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Frequently Asked Questions - Emotional Support Animals

A [b]service dog[/b] is individually trained to perform tasks that mitigate the disability of his owner. Training typically takes 18-24 months. Because of his advanced training, a service dog is considered medical equipment and is permitted to accompany his disabled owner to many places where pets are not permitted.

An [b]emotional support animal[/b] belongs to a person who is disabled. The person's doctor has determined that the presence of the animal is necessary for the disabled person's mental health and written a prescription stating the pet is necessary in the person's home, despite any "no pets" regulation of the landlord, for the person's health. Little or no training is required. The owner of an emotional support animal has no more right than any other pet owner to take their emotional support animal with them other to keep one in a home where pets are not permitted or to fly with one in a cabin when pets are not permitted.

A [b]therapy dog[/b] is a pet that has been trained, tested, registered, and insured to accompany his owner to visit patients and residents of facilities like hospitals and nursing homes to cheer up the people living there. A well-behaved pet can typically complete training in about 8 weeks. A therapy dog is legally a pet. It is not permitted to go anywhere that pets aren't without permission from the facility owner. The objective of registration is to show facility managers that this dog is well behaved, safe around people, and insured against liability. It is not a license to walk into a hospital or nursing home without permission.

In short: service dog works to help the owner perform tasks he cannot perform on his own because of his disability, an emotional support animal works to improve the health of his owner who is disabled, and the therapy animal works with his owner to improve the health of others.

A psychiatric service animal is individually trained to perform tasks that the owner cannot perform because of a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Psychiatric service animals, like all other service animals, assist their disabled handlers by performing these tasks. However, while the owner of an emotional support dog must also be disabled, the emotional support dog is not trained to perform tasks to mitigate the owner's disability.

Therapy animals are sometimes confused with psychiatric service animals or emotional support animals. However, therapy animals are something entirely different. A therapy animal is one that is trained, tested, registered, and insured to visit people in hospitals and nursing homes. A person with a therapy animal has no particular right under the ADA to take their animal anywhere pets are not permitted. If the owner wishes to visit a facility like a hospital or nursing home, they must first seek out and receive the permission of administrators at the facility they wish to visit.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, which regulates and enforces the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA):
"The Department is proposing new regulatory text in § 36.104 to formalize its position on emotional support or comfort animals, which is that ''[a]nimals whose sole function is to provide emotional support, comfort, therapy, companionship, therapeutic benefits, or promote emotional wellbeing are not service animals.'' The Department wishes to underscore that the exclusion of emotional support animals from ADA coverage does not mean that persons with psychiatric, cognitive, or mental disabilities cannot use service animals. The Department proposes specific regulatory text in § 35.104 to make this clear: ''[t]he term service animal includes individually trained animals that do work or perform tasks for the benefit of individuals with disabilities, including psychiatric, cognitive, and mental disabilities.'' This language simply clarifies the Department's longstanding position."
The ADA gives the disabled owner of a service dog the right to be accompanied by his or her service dog to most places where the public are permitted, even if dogs are not generally allowed. However, the owner of an emotional support dog has no particular right to public access and must ask permission of the management to enter with an emotional support animal.
Under the Fair Housing Amendments Act, a qualified person with a disability may request a reasonable accommodation in the form of a modification of rules against the keeping of pets in order to keep EITHER a service animal or an emotional support animal.
Under the Air Carrier Access Act, a qualified person with a disability may be accompanied in the cabin of an air craft by either a psychiatric service dog or an emotional support animal if they have the proper documentation from their doctor.

These are basic templates that someone might use as a guidance for writing to his or her landlord requesting an exception to "no pets" rules to accommodate an emotional support animal. Please feel free to use and change these samples to suit your own needs.

The first sample is for a person already living in a rental unit and wanting to get a new emotional support animal. The second sample is for someone who already has an emotional support animal and is wanting to acquire a new rental unit.

Existing landlord, new ESA

May 26, 2008

Adelaide Bonfamille, Building Manager
231 Main Street
Dallas, TX 03909

Dear Mrs. Bonfamille:

I am a tenant at 231 Main Street in unit #363. I have a psychiatric disability that hinders my ability to live alone. Although the rules say that there is a 'no pets' policy, my doctor has prescribed an emotional support animal to ensure my emotional well being. I am therefore requesting a reasonable accommodation under the federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (42 U.S.C. 3601, et seq.).

I have attached verification from my psychiatrist of my disability and the functional limitations I experience, as well as my doctor's prescription for an emotional support animal to help me compensate for my disability.

As my doctor's letter states, because of my disability, I am unable to sleep, stop shaking, socialize, hold a job or care for myself because of my severe anxiety. I am asking that you modify your existing pet rules to permit me to have an emotional support animal as recommended by my doctor. The presence of a companion animal would help me greatly in living through the troubles that I face every day by providing needed companionship, emotional support and a reason for living.

Please send your reply in writing about this request for accommodation within ten business days or by June 9th. Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to receiving your reply.

Sincerely,
Norville Rogers

Existing ESA, new landlord

May 26, 2008

Adelaide Bonfamille, Building Manager
231 Main Street
Dallas, TX 03909

Dear Mrs. Bonfamille:

I am applying to become a tenant at 231 Main Street in unit #363. I have a psychiatric disability that hinders my ability to live alone. Although the rules say that there is a 'no pets' policy, my doctor has prescribed an emotional support animal to ensure my emotional well being. I am therefore requesting a reasonable accommodation under the federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (42 U.S.C. 3601, et seq.).

I have attached verification from my psychiatrist of my disability and the functional limitations I experience, as well as my doctor's prescription for an emotional support animal to help me compensate for my disability. I have also included references attesting to my emotional support animal's good behavior, and a pet resume.

As my doctor's letter states, because of my disability, I am unable to sleep, stop shaking, socialize, hold a job or care for myself because of my severe anxiety. I am asking that you modify your existing pet rules to permit me to keep my emotional support animal, Scooby, as recommended by my doctor. The presence of a companion animal would help me greatly in living through the troubles that I face every day by providing needed companionship, emotional support and a reason for living.

Please send your reply in writing about this request for accommodation within ten business days or by June 9th. Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to receiving your reply.

Sincerely,
Norville Rogers

No.

Intentionally choosing a dog who doesn't do what the vast majority of dogs do naturally, just to come up with something to teach it to justify it as a service dog is silly. People aren't going to fall for it.

Aside from the silliness factor, it is mean-spirited to the dog to make him do something he obviously doesn't want to do just to exploit a perceived loop hole.

The vast majority do, but that isn't want makes them service dogs.

The vast majority of doctors wear shoes, but wearing shoes doesn't make them doctors.

Please remember that we cannot offer legal advice here. These are the steps others have used with success. They may work for you too or they may not. If you need legal advice on your specific situation, you should consult a qualified attorney.

1. Get a prescription from your doctor.

Consult a doctor for an evaluation on whether you have an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Ask the doctor if he or she believes the presence of an emotional support animal would be necessary for your mental health. If the doctor believes you are disabled and you need an emotional support animal (ESA), ask him/her to write a letter addressed to your landlord to that effect or to write you a prescription for an emotional support animal.

2. Print out the Bazelon article Fair Housing Information Sheet # 6 Right to Emotional Support Animals in "No Pet" Housing

3. Write a "request for accommodation" letter

4. Send a copy of the prescription and the Brazelon info sheet, along with your letter, to the landlord. Send this CERTIFIED, RETURN RECEIPT.

5. Assuming you have already spoken with your landlord and been denied, do not speak to the landlord informally about this again. Insist that all discussion on the matter be by mail or email (so you have a record of who said what and when).

These steps resolve the issue for most people. If it does not work for you, consider filing a complaint with HUD or hiring an attorney to file a civil suit against the landlord.

Consider carefully how filing suit might effect your relationship with your landlord. It may be healthier to find a different place to live that is more accepting of ESAs.

Most people who have filed suit have reported that whether they win or not the experience was the most stressful event of their lives.

In most cases: yes, but there are exceptions.

Most cases involving housing and persons with disabilities are covered under the Fair Housing Amendments Act. Some are covered under section 504 of the Rehab Act, and some under the Americans with Disabilities act.

To learn whether any of these laws applies in your own situation, consult a qualified attorney, your state's Attorney General, your state's Human Rights Commission, or the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.