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:
As you can see, pets are not afforded any legal protections.
With documentation from a licensed mental health professional, Emotional Support Animals and their owners may be granted protections.
And, even without any documentation at all, Service Animals and their owners are always afforded legal protections.
As you can see above, there are 5 different types of legal protections that may apply.
Here is a brief description of those protections.
Americans with Disabilities Act: All public and private places that are open to the general public must allow people with disabilities to bring their Service Animals into all areas that are open to the general public. This law applies to all areas of public life: jobs, schools, restaurants, hotels, taxis and shuttles, grocery and department stores, hospitals and medical offices, theaters, health clubs, parks, zoos,...). This only applies to Service Animals that are dogs or miniature horses.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act: Public housing authorities must provide reasonable accommodations for disabled persons. Waiver of a "No Pets" policy waiver is accepted as a reasonable accommodation. (Anticipated emotional distress if a person is forced to give up an animal is not grounds for a reasonable accommodation claim).
Fair Housing Act: Extends the scope of housing protections to privately owned housing (including private home rentals, condominium complexes, college dormitories, and residence halls).
Air Carrier Access Act: Airlines must allow disabled passengers to bring their Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals on board the airplane. The animals do not have to be caged. "Unusual animals" (snakes, reptiles,...) can be legally refused.
Fee Exemptions: Deposits, fees, and even monthly 'rent' are often charged for pets. The above acts exempt disabled persons from paying such fees for their assistance animals. Unlike pet owners, the owners of Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals do not have to pay housing (hotel, rental property) or airline fees for their assistance animals.
For information regarding Service Animal and Emotional Support Animal policies of some different airlines, check out these links:
Hope this information is helpful!
Disclaimer: Care has been taken to ensure that the information provided in this document is accurate at the time of publication (January 2019). Changes after publication may impact the accuracy of this document in the future. Also, care has been taken to chose reputable sources when links to external websites have been provided. However, I cannot guarantee the accuracy of information on external sites.