Understanding the Difference between ESA and Service Animals

Understanding the Difference between ESA and Service Animals

Approximately 61.5 million American citizens experience some form of mental or emotional disability, which makes them allegeable to apply for an emotional support animal. An emotional support animal also referred to as a companion animal or a comfort animal is any domesticated animal (usually dogs and cats) that help individuals deal with symptoms of an emotional disability by offering unconditional love and constant companionship. They are solely meant to help fight loneliness and offer therapeutic benefits. ESAs are not considered as service animals under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), which means they are not allowed public access unless the specific public place is pet-friendly.

service dog with boyOn the other hand, a service animal is one that accompanies a person with a physical or sensory disability. Service animals are dogs that are specifically trained to work or perform tasks for their disabled owner/handler. They are trained to recognize and respond to the symptoms of the psychiatric disability. For instance, a dog that is trained to detect and help the signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in his owner by avoiding environmental triggers would be considered a service animal. Both local and federal laws allow service animals access to public places where they can accompany their disabled owners.

Understanding the Key Differences and Similarities between Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals

  1. There are three requirements a dog has to meet in order to be considered a service dog. First, the person the dog is assigned to should have a life-restricting disability. Second, the dog must be trained to identify and respond to the owner/handler’s disability by performing tasks or doing work. Lastly, your dog has to behave well and not disturb the people around you. In that case, your dog might be excluded legally. They must be both leashed and housebroken (expect when the dog needs to be off-leash to assist with disability-related tasks or work)

On the other hand, an emotional support animal is not mandated to be trained. However, they are expected to be well-behaved when surrounded with people so that they don’t create any hazards for others.

  1. service dogUsually, owners of service dogs are allowed to take their pet along to any public place. This includes theatres, grocery stores, restaurants, public transportation, and non-sterile hospital areas. Besides these rights, service dog owners have the responsibility to ensure their service dogs are well-behaved and under control since you cannot expect the public space to care for your pet.

On the other hand, emotional support animals are not granted access to most public places. However, ESAs are protected under the Fair Housing Amendments Acts and Air Carrier Access Act, which means they are allowed to fly on airplanes and to live in housing that may not be pet-friendly otherwise.

3. Both service dogs and emotional support animals are not mandated by the ADA to wear a vest, special harness or ID badge to differentiate them from other pet dogs. By wearing special badges or vests, however, the general public can quickly become aware that your dog is working and has had special training to offer you special assistance when needed.

It is recommended that you make your ESA or service animal wear an easily distinguishable vest, especially during travel. This will help airline staff, landlords, and other public members know that your animal is more than just a pet, and also enable to look for him in case he gets lost.