Understanding the difference between Emotional
Support Animals (ESA) and Service Dogs

An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is an animal which serves the purpose of mitigating any kind of emotional or psychological symptoms associated with a handler’s condition or disorder. The ESA does NOT need to be custom trained to perform a specific disability-specific task. As the name suggests, Emotional Support Animals provide comfort, a calming presence, and companionship to their partners in times of distress. Almost all the domesticated animals including the dogs, cats, hedgehogs, birds, reptiles rodents, mini-pigs , etc., may serve as an ESA

Although they are not custom trained to do specific tasks like service dogs, and don’t have access to all public areas,ESAs enjoy 2 major legal protections:

  • They can fly with a person who has an emotional or psychological disability without any fees.
  • Like service dogs, ESAs also qualify for no-pet housing under the law. The handler of ESA must collect a letter from a physician stating the need for the dog. This may be requested by housing authorities and airlines because the use of ESAs have been abused over the years.

Emotional Support Animal-Access to Public Places

ESAs do not need to be professionally trained as they do not help to perform a specific task, but provide support just by being around you.

  • The law under Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) only extends to ‘working animals’, that is, animals which are individually trained to perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability (service animals). This distinction does not allow ESAs to be protected by the same laws that govern service animals.
  • While service dogs are allowed access to all public places such as parks, movie theaters, hospitals, and restaurants, ESAs aren’t allowed at these places. ESAs are allowed access only to the housing complex with the handler including those with no-pet policies. ESAs are allowed on airplanes as well.

The Differences Between Emotional Support Dogs and Service Dogs

Any individual with an emotional or psychological disability can have emotional support animals as a companion. Although the emotional support animals are used as part of medical treatment plans for the persons suffering from emotional distress, they are not considered service animals under the ADA.

Below are some of the major differences that distinguish the Emotional Support Animal from the Service dogs:

  • Unlike service dogs, who are custom trained to perform a specific task to help their disabled partner, there is no formal training needed to be an emotional support dog. Their primary role is to provide companionship and a certain level of comfort to their partners suffering from psychological disorders such as chronic depression and other emotional troubles..
  • While service dogs are trained to help people with various disabilities such as visual impairments, seizure disorders, mental illnesses, diabetes, etc., functional independently, an ESA primarily serves to provide their owners/partners therapeutic benefits through companionship.
  • A service dog works to help the owners perform tasks they cannot perform on their own. An emotional support animal primarily works to improve the health of their handler battling an emotionally distressing situati.
  • To have an ESA, a doctor’s note is required. This note must be written within the last year and must specify that an ESA will improve the health of the patient. Service dogs do not require a doctor’s note

What is the common requirement for both Emotional Service Animals and Service Dog?

Although emotional service animals and service dogs serve different purposes, there are few commonalities…

  • ESAs and service dogs must be calm, have a great temperament, and be psychologically sound.
  • Both the ESA and the Service dog must be highly intelligent
  • ESAs and service dogs must be in good health
  • They both should be carefully partnered with the handler based on his or her specific needs.

Different rights for ESA vs Service Dogs

If a person suffers from anxiety, depression, panic attacks, or other psychological and emotional conditions, the law protects their rights to have an official Emotional Support Animal. Below are some of the rights they enjoy:

  • Although the emotional support animals do not have the same rights as service dogs under the ADA, they are protected under
  • Fair Housing Amendment Act (FHAA)
  • Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)
  • According to the law, ESAs and service dogs are protected by the Fair Housing Act to get access in housing situations. ESAs, which are NOT the same as service dogs are also allowed in housing complexes with handlers.
  • The FHAA allows emotional support animals access in housing facilities including in no pet policy apartments without any breed and/or weight discriminatory policies by the landlords.
  • Under the FHAA, landlords are required to provide reasonable accommodations, and hence, equal opportunities to use and enjoy the housing along with their handler.
  • Under ACAA, both are allowed to fly with their handler in a cabin without extra fees and charges.

Although there are some critical differences between ESAs and service dogs, they both make a significant impact on their handlers.

Service Dogs /ESA for Veterans Suffering from PTSD
(Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)

Owning a dog can lift one’s mood and help one feel much less stressed in difficult situations. Dogs not only make people feel better by providing companionship, but trained dogs and the Emotional Service Animals (ESA) also help people suffering from several illnesses including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs or assistive dogs are specifically trained to assist people suffering from disabilities that limit them from performing day-to-day tasks without assistance. Service dogs make life much easier and more comfortable for people with disabilities and other medical conditions.

PTSD- What is it and what are the symptoms?
PTSD Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a severe psychiatric disorder that can occur following a difficult experience or witnessing life-threatening events such as:.

  • Military combat
  • Physical or sexual assault
  • Terrorist incidents
  • Serious accidents
  • Natural calamities
  • Personal loss

Most victims of PTSD eventually return to their original state. However, some people experience reactions that increase in intensity or do not s subside. These individuals develop chronic PTSD symptoms and require assistance to heal.

Symptoms of PTSD

Below are some of the common symptoms of PTSD…

  • Re-living the traumatic experience through nightmares and flashback
  • Having difficulty sleeping, feelings of detachment and loneliness
  • Feeling of isolation from other people, irritability, or startling easily

These symptoms can get severe enough with time and can significantly impair daily life. The condition often leads to the development of additional disorders such as depression, memory or cognition issues,substance abuse, and other physical/mental disorders.

Service Dogs/ ESA Assisting PTSD Survivors:

PTSD disorder is associated with impairment of the person’s ability to function. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) governs the employment of service dogs (a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability). According to the ADA, the service dogs are different from the pets, as they are categorized as working animals.

Under the ADA, dogs whose primary function is to provide company, comfort or emotional support to the owners do not qualify as service dogs. Service dogs are specifically paired with individuals based on their training and the individuals’ disability. Certain conditions must be met before qualifying as a disability..

The term, ‘disability’ has been defined very broadly by ADA. It is used with flexibility depending on the nature and severity of a person’s physical, mental, or emotional issues. The disabilities range from physical, medical and psychiatric.

As per the ADA, the tasks performed by the service dog must be directly related to the person’s disability. The term, “disability” includes any condition that limits an individual from performing an important life activity without assistance.

Recovering from PTSD with the help of Service Dog/ ESA:

Recovering from PTSD is a continuous process that requires constant support. Service Dogs/ ESAs provide assistance to PTSD sufferers through evidence-based treatments for PTSD. They help people do things they have been avoiding because of their PTSD, such as socializing, going into public places, and many other similar instances.

Recovering from PTSD is a continuous process that requires constant support. Service Dogs/ ESAs provide assistance to PTSD sufferers through evidence-based treatments for PTSD. They help people do things they have been avoiding because of their PTSD, such as socializing, going into public places, and many other similar instances.

How Service Dogs help Veterans recover from PTSD:

When someone is suffering from anxiety or depression, particularly PTSD, they may feel hopeless. However, there is strong evidence that the support and unconditional love/companionship of a service animal can greatly improve their condition.

There are a growing number of organizations that train service dogs to help those suffering from PTSD, particularly veterans. A service dog is a practical alternative along with the medication when it comes to treating PTSD. In fact, service dogs have been proven so effective at helping combat the psychological disorders such as anxiety, stress, and depression that even government supports and provides funding to the organizations working with service dogs.

Below are examples of how service dogs help veterans and other individuals cope with PTSD:

  • Service dogs are custom trained for anxiety related disorders such as PTSD. They are able to help even the most isolated and traumatized veterans by helping them overcome their illness.
  • PTSD patients also benefit from teaching the dogs various task related service commands. These tasks develop the patient’s ability to better communicate in their own lives.
  • A lot of PTSD patients suffer from the hyper-vigilance issues. Service dogs can significantly help with this, too. Service dogs/ESA have a calming influence on PTSD patients. This will allow them to sleep better, knowing their service animal can protect during crisis.
  • For physically disabled veterans, service dogs are trained to provide much needed mobility-assistance.