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Images of a variety of pets (Rabbits, dogs, mice, fish and more).

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional Support Animals are known by the acronym ESA. Emotional support animals are not only dogs but in fact include any animal. The sole purpose of an ESA is comfort. They are pets.

Emotional Support Animals, or Comfort Animals are often used as part of a medical treatment plan similar to therapy animals. However, typically, emotional support animals have no special training, and in fact, may have no training at all. While most Therapy animals that are used as part of a program, do have some training, neither ESAs nor therapy animals are permitted public access, and are not considered service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

ESAs put simply, are pets, and not limited to one species. They can be any kind of animal. These emotional support pets provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias. The key thing to remember about emotional support animals is that they have no special training or in many cases no training at all and are not permitted in places of public access (i.e. hotels, restaurants, movies etc.)

An emotional support animal is prescribed by a medical professional or licensed therapist. These animals serve one purpose only, to provide emotional support to an individual, that may be experiencing some type of mental health issue. These animals are prescribed based on a condition limiting the individual's life in a substantial way.

Unfortunately, there are many individuals who abuse the use of an emotional support animal by buying a vest and letter online usually prescribed by an unethical individual certifying the untrained pet as an emotional support animal. Buying certifications online is unethical and has been instrumental in disseminating misinformation, causing problems for real service dog teams and people who need their service dogs to mitigate a disability.

Who Has Public Access?

Public Access Service Dog Teams Therapy Dogs Emotional Support Animals
Hospitals Yes No No
Restaurants Yes No No
Stores Yes No No
Busses Yes No No
Airlines Yes No Sometimes with Appropriate Credentials

Key things to remember:

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)

The ACAA protects the right of individuals with disabilities to fly with their emotional support animal but there are restrictions.

While flying ESA are required to be well behaved, remain under their owner control, and pose no threat to others. This lack of training does, however, often pose a threat to others. Individuals who utilize emotional support animals have some federal protections related only to permanent housing and in some cases flying.

The federal Fair Housing Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act protects the right of persons with mental health disabilities to retain their prescribed emotional support animal in their home, whether their residence be public or private according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Take a look at this video of the various types of emotional support animals that have cause hardship for the airlines and unpleasant travel for other passengers - all because they want their pets to travel with them. These animals also endanger real service dog teams. Keep in mind the sole purpose of an emotional support animal is comfort for the individual. These animals do not have public access and they lack appropriate training. Taking an untrained animal on board a plane endangers others.

Text Description of Video
Audio of the video presentation

The Problem with the Air Carriers Access Act

The main problem with the ACAA is that it is not written to fall in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act as it pertains to service animals. Unethical individuals have made a cottage industry in supplying false documentation for a fee to those who want to fly with their pets. Make no mistake, most of these animals are pets that have no training and very well may be endangering other passengers.

To make matters worse, the ACAA refers to "psychiatric service dogs" in the same category as emotional support animals. There is actually no such thing as a "psychiatric service dog". A service dog is ANY DOG trask-trained to mitigate a disability whether that disability be hidden, due to mental health issues (such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) or any other disability. Many commentators, journalists and other reporters and professionals often confuse service dogs with therapy and/or emotional support animals. A service dog is considered medical equipment and is task-trained to mitigate symptoms for a person who has an ADA recogized disability.