Have you noticed more dogs in stores and on planes lately? Have you considered bringing your pet with you as a comfort during travel or errands? In the last several years, there has been a considerable increase in the number of emotional support animals making news—and making the rounds in local establishments.
So, what's the difference? Are emotional support animals (ESAs) the same as service animals? Why is it a problem for someone who may not "need" their pet with them to claim Fluffy as an ESA so she can accompany her owner on a flight?
Let's start by making sure we understand the difference between the two.
Emotional Support Animals
Any common domestic animals that abide by typical pet standards—in other words, they are housetrained, understand basic commands, and are safe to be around other people and pets—can be emotional support animals.
In order to be considered a legal emotional support animal, the presence of the animal must be deemed necessary by a licensed medical professional. This means that the pet provides necessary relief from a debilitating mental condition. There are no official training requirements for emotional support animals and often, they are not officially trained in any capacity.
The number of “fake” therapy animals—illegal emotional support animals with no training or indication of need from a mental health professional—is on the rise. Numerous websites allow pet owners to pay a small fee for an unofficial certificate and vest labeling their pet as a service or support animal. While unscrupulous, these website do not break any laws; however, inappropriate use of vest could get a pet owner into some legal trouble.
The Americans with Disabilities Act defines service animals as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.”
These dogs are bred and selected for their calm personalities, adaptability, and ability to learn complex tasks. They go through a rigorous training process and many dogs do not pass the final tests to qualify as a service dog.
Service dogs are allowed to go anywhere their owners can and they cannot be barred from any area the public is typically allowed to go. If it is unclear what type of service a dog might perform, staff are only allowed to ask two questions: Whether the dog is a service dog required due to a disability and what work or task the dog has been trained to perform. These restrictions, while meant to protect the service dog owner’s privacy, are one of the reasons it is easy for people to bring pets or untrained emotional support animals into public areas. Businesses or individuals are often hesitant to question a pet's presence for fear of offending someone or even breaking the law.
Things to Consider
- Bringing an untrained pet into public spaces not only makes it more difficult for individuals who have a legitimate need for a service animal, but it can also put the service animal and your own pet at risk for injury.
- While it may make you more comfortable to have your pet with you on a flight, studies have shown that untrained pets can become quite stressed during travel, even without significant outward signs.
- There are other great ways to enjoy your pet’s company in public, such as visiting a pet-friendly store (many welcome well-behaved pets regardless of whether they are a service animal or not), attending a local yappy hour, or even bringing your pet to work with you (if allowed, of course).
- Consider working with a certified dog trainer to obtain Canine Good Citizen certification to improve your pet's behavior and adaptability in new situations.
- Keep your pet happy and entertained when you are not home. Feed all or parts of your pet’s meals in puzzle toys or slow-feeder bowls and ensure your pet gets plenty of exercise so they can rest when you're not with them.
- Create a regular routine so your pet knows when to expect fun activities, such as walks or other outdoor adventures.
We all love our pets and want to spend as much time as possible with them—but it’s also important to remember what's best for your pet and safest for the rest of the community when you consider bringing your pets with you on errands or other outings.
If you would like to explore additional ways to enrich your dog's life or make outings more enjoyable and safer for all involved, please contact us. Our experienced staff is ready to help!