Individuals with disabilities may use service animals and emotional support animals for a variety of reasons. A person requiring either a service animal or an emotional support animal has certain rights under federal and state law. The first step to getting this protection is to meet the requirements under federal and state law of having a disability.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), people with disabilities are allowed to bring their service animals to public places. However, the ADA defines a service animal as any dog that is “individually trained” to “perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.” The tasks that the service animals perform must be directly related to the individual’s disability (“seeing-eye” dog). Since therapy dogs are not typically trained to perform particular tasks, they are not considered service dogs under the ADA. Additionally, emotional support animals and companion animals are not typically trained in this way either, even if they are animals other than dogs. This means that people with these types of animals are not afforded the same protections under the ADA.
Although emotional support animals are not considered service animals to be granted animals are still afforded some rights under federal law, particularly when it concerns public housing. Emotional support animals are often used as therapy animals that providecompanionship, relieve loneliness, and help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias. So even if these animals do not perform particular tasks for the disabled person, they still can assist the person with their disability. Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, a landlord cannot discriminate against a disabled person in housing. So if a reasonable accommodation, such as a waiver of a “no pets policy” for an emotional support animal, will allow the disabled person to enjoy and use the rental unit, then the landlord is required to allow that. With the collaboration of Kieu-Nhi Le, Rutgers School of Law Newark candidate for a JD degree in May 2016. She is the Managing Business Editor of the Rutgers Computer and Technology Law Journal.