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EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMAL

Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is a companion animal that provides therapeutic benefit, such as alleviating or mitigating some symptoms of the disability, to an individual with a mental or pshychiatric ability. ESAs are typically dogs and cats, but may include other animals. In order to be prescribed an emotional support animal, the person seeking such an animal must have a verifiable disability. Under US law an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is a pet which provides therapeutic benefit to its owner through companionship and affection. Emotional Support Animals are not required to have any specialized training, they require only as much training as an ordinary pet requires in order to live peacefully among humans without being a nuisance or a danger to others.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

1. WHAT IS AN EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMAL AND WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS TO OBTAIN ONE?

An emotional support animal is not a pet. An emotional support animal is a companion animal that provides therapeutic benefit to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. The person seeking the emotional support animal must have a verifiable disability (the reason cannot just be a need for companionship). The animal is viewed as a “reasonable accommodation” under the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (the FHA) to those housing communities that have a “no pets” rule. In other words, just as a wheelchair provides a person with a physical limitation the equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, an emotional support animal provides a person with a mental or psychiatric disability the same opportunity to live independently. Most times, an emotional support animal will be seen as a reasonable accommodation for a person with such a disability. Failure to make reasonable accommodations by changing rules or policies can be a violation of the FHA unless the accommodation would be an undue financial burden on the landlord or cause a fundamental alteration to the premises.

To qualify, a person must meet the federal definition of disability and must have a note from a physician or other medical professional stating that a person has a disability and that the reasonable accommodation (here, the emotional support animal) provides benefit for the individual with the disability. The emotional support animal alleviates or mitigates some of the symptoms of the disability. No specific training of the animal is required.

2. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SERVICE DOG AND AN EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMAL?

A service dog is individually trained to perform tasks that mitigate the disability of his owner. Training typically takes 18-24 months. Because of his advanced training, a service dog is considered medical equipment and is permitted to accompany his disabled owner to many places where pets are not permitted.

An emotional support animal belongs to a person who is disabled. The person’s doctor has determined that the presence of the animal is necessary for the disabled person’s mental health and written a prescription stating the pet is necessary in the person’s home, despite any “no pets” regulation of the landlord, for the person’s health. Little or no training is required. The owner of an emotional support animal has no more right than any other pet owner to take their emotional support animal with them other to keep one in a home where pets are not permitted or to fly with one in a cabin when pets are not permitted.

In short: service dog works to help the owner perform tasks he cannot perform on his own because of his disability, an emotional support animal works to improve the health of his owner who is disabled.

3. CAN WHAT DOCUMENTATION DO I NEED TO PROVIDE TO HAVE AN EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMAL?

If a person needs an emotional support animal to help alleviate the symptoms of a disability, he or she must first make the request to his or her landlord. Most sources indicate that the request should be in writing and explain how the reasonable accommodation helps or mitigates symptoms of the disability. While the tenant or owner does not need to disclose the disability, he or she will need to provide documentation from a doctor or other health professional (therapist or psychologist).

4. CAN A PERSON HAVE MORE THAN ONE EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMAL?

While there do not seem to be any cases dealing with the issue of multiple emotional support animals, the basic requirements for this reasonable accommodation would still be the same. In other words, if a person were claiming the need for multiple emotional support animals, then he or she would need documentation supporting this need from his or her physician or medical professional. The practitioner would need to provide documentation that each support animal alleviated some symptom of the disability.

5. CAN A LANDLORD BE REQUIRED TO MODIFY A “NO PETS” POLICY FOR AN ESA?

In most cases: yes, but there are exceptions.

Most cases involving housing and persons with disabilities are covered under the Fair Housing Amendments Act. Some are covered under section 504 of the Rehab Act, and some under the Americans with Disabilities act.

To learn whether any of these laws applies in your own situation, consult a qualified attorney, your state’s Attorney General, your state’s Human Rights Commission, or the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.