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I have always been an animal person, dogs in particular. When I was in high school, a teacher was inspired to raise a service dog after getting to know me. Although Gulliver did not make it into guide dog training school after his puppy-raising period ended, the teacher was allowed to keep him. Gulliver became, per my understanding, a therapy dog during his lifetime. I definitely enjoyed spending time with the dog during my high school years. In this article, I will explain the different types of animals used by people with disabilities and which U.S. laws apply to their use.
Service animals and emotional support animals both provide valuable services to people who have disabilities. However, as
this article from the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services points out,
the terms refer to different types of animals. It is important to understand the difference. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) National Network provides concise definitions in its
publication: “Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals”.
The following discussion summarizes sections 2 and 3 of the publication. A service animal is a dog who has been trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities. Those tasks can vary, as can the disability for which the animal provides services. This type of animal is allowed under titles II and III of the ADA. Emotional support animals, also known as therapy or comfort animals, can assist people with some mental health disabilities. However, such animals are not service animals under titles II and III of the ADA because they are not specifically trained to help people with disabilities. I will now discuss how other U.S. laws apply to service and emotional support animals.
Different U.S. laws have different requirements about what types of animals are allowed in various settings. I will be summarizing Section 5 of the ADA National Network publication linked to above. As mentioned earlier, service animals are allowed under titles II and III of the ADA. under the employment section of the ADA (Title I), both emotional support and service animals are permitted on-the-job. Both types of animals are also allowed in housing, under the Fair Housing Act. When this blog post was published, both service and emotional support animals were permitted on airplanes under the Air Carrier Access Act. However, those airline rules changed in 2021, as explained in my blog article
Webinar: Service Animal Rules When Flying.
Service animals must also be allowed in an education setting and, based on an Individual Education Plan, an emotional support animal may also be allowed. Finally, service animals must be allowed on transportation. I will now explain why it is important to consider which federal laws apply regarding different types of service animals.
My decision to write this blog post was made after I read a news story last year. It is about
a man in Pennsylvania who owns an emotional support alligator.
I recognize that the gentleman needs his animal to help him with his depression. However I would not want to meet Wally the alligator, expected to grow to 16 feet long, due to concern for my safety. My point in mentioning Wally is that, under U.S. federal law, the owner cannot take the alligator everywhere. For example, the owner might be able to take the animal to a place of employment, if the employer can identify a reasonable accommodation. However, under Title III of the ADA, a retail store or restaurant is not required to allow emotional support animals. Bottom line if using an emotional support animal: consider whether such animal is permitted under state and federal laws before choosing to take the animal somewhere.
Question for readers: Do you have a service or emotional support animal, and if so, how does it help you? I will return next week with another article.