What’s the Difference Between a Service, Emotional Support, and a Therapy Animal?

To understand the differences in the laws, get to know the difference in these animals. Emotional support animals, therapy animals, and service animals can assist people with a disability, but there are differences in how they do so. These three laws can help distinguish them: Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), and Fair Housing Act (FHA).

What is an ESA (Emotional Support Animal)?

Emotional support animals is an animal who provides comfort and companionship to someone with a psychological, emotional, and/or mental disability. They are usually cats and dogs, but they can be other types of animals too. They don't need to be trained to become an ESA.

What is The Fair Housing Amendment Act?

The Fair Housing Act was created to protect renters from being discriminated when applying for housing. For individuals with disabilities, one of the most important factors in their overall wellbeing is a stable place to live. Under the Act, housing providers must provide “reasonable accommodation” for persons with disabilities.

Does having an ESA exempt me from pet deposits in housing?

Yes. Property owners must waive fees or deposits normally required for individuals living with a pet because the Fair Housing Act classifies service animals and emotional support animals as assistive aids. Thus, no pet fee can apply.

What if an Airline or Landlord does not accept my ESA Letter and charges me a pet-related fee?

When a person with a disability believes that he/she has been subjected to a discriminatory housing practice, including a provider’s wrongful denial of a request for reasonable accommodation, he/she may file a complaint with HUD within one year after the alleged denial or may file a lawsuit in federal district court within two years of the alleged denial. If a complaint is filed, HUD will investigate the complaint at no cost to the person with a disability. If their case goes to an administrative hearing, HUD attorneys will litigate the case on their behalf. The respondent can be ordered to: Compensate the person for actual damages, including humiliation, pain and suffering. Provide injunctive or other equitable relief. Pay the Federal Government a civil penalty to vindicate the public interest. The maximum penalties are $16,000 for a first violation and $70,000 for a third violation within seven years. Pay reasonable attorney’s fees and costs. On the other hand, under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), anyone with a diagnosis of a mental disability and an emotional support animal letter from a mental health professional verifying the emotional benefit of the animal will be allowed to travel with the animal. If the requirements are met, the airline is not legally allowed to ask questions about the disability and cannot restrict ESA owners and their animals from boarding the airplane. In order to be covered by the Air Carrier Access Act and comply with airline regulations, there are certain requirements that ESA owners must meet. These requirements include: Explanation of why the animal provides emotional support. Verification letter from a licensed mental health professional prescribing or endorsing the animal as an ESA offering benefits for a particular mental disability. The mental or emotional diagnosis must comply with the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V).

What is the difference between an emotional support animal and a service dog?

Service animals, which are usually dogs and sometimes miniature horses, are trained to do specific tasks to assist a person’s physical disability. A service dog may physically do whatever it is the person’s disability limits or prevents them from achieving on their own. Emotional support animals are most often dogs and cats and assist a person’s mental and/or emotional disability. However, they can be other types of animals too. These animals don't need to be trained, basic pet training will suffice.

Can I bring my emotional support animal in the cabin of a commercial aircraft?

Yes. Be sure to check with your airline before your travel date. Even though the Air Carrier Access Act regulates procedures, airlines may require additional information and may have other restrictions you should know about.

Can I take my emotional support animal into restaurants or other public places?

It depends. Unlike service animals who can enter public places, ESAs can only go into establishments that have a pet-friendly policy. Other than that, they are mainly intended to be a companion during flights and housing.

How will my landlord or property manager be able to verify my letter?

A landlord may verify an ESA letter by confirming the therapist’s license number. Since they cannot speak directly to the health care professional because of HIPPA privacy laws, the property manager can also the reasonable accommodation document used by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to verify a letter.

How do I know that your website is legitimate and not a scam like so many other websites?

The information and documentation we issue is 100% compliant with federal and state laws. Your personalized letter is issued by a real licensed mental health professional in your state. In fact, each letter contains the documentation where the board can be contacted and verified.

Want to know if you are eligible to become an ESA owner? A quick screening will get you started! TheraPetic, powered by Certapet, can help you throughout the entire process thanks to our fully qualified Licensed Mental Health Professionals.