Forget what you know about emotional support animals (ESA), because the ESA
If you’ve taken any of these to heart, we’re here to explain why they’re myths, and to expose the real truth behind the myths.
Myth #1 Anyone can get an ESA
This is a common misconception that runs
While ESAs can be any pet that gives emotional support, to get an ESA, it is necessary to be assessed by a licensed mental health professional, whether in-office or by using teletherapy.
You are only eligible for an emotional support animal if you have a recognized mental health condition diagnosed by a therapist. So, this is a total myth—please don’t go to your doctor asking for an ESA if you are feeling healthy, because you will not be eligible for one.
Myth #2 Emotional support animals and service animals are the same thing
Totally untrue! While
Service animals are trained for months to complete specific duties, whereas emotional support animals do not require any specific training.
Service animals also provide highly specific services to their owners, for example, guide dogs undergo intensive training in tasks that ensure they provide safety to their owner, which is essential for their well-being. Emotional support animals, on the other hand, are kept for
Myth #3 Emotional support animals are permitted everywhere
Wrong again. While service animals are permitted everywhere with their owners, the same is not true for
The same permissions do not apply to
The laws that do make a provision for ESAs are the Aircraft Carrier Access Act (ACA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA). These laws allow those with ESAs to live in any rental accommodation, regardless of their pet policy and to fly without needing to pay a pet fee (subject to airline policy).
Myth #4 ESAs must wear a vest to show their status
Unfortunately, it has become commonplace for many ESA owners to believe that their cat or dog must wear a vest when out in public to demonstrate their duty as an emotional support animal.
However, this is not the case. While an owner can choose to outfit their cat or dog in a vest, it is certainly not compulsory for an ESA to wear one. The only documentation that is required to prove a pet’s status as an emotional support animal is an ESA letter provided by a therapist.
Myth #5 You must show proof for your service animals
Remember—service animals and emotional support animals are not the same. While it’s necessary to present a landlord or airline with an ESA letter to prove that you use the animal as a disability aid, you do not need to provide proof that your service animal is a service animal.
The official guideline regarding this, is that in situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, staff may ask only two specific questions of you.
“Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?”
“What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?”
These are the only comments allowed to be made to ascertain if an animal is a service animal. ESA owners, by contrast must present their ESA letter as requested.
Myth #6 It’s a landlord’s right to reject an ESA if they believe a tenant is not disabled
Owners of ESAs are not afforded all the rights which service animal owners receive, however the right to live with their support animal is protected under federal law.
According to the Humane Society of America, under the FHA, a disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment which significantly limits a person’s major life activities.
Even if a lease says “no pets” or restricts pets, landlords are required to make what is called a “reasonable accommodation” to allow pets who serve as assistance animals, which includes animals who provide emotional support.
If a tenant is able to produce an ESA letter, which is written confirmation from their therapist that they have a medical need for their animal, a landlord may not reject the pet. If a landlord denies a tenant after they have fulfilled the conditions under the FHA, it is considered discrimination, and a breach of federal law.
If a potential tenant is denied housing, they can report a landlord for the discrimination that they have experienced. Punishments for landlords can include fines, punitive damages and lawyer’s fees. If you are an ESA owner, do keep this information in mind, so that you are able to find appropriate accommodation whilst being aware of your rights.
Lack of education breeds fear, which breeds distrust, which breeds anger. We want to spread the truth about how awesome ESAs are, not the myths that are created by people who don’t know any better. With more understanding about the truth of what ESAs are really used for and how they work, there’s no doubt that we can be on our way to a more inclusive and tolerant society! Looking to learn more about ESA dogs? Learn more here.
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