Debates ensue regarding what constitutes a service animal versus an emotional support or psychiatric therapy animal.

Debates ensue regarding what constitutes a service animal versus an emotional support or psychiatric therapy animal.

The Americans With Disabilities Act is clear: “While Emotional Support Animals or Comfort Animals are often used as part of a medical treatment plan as therapy animals, they are not considered service animals under the ADA.”

Currently, service animals are limited to dogs and, in some cases, miniature horses. Whether a service dog is used for a physical or psychological disability, it must be ADA-certified.

Emotional support animals do not have the same level of access as service dogs. ADA further provides: “Emotional support animals, comfort animals and therapy dogs are not service animals under Title II and Title III of the ADA. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not considered service animals either.”

The ADA offers a handy, easy-to-understand chart that compares rights based on assistance dogs. Some points include:
— Public establishments must allow service dogs, but not necessarily therapy or emotional support dogs.
— Service dogs are specially trained to assist just one person, while therapy and emotional support dogs are not.
— Service and emotional support dogs are allowed to live with disabled owners even if there is a “no pets” policy in place.

While rules are fairly black and white regarding dogs, gray areas exist with other animals. Animal Legal and Historical Center, through its animallaw.info site, clarifies: “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).”

A diagnosis for an emotional support or therapy animal must come from a medical physician in order to be legitimate. There are general sites to register an emotional support animal, but esadoctors.com issues this statement: “ESA registration is neither necessary nor required by law. ESA registration is not recognized by airlines or landlords. The only recognized certification of an emotional support animal is an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional.”