Service Dogs vs. Emotional Service Animals and Do’s and Don’ts

(As some may know, I suffer from some severe anxiety and depression as well as a few other ticks on the mental illness board I don’t need to delve into now, so this subject is a little close to home, Especially since Feirin is my SDiT, At now 5 months, he does an anxiety alert, deep pressure therapy (DPT). Self-harm deterrent, blocking (Putting himself between me and something that causes discomfort ie: people I don’t know), and migraine alert.)

As mental illness is becoming more and more recognized as just that–illness–ESAs and psychiatric service dogs are popping up everywhere, but not all of them are legal, and not everyone knows this. It’s actually causing quite some trouble for those who have gone through and taken the proper steps towards getting their ESA/SD.

At first I am going to say that there is no registry or registration for ESAs or Service animals. There are plenty of websites out there saying if you pay x amount of money, you’ll get an ID, a vest, and all of these other things stating that your animal is an ESA or a SD and all will be fine.

This is all a load of bull, the only “paperwork” that is legally recognized is a doctor from your personal doctor or psychiatrist. Now, while it may sound easy-peasy, the reason it is this way is because they can monitor and make sure that people aren’t just getting hands on letters just to get away with keeping their dogs with them wherever they go. A doctor or psychiatrist will only administer a letter to those they believe can and will benefit from having an ESA or SD for their illness, instead of just handing out a paper so people don’t have to follow ordinary rules.

Now there is a difference between service animals and ESAs. A service animal (Only dogs and miniature horses) Must be task-trained and have specific tasks they have to perform to help the handler (ie. Seeing eye dog, balance, various alerts, blocking, etc.) They must also be entirely obedient and housebroken. According to the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) Service dogs require businesses and other public locations to admit individuals with service dogs into any area that is open to the public. If it isn’t obvious that a dog is a service animal, staff may ask only two questions by law: (1) If the dog is a service dog, (2) What task the dog performs. They may not ask about the handler’s disabilities (they also can’t ask for any medical documentation or training documentation) or for a demonstration of the tasks.

That being said, service dogs in training (SDiT) do not have public access rights and trainings should only be performed in pet friendly establishments.

The only reason a handler can be asked to remove their SD is if the dog is out of control and the handler doesn’t effectively correct it, or if their SD is not house broken and has an accident in the store. Otherwise, the dog is, by law, allowed everywhere his handler is welcome.

Miniature horses are a little bit of a special case, and have a separate set of “rules” if you will. Basically, the assessment factors for miniature horses are: (1) whether the miniature horse is housebroken, (2) whether the mini is under the handler’s control, (3) whether the establishment can accommodate the miniature horse’s size and weight, (4) if the horse’s presence will not compromise safety requirements for safe operation of the establishment.

If you have any other questions about service animal guidelines under the ADA, Visit for the full list of requirements.

Now, Emotional Support Animals do not have public access rights. They are not recognized as a service animal under ADA as they are not required to have any specific training. Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) an individual with an ESA can live in “no pet” housing or waive pet fees in pet-friendly housing. While a landlord can’t ask about the extent or nature of an individual’s disability, they can ask for documentation and for the individual to put in writing that the person who will be living there has a disability, needs the animal, and the animal does actually help the individual.

Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) requires airlines to allow Service Dogs and ESAs into the cabin of the plane with their handler. This is the only other act that covers ESA rights. For ESA travel, one must call ahead of time to know what documentation is required for air travel. Most common, they will require the letter from your doctor or psychiatrist and a list of the animals shot records for the past year, though some may require more or less.

For any other questions on ESA Rights, this describes the two acts that cover ESAs in a beautiful way:

Now back to the registries, as I’ve said they’re all fake. So paying sometimes well over $100 is not only a waste, but it can also fall under SD/ESA Fraud, which is a thing and it is illegal, and in some states can result in an up to 6-month jail sentence and an up to $1,000 fine. Some people don’t even know they’re committing fraud because of these websites.

Some people may know they’re faking it, and think that no one will know if their dog is or isn’t a service dog. People notice, and it’s usually obvious. Especially for people who just slap a vest on Fido and let him drag him/her into a mall. The fact of the matter is, if you just want to take your dog everywhere, don’t. It ruins it for the people who do really need it, especially when people don’t have their dogs trained properly, and they act up in businesses. It starts a stigma that people don’t control these dogs, and if it keeps going like this, it will make people rethink the legitimacy of service dogs as helpful and things will get harder and harder for those who truly need their SDs/ESAs.

Any doctor or psychiatrist who writes a letter should give information on the laws and legislations regarding ESA/SDs. This is just in informational blog for those who might be looking into talking to their doctor or psychiatrist about SD/ESA as a method of treatment.




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