Question: "Can you write a letter so my landlord will let me keep my dog?"

Updated: Jan 20, 2019

Animals can be of great help to people with disabling medical conditions. Certain protections are afforded to disabled persons whose day-to-day functioning is improved by the presence of an animal.

Service Animals are skilled "working" animals who are always attentive to their owner's well-being. They have been formally trained to perform specific tasks for the benefit of disabled individuals. There are no specific regulations regarding the nature or duration of the training. Service Animals may be trained by their owner or by a professional. There is no certification that verifies an animal's status as a Service Animal. Many different animal species (ranging from monkeys to ducks to wolves and more) can be Service Animals. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) only recognizes dogs and miniature horses as Service Animals.

Some examples of Service Animals include:

  • Miniature guide horses trained to help blind people walk more independently.

  • Hearing dogs trained to alert deaf people to alarms, ringing phones, or someone calling the person's name.

  • Medical response dogs trained to alert a diabetic person of impending hypoglycemia.

  • Seizure response dogs trained to alert the owner of an impending epileptic seizure.

  • Psychiatric service dogs trained to lean against the owner and provide comforting pressure upon sensing bodily changes indicative of an impending panic attack.

  • Psychiatric service dogs trained to enter a room and determine whether it poses any threat to an owner who suffers from PTSD.

  • Service dogs trained to remind the owner to take prescribed medications.

The idea that pets (untrained companion animals) help people to feel better is generally accepted. Evidence that pets improve the functioning of disabled people, on the other hand, is lacking. Nonetheless, if a licensed mental health professional believes that a pet's presence provides a significant benefit to the overall functioning of a person who suffers from disabling mental illness, that pet may be designated as an Emotional Support Animal. Any type of animal at all can be designated as an Emotional Support Animal. Emotional Support Animals do not have any training beyond what might be expected for a pet of the same species (for example, house training a dog). The animal's presence alone comforts the owner.

Here is an overview of the requirements and protections for pets, Emotional Support Animals, and Service Animals: