Everything You Need to Know About Support Animals

Animals have a unique ability to support people in all sorts of ways. Whether by guiding people who are visually impaired, sensing low blood sugar, or providing emotional support, it seems there are endless ways that animals serve our communities.

With a support animal, you can legally have your pet with you in places where generally you could not. This may include restaurants, stores, and apartments that generally aren’t pet-friendly. It’s important to understand the difference between a service animal and a support animal to understand the full rights of each.

dog laying by wait here sign

What is a Service Animal?

A service animal is a dog who is trained specifically to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of someone with a sensory, physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disability. Service animals are vital to the daily functioning of the humans they work with.

What is a Support Animal?

A support animal provides emotional support for an individual to alleviate their symptoms to improve their quality of life. Emotional support animals provide great comfort to those with anxiety and depression. However, they are not specifically trained to do so. Oftentimes support animals are personal pets who became support animals with a letter from the individual’s therapist or psychiatrist. All sorts of animals (not just dogs) can become support animals.

What is a Therapy Animal?

A therapy animal (or comfort animal) works during crisis situations to provide comfort and distraction. This typically occurs in an institutional setting like a school or hospital. Comfort animals help ease the physical symptoms of anxiety during high-stress situations. They are trained to interact with all sorts of people in a variety of environments, but they are generally not trained to perform specific tasks the way a service animal is.

Where can You Take an Emotional Support Animal?

As we understand more and more the beneficial impact of animals in daily life, emotional support animals are becoming increasingly common. This begs the question of where exactly an emotional support animal has the right to go. The most important thing to remember is that a support animal is not a service animal, so the rights of these two will differ.

A support animal can live with you even in non-pet-friendly buildings in most circumstances. Additionally, you cannot be charged any extra fees or deposits to have your support animal with you. They are exempt from breed, weight, and size restrictions commonly used in pet-friendly buildings.

However, there are a few exceptions to this. A landlord can legally deny an emotional support animal in the following circumstances:

  • The animal is too large for the accommodation. For instance, you cannot have a horse in a studio apartment.
  • The building has four units or fewer and the landlord lives in one of those units.
  • It is a single-family home that was rented without a realtor and the owner owns less than three single-family homes.
  • Having the animal in the building would bring financial hardship to the landlord.
  • The animal causes damage to the building or is a danger to the other residents.

Emotional support animals cannot go into all the same public facilities as service animals. You must follow the guidance of local businesses to determine whether your emotional support animal can come with you into restaurants, stores, and other establishments. Many will only allow registered service animals, so it’s important to check before heading inside with your support animal.

Emotional Support animals can fly in airplane cabins with you free of charge so long as they fit the size requirements on board. Hotels and lodging are not required to allow support animals, so you’ll need to determine whether a hotel is pet-frioendly before bringing a support animal with you.

How Does a Pet Become an Emotional Support Animal?

A pet can become an emotional support animal with the help of a licensed therapist. If your therapist determines that you would benefit emotionally from a support animal, they will write a letter that acts like a prescription. The letter establishes that you reqwuire this animal for emotional support to improve your daily life.

A letter from a mental health professional is the only thing you need for your pet to be an emotional support animal. So be wary of emotional support animal “registries” that you pay for. These are not legitimate and are mostly just a scam. A landlord also cannot request that your animal is registered as an emotional support pet. The only thing you need to show them is the letter from your licensed mental health professional.

Have pets at home? Check out this list of cat and dog-friendly house plants to keep them safe. Take a look at some of our latest articles for more pet information:

Elizabeth Muenzen

Written by

Elizabeth Muenzen

Content Specialist

Pets: My dog Benji is mixed Yorkie, Poodle, Chihuahua, and MaltiPom (YorkiPooChiMaltiPom?), yet he mysteriously bears no resemblance to any of these breeds.
Fun stuff: I love to cook!

Content Specialist

Pets: My dog Benji is mixed Yorkie, Poodle, Chihuahua, and MaltiPom (YorkiPooChiMaltiPom?), yet he mysteriously bears no resemblance to any of these breeds.
Fun stuff: I love to cook!

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