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5 Myths About Emotional Support Animals: BUSTED

1. ESA’s are allowed in restaurants, hotels, stores, classrooms, etc.

FALSE. This is a common misconception. While emotional support animals are granted some freedoms that a non-ESA animal does not have, this is not one of them. ESA’s are protected under the Fair Housing Act, which allows them to live in places that typically have a no-animal policy where they otherwise would not be allowed to live. Under most circumstances, the Fair Housing Act makes it so a landlord cannot legally deny you access to living somewhere or discriminate against you for having an ESA. However, there are a few exceptions which make it a wee bit tricky (see number 5). Also, ESA’s are allowed to fly on an airplane in the cabin with their owner free of charge according to the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). There are some requirements your ESA must meet or you can be denied the privilege of flying with your animal. Make sure to check each individual airlines guidelines for ESA’s also, as they do vary in policies.

2. ESA’s are the same as service animals.

FALSE AGAIN. ESA’s are vastly different from service animals. The main difference is that service animals are TRAINED to work or do tasks for the individual with a disability, whereas while ESA’s can be trained, they do NOT have to be in order to be classified as one - so, most of them are not trained. Because of this difference, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), animals whose purpose is identified solely to provide emotional support, are not recognized as service animals. Thus, ESA’s, while legally protected under the Fair Housing Act, are not recognized by the ADA, so they are different than service animals and are not granted the same privileges as service animals. I think this is why so many people are under the impression that ESA’s can go to the same places service animals can, because most of us are unaware that ESA’s while purposeful, are not in fact, service animals.

3. You have to register an emotional support animal online.

YET AGAIN, FALSE. There are endless websites online that with a charge, you can register your animal as an ESA. While some of the merchandise that is obtained through registering, like a vest and ID card, can make life easier when traveling with your ESA, these DO NOT LEGALLY CERTIFY YOUR ANIMAL. Registration is not required. And registration is not what makes your animal legally considered an ESA. What makes your animal legally an ESA and not a pet, is a letter from a licensed mental health professional. This professional must prescribe the animal as part of your treatment for a mental disability found in the DSM-IV or V. That’s it. The rest is extra fluff, and will not legally protect you or your animal.

4. Landlords ALWAYS have to approve of ESA’s.

FALSO! Now this is where things get a little bit confusing. While under MOST circumstances, a landlord cannot legally deny an ESA, there are a few exceptions in which they can. These are:

1. If the animal is beyond a reasonable size for the accommodation size. So, don't try to bring a horse into a one bedroom apartment (probably not going to fly super well with your landlord).

2. If the building has four units or less, with the landlord living in one of them.

3. If it is a single-family home that was not rented through a realtor.

5. ESA’s must be dogs.

OH LOOK...STILL FALSE. While dogs, or cats, are the most common ESA’s, any domesticated animal can qualify to be one. This means your hedgehog, hamster, and other little domesticated friends are eligible too!

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