Animals are a wonderful source of comfort for humans, especially for those of us who have beloved pets. While many of us benefit from a relationship with our animals it’s important to understand how different animals are classified legally and what protections they do and do not have.
Service dogs have been trained to perform work and/or tasks that mitigate the disability of their handler. Some common examples would be a guide dog for a blind person, a diabetic alert dog, or a psychiatric service dog.
Service dogs have public access rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This means these dogs can go most places with their handler. For more specifics on where a service dog can go check out my article on the ADA. In federal buildings they aren’t covered under the ADA but they are covered under the Rehabilitation Act (Rehab Act).
Service dogs are also covered under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). This law states that service dogs can live with their handler even in no pet rentals. There are a few exemptions for landlords though. Psychiatric Service Dog Partners put together a wonderful flow chart you can reference for more information.
The final federal law that covers service dogs is the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). Under the ACAA service dogs can fly with their handler at no extra charge. Similar to the FHA there are specific guidelines and stipulations that must be followed. For more details about the ACAA you can read my full article here.
Emotional support animals (ESAs) provide comfort to disabled owners. It’s important to note that for an animal to be considered an ESA the owner must be disabled.
ESAs were covered under the ACAA until very recently but that is no longer the case and they are now classified along with pets for flying. This means that each individual airline can have different rules and policies about what they’ll allow. If you are flying with a pet or ESA you will want to look up the airline you plan to fly and what their specific guidelines are.
Currently the only federal law that covers ESAs is the FHA. Under the FHA renters can have an ESA even in non-pet friendly rentals. For landlords the same exemptions apply to ESAs that apply to service dogs. The only major difference is that landlords can require further documentation, most often in the form of a doctor’s note, when the renter applies for a reasonable accommodation.
One of the most important things to know about ESAs is that they do not have public access rights under the ADA. That means that ESAs are not afforded access to non-pet friendly businesses and locations. Currently there are also no state laws that give ESAs public access rights.
Therapy dogs provide comfort to individuals other than their owner. These dogs frequently visit nursing homes, hospitals, and schools. While they do not have federal public access rights like a service dog they may be given permission to go into typically non-pet friendly places.
Therapy dogs will often complete some type of program although some locations only require that a dog pass a Canine Good Citizen evaluation. It’s up to each organization what they require from therapy dog teams.