It has become increasingly more common to see people out and about with emotional support animals (ESA) and service dogs. While they may not appear to be different on the surface, there are different laws that apply to ESAs and service dogs that are important to know for your business.

Service Dogs

According to Title II and Title III of the ADA, “A service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” These dogs are trained to help the visual or hearing impaired, pick up dropped items, help with seizures, conduct room checks, turn lights on, and much more.

Miniature horses have been seen as service animals too, and while they are not included in the ADA’s official definition of a service animal, the ADA has made a provision in their regulations to cover miniature horses.

They are not required to wear a vest or carrying identification, so you may not know at first glance if the dog walking into your business is indeed a service dog. A business can ask if the dog is a service animal and what task they are trained to perform; they are not allowed to ask for identification for the dog, and they cannot inquire about the handler’s disability.

A service dog is protected by the ADA and is allowed to accompany their owner into any public place, as long as they are under control. A business that does not abide by this can be fined.

Emotional Support Animals

An Emotional Support Animal provides comfort and companionship to a person with a mental health condition. A doctor or mental health professional will literally prescribe an ESA to their patient. They are not required to undergo the extensive training that service dogs are required to undergo. According to the ADA, ESAs, comfort animals, and therapy dogs are not service animals.

The Fair Housing Act protects people with ESAs; landlords are required to make accommodations to people with ESAs. They can ask for a copy of the letter, but they cannot charge you additional fees or deposits, nor can they ban the breed of your dog, or whatever type of animal your ESA is.

ESAs are also protected under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), which allows someone with an ESA to have it fly in the cabin with them on flights. This has caught a lot of media attention as people have attempted to bring a wide range of animals on flights with them, including peacocks. United Airlines and Delta Airlines banned ESAs that are not dogs or cats from riding in the cabin last year, and not allowing them at all on longer flights. Multiple airlines have implemented policies that require someone to inform them of their intention to fly with an ESA in advance and provide evidence of the animal’s health and basic training.

Does Your Business Have to Allow ESAs?

An ESA does not have the same rights as a service dog does; they are not automatically allowed in a business and businesses can legally refuse to allow an ESA to enter. A service dog “in training” is not protected by the ADA, though some states do have laws that say the dogs should be allowed into businesses. You can ask someone with a service dog or an ESA to leave if their dog is barking, endangering other customers, or otherwise misbehaving.

As a business owner, you are not required to allow your employees to bring their ESAs to work with them, and you can ask for verification that they have been prescribed an ESA. In contrast, you have to allow your employee with a service dog — or miniature horse — to bring their animal to work with them.

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