FAQs

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Frequently Asked Questions

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Unlike service dogs owners, ESA owners have only limited legal rights and those typically require a letter of diagnosis from the owner’s doctor or psychiatrist. While they don’t have unlimited access to public spaces, the Fair Housing Act mandates “reasonable accommodations” for emotional support animals even in buildings that don’t allow pets. As of January 2021, airlines are no longer required to accommodate emotional support animals.

In December 2020, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) announced final revisions to its Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). The final rule, effective in January 2021, defines a service animal as a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.  This change in the DOT’s definition of “service animal”  aligns closely with the definition that the Department of Justice uses under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

The changes also clarify that emotional support animals (ESAs), comfort animals, companionship animals, animals being trained to be service animals, and species other than dogs are not considered to be “service animals” under the new DOT definition. Instead, airlines may recognize and accommodate emotional support animals as pets. For most airlines, the new no-fly policy for ESAs started on January 11. Some airlines now require passengers with service dogs to complete a DOT-authorized form prior to travel that confirms their training, health, and certification.

Although they are defined as comfort dogs and often used in therapeutic settings, therapy dogs are not considered service dogs under the ADA and don’t have the same legal right to access in public spaces. There are no uniform state or national rules that regulate and certify therapy dogs, and different organizations have different guidelines. As a general rule, therapy dogs should be trained, insured, and licensed by the non-profit that’s offering their services.

The U.S. federal protection act protects against housing discrimination supports the access for emotional support animals under two federal statutes:

  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
  • Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988.

People with an emotional support animal may request a reasonable accommodation such as a waiver of no pets policy due to the animal being an emotional support animal under both the FHAA and Section 504.