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Laws for Emotional Support Animals by Every State

Emotional support animal (ESA) laws vary by state. While federal laws, such as the Fair Housing Act or Air Carrier Access Act, you must be informed of your state's specific rules and policies from local government agencies on emotional support animals and where your companion animals are allowed.

While your state may allow emotional support animals in more public places than others, or you may receive more benefits by needing an emotional support animal, it is crucial to know the laws, including public pet policies, how the Fair Housing Act applies, how you can receive federal financial assistance and more.

Read on to learn about your state's ESA laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and regulations about therapy animals.

Emotional Support Animal Laws by State

What are the State Laws for Emotional Support Animals?

Many states across the U.S. don't differentiate ESA laws. While many differ in service animal laws, federal and state laws are typically the same across the United States for therapy animals.

It's important to note that emotional support animals, such as psychiatric service dogs are not service animals.

Service animals help those with physical or cognitive disabilities who undergo extensive training to perform a specific task for an individual with a disability.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

For example, the most popular choice for a service animal is a service dog. A service dog could be a guide dog that greatly helps someone with severe visual impairments. They can also help in major life activities, such as work, school, and public outings.

Service dogs perform specific tasks, such as mobility assistance dogs or being specially trained to perform deep pressure therapy for someone with an anxiety attack or panic attack.

On the other hand, emotional support animals are therapy animals that provide companionship for those suffering from mental health problems or mental or emotional disabilities. Emotional support animals offer individuals with mental health conditions or emotional disabilities can live a better quality of life.

Professional trainers can train service dogs to perform deep pressure therapy when an individual has a panic attack. Service dogs can also be seizure response dogs that can sense when their person has a seizure and either stop the attack or help it be less severe. They also train to get help when needed from an outside source.

Since service animals are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service dog may have federal and state laws that differ from emotional support animals. Therefore, we will only be covering ESA laws rather than service animal laws.

Emotional support animals can vary from any breed. However, the most popular is an emotional support dog (ESD). ESDs are individually trained to perform calming techniques, such as their presence offering support.

Emotional Support Animal Laws by State

Laws Regarding ESAs

Many states, including California, New York, and Florida, have their own rules that protect emotional support animal owners in housing. These rules often closely mirror federal Fair Housing Act rules and have similar protections and requirements.

ESAs, occasionally known as companion animals, offer a therapeutic benefit rather than being trained to perform specific tasks, so; therefore are not service animals. They are not individually trained to perform tasks relating to a person's disability, and their presence is what calms the individual.

According to ESA laws in Illinois, if you want to bring your emotional support animal, whether it be a therapy dog, cat, even rabbit or miniature horse, or even an exotic animal, to work or school, that is up to the individual employer or school campus.

Under federal law, housing providers cannot deny your emotional support animal. They also cannot charge you a pet deposit or pet fee. According to the Fair Housing Act, housing providers are also not allowed to have housing discrimination, in which they discriminate against you for having support animals that provide emotional support.

However, when it comes to letting your companion animal into classrooms or offices, that is a different story. Ultimately, it is up to your employer or school district if emotional support animals are allowed in their facilities.

Again, these laws are typically the same in each state. However, it can be helpful to check your local ESA laws as each city or town can differ in policies. Generally, no state is obligated to follow specific ESA laws unless it comes to housing or travel.

With travel laws, an assistance animal that supports an individual with emotional disabilities may be asked to have reasonable accommodations other than service animals. Emotional support animals, or comfort animals, may be asked to be in air carriers since they are not service animals and do not perform a specific task.

Let's Cover Federal Emotional Support Animal Laws

While each state or town may have its own rules and regulations for emotional support animals, all 50 states have in common that they have to follow all federal laws regarding emotional support animals.

Under the federal Fair Housing Act, which applies to residents in every state, landlords, including dorm directors or dorm managers, must reasonably accommodate tenants who own emotional support animals, even if the building has a policy that prohibits pets.

Under Fair Housing rules, emotional support animals are recognized as a type of assistance animal or therapy animal that is a reasonable accommodation for a person with a disability such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

The U.S. Department of Housing issues guidance on how the provisions of the Fair Housing Act are implemented and enforces Fair Housing rules.

Before January 11, 2021, airlines were required under the Air Carrier Access Act to let passengers fly with their emotional support animals in the cabin. The U.S. Department of Transportation issued new rules that allow airlines to no longer recognize emotional support animals on flights.

Certain airlines, however, are still accepting emotional support animals voluntarily, so it's essential to conduct research on which airlines are open to allowing therapy animals on their flights.

How to Get an Emotional Support Animal

To obtain an emotional support animal, you need to consult with a licensed mental health professional. Your licensed mental health professional will need to determine whether you suffer from a mental or emotional illness. Upon this determination, an individual with a disability may qualify for a support animal.

Remember that getting an emotional support animal isn't an easy process. Licensed mental health professionals need time to determine a person's disability if an emotional support animal is best for you. Emotional support animals differ from service animals, so deciding which one would be the best fit for you may require some patience.

Nothing can happen overnight, except maybe receiving an emotional support animal letter. Your mental health professional can write an ESA letter that can go into effect immediately.

What Proper Documentation Do I Need for an Emotional Support Animal?

As long as your doctor and a licensed mental health professional have all the pertinent information about you and your emotional support animal that they need, they can then write you a recommendation or prescription for an emotional support animal. You can then use this emotional support animal letter to get reasonable accommodation for housing and traveling purposes.

The legal regulations for receiving a certified emotional support animal letter varies state to state. For instance, an ESA letter Colorado institutions will accept requires you to have a live appointment with a mental health professional. This policy means that you cannot use a therapy chat service or email correspondence as an emotional support animal consultation meeting. Other states, such as California, also require mental health professionals to wait at least 30 days after an appointment before issuing an ESA letter.

If you want to learn more about emotional support animal letters, the Austin Chronicle ranked the best dynamic support animal services. You can find the article here.

Overall, owning and caring for an emotional support animal can help many people who have a mental disability or mental illness. However, obtaining an emotional support animal is a lengthy process that requires consulting with mental health professionals and being honest about yourself and your wellbeing.

Once you can get a therapy animal, it's essential to take note of the proper documentation you need and the federal, state, and local laws under which you are protected so you can adequately take care of your companion animal. Having a therapy animal is very different from a service animal, but it's a responsibility that can help you feel a little better.

Therapy animals offer emotional support and can help a person's disability, mental health, and emotional wellbeing.

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