threatening to others. If your animal does cause a disturbance to the flight, it is grounds for the airline to bar you from taking the animal in the future.
Emotional Support Laws and Employment
There are many things that can trigger stress, anxiety, and other issues in the workplace, which is why many people want to take their emotional support animal with them. Unfortunately, there are no federal or state laws currently on the books that require an employer to permit you to bring your animal to work with you.
Many people who have emotional support animals have had good results by simply talking to their manager or human resources representative. If you have an ESA letter, you can show it to them and explain that your animal will help you to be a better employee. In many cases, the employers will be happy to make an exception to their normal rules. If you do get approval initially, but your animal begins causing any type of disturbance, the employer can revoke this privilege, so make sure your ESA is well behaved.
Emotional Support Laws and Housing
In the state of Wisconsin, your right to have your emotional support animal living with you is protected by the Fair Housing Act. This law specifically says that service animals and emotional support animals must be allowed into the home, even if pets are normally prohibited. There are some important things that you need to understand about these laws before you approach your landlord.
Questions Landlords may Ask
If you tell your landlord that you want to have an emotional support animal living with you, they are permitted to ask two specific questions to ensure your request is legitimate. The first one is if the person with the animal has a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities in a substantial way. The second question is if the person with the animal has a disability-related need for the assistance animal. If the landlord presses for additional information, they may be violating the Fair Housing Act. Both of these questions are answered by having a valid ESA letter, and it’s all you need to show your prospective landlord.
Limitations on what ESAs are Permitted
Landlords may not prohibit specific breeds of dog or other animals based on their size, weight, or reputation. They can, however, refuse to allow any emotional support animal if it could be shown that it would cause a serious financial and/or administrative burden. In addition, if the animal can be shown to pose a threat to the health or safety to other tenants, the landlord can deny the request. This is why it is so important to make sure that your ESA is well behaved and cared for.
Once your landlord approves your request to have an emotional support animal living with you, make sure you do everything possible to ensure there are no problems. Don’t allow your ESA to roam around the facility, or the grounds around the facility, alone. Do not permit the animal to show any signs of aggression to your neighbors or visitors to the facility. Always pick up any animal waste right away and dispose of it properly. If your animal makes noises such as barking, try to keep it to a minimum so it does not disturb your neighbors. Perhaps most importantly, you always need to keep your animal up to date on all vaccinations and animal licenses. If your animal causes a nuisance, then their status as an ESA will not stop the landlord from having the right to evict them.
No Additional Fees
Landlords are not allowed to require any type of additional deposit, pet fee, or other expense based on the fact that you will have an animal in your home. Legally speaking, your emotional support animal is not a pet, so you are not responsible for these types of extra costs. That being said, however, the landlord can charge you for any damage that is caused by your ESA.
Bringing an ESA to a Public Facility
There are many public areas where animals are typically not allowed. This would include places like stores, restaurants, certain public parks, and more. Unlike service animals, emotional support animals are not automatically allowed to go in these areas by law. The owners of these areas do not have to make exceptions to their normal ‘no animals allowed’ policies. Similar to employers, however, it is not uncommon for them to grant a special exception if you approach them ahead of time.
Many people have been successful by calling ahead and letting the property owner know that they have an ESA letter and that their animal would not cause any type of disturbance. If they do not agree to give you permission to bring your animal to their property, you must respect their decision and either avoid the area entirely or leave your animal at home.
The Future of ESA Laws in Wisconsin
While there are a variety of legal protections in place for emotional support animals and the people who they help, many people hope to see new laws expanding ESA rights passed in the future. There are a variety of activist groups working both in the state of Wisconsin and on the federal level to help get ESAs the same legal respect that other service animals receive.
There are no current bills or proposals that are likely to pass in the near future, but it is always a good idea to keep up to date with the latest political changes that may impact you and your animal. By staying as knowledgeable as possible, you will always be able to exercise your rights and fulfill your responsibilities, so you and your emotional support animal can thrive together.