What is a service animal and what is a support animal?

This FAQ is offered in response to a request from a patron regarding his rights as a person needing an emotional support animal. This is a very general overview. We recommend this excellent, detailed, and well-written article Service and Emotional Support Animals: Where are they allowed and under what conditions? from the ADA National Network. We also highly recommend contacting your Regional ADA Network Center at 800/949-4ADA (4232).

What is the difference between a service animal and a support animal, according to the ADA?

According to the ADA National Network, 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. Support animals, by contrast, provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities. (see Service and Emotional Support Animals: Where are they allowed and under what conditions? from the ADA National Network.)

Can my service animal be denied access to a public space, business, or transportation vehicle?

According to the ADA, no, you and your service animal may not be barred from any public facility where members of the public, program participant, customers, or clients are allowed. This applies even where there is a "no pets" policy in place. You and your service animal may not be denied access to transportation, nor is the carrier allowed to charge additional fees or force you and your service animal to sit in a particular spot. Schools, colleges, and universities must allow students and their service animals into all areas of the facility that are open to the public or to students.

Do these policies also apply to my emotional support animal?

Not necessarily. Allowing an emotional support animal in the workplace may be considered a reasonable accommodation, and your employer may request documentation. The Fair Housing Act may allow emotional support animals in otherwise pet-free housing as a reasonable accommodation and, again, you may be asked to provide documentation so a landlord or homeowners' association can review the request. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Rehab Act allow a student to use an animal that doesn't meet the ADA definition of a service animal if the student's education team decides it's necessary for a free and appropriate education. According to the ADA National Network, emotional support animals are seldom allowed to accompany students in public schools. The Air Carrier Access Act requires airlines to allow emotional support animals to accompany their person in the cabin. If you need to travel with an emotional support animal, you should check with the carrier ahead of time regarding any policies.

Can my landlord, employer, teacher, or driver ask me to prove I need my service or support animal?

According to the ADA National Network, you may be asked if the animal is required because of a disability and what work or task the animal has been trained to perform. A public accommodation or facility cannot ask for documentation or proof that the animal is certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal. An employer may ask for documentation to establish the existence of a disability and how the animal helps you perform your job. A landlord or homeowners' association cannot ask you (as an applicant) about the existence, nature, or extent of your disability, but they may ask you for documentation if you request a reasonable accommodation. A school, college, or university may ask you to register with their disability services office. An air carrier may ask for an ID card, written documents, presence of harness or tags, or verbal assurances from you. They may ask you what tasks or functions your animal performs, what he or she has been trained to do for you, and how they perform this task for you. For emotional support animals and psychiatric service animals, they may ask for specific documentation.

Please visit the ADA National Network at www.adata.org for more information on your rights and responsibilities under the ADA and other federal, state, and local laws.