What’s the Difference Between Service and Emotional Support Animals?

By: Talin Seta Shahinian

Emotional support animals and service animals are becoming increasingly more popular. From flying on airplanes to taking them into grocery stores or restaurants, people across the country rely on their animal companions to help them through day-to-day life, whether physically or emotionally. There are some significant facts to keep in mind regarding ESA and service animals regardless of the purpose an animal has in helping their human companions. What’s the difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal?

What Is a Service Animal?

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a service animal as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or to perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” A service animal must be a dog or even a miniature pony. These animals are protected under the ADA. This means that people cannot ask you to prove that your animal is a service animal, and they do not have to wear an identifying marker. Religious institutions are the exception, as they don’t have to comply with the ADA.

What Is an Emotional Support Animal?

Emotional support animals are not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the Fair Housing Act protects them. This act states that people cannot be discriminated against when obtaining housing due to a disability. This means that pet-size limitations, species bans, or no pet rules do not apply to those people who have a prescription from a qualified physician who may have an emotional support animal. They cannot be charged a pet deposit for housing, and their animals are protected by the Air Carrier Access Act so that they can accompany their handler in an aircraft cabin.

Can a Cat Be a Service Animal?

The ADA does not currently recognize cats as service animals. They are, however, recognized as emotional support animals. They don’t need to undergo specific training; by their very nature, they’re calming creatures. You will need to get a prescription from your doctor or therapist stating that you need an ESA and present it to have your cat live with you or take them on an airplane. This doesn’t mean that a cat won’t make a good service animal; it simply means that the ADA doesn’t recognize them.

Cats can be trained easily to perform tasks, especially with reward, affection, and routine. Those who love cats and have disabilities could greatly benefit from having a trained cat in their home. It’s important to educate others on the facts surrounding service and emotional support animals to help end the misconception that cats are only pets.

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