Myths About Emotional Support Animals

Feb 9, 2018 by

We’ve all walked into grocery stores or shopping malls and seen signs that say something like “No pets, but service animals are welcome.” Lately, it’s possible that you’ve also seen a sign saying, “No emotional support animals in the store; we love pets but we can’t have them in here.” That might have confused you, because it’s easy to think that emotional support animals and service animals are the exact same thing. That’s really not the case. There’s a lot of myths and misinformation about the differences between the two.

Myth #1: Emotional support animals can go where service animals go

As Americans, we love our cats, dogs, birds, and hamsters. That doesn’t mean we should take those animals everywhere we go. Some dogs love to travel; others hate it. Most cats are just fine lounging around the house all day. But people with disabilities who bring service animals with them are doing it for a specific reason or reasons. A service animal can help lead a vision-impaired person around a grocery store. People with epilepsy often use service animals to help them during a seizure. Some dogs can even tell when a seizure is about to occur, which is incredibly useful. Service animals are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA.

Service dogs no doubt provide a lot of comfort and security to their owners, but that’s not their primary focus. According to the ADA National Network, providing comfort is not considered “work” or “service.” So if your dog trained to help you detect the presence of allergens in a public place, it can be considered a service dog. If your dog simply makes you feel better and doesn’t perform a specific task or tasks, then it’s considered an emotional support animal and has no right to go shopping with you.

Myth #2: Emotional support animals can’t be questioned

There are people who will tell you that, yeah, your grocery store may not technically allow your emotional support corgi in there with you, but if you bring it in, no store employees can ask you questions, because if they ask questions, they might get sued. That’s not quite how things work, though. Many store employees or business owners don’t ask questions for fear of a costly ADA lawsuit, but they are allowed to ask two questions. According to the ADA Network, those questions are, “Is this animal required because of a disability?” and, “What work or task has this animal been trained to perform?” However, if the need for the service animal is obvious (like a guide dog for a blind person), then those questions shouldn’t be asked, and people can’t ask for documentation or demand to see proof of training.

The documentation thing is a double-edged sword, though, because if legitimate, properly trained service animals don’t need documentation, then neither do non-legitimate emotional support animals. If you have an emotional support animal, make sure it’s for an actual issue that’s been diagnosed by a doctor. People who abuse the system just make it more likely that people with actual service animals will be viewed with suspicion. If you’re looking at Boulder condominiums for rent and the property owner asks about your dog, don’t call it a service animal if it’s not. Similarly, don’t ask a doctor to write you a letter saying your cat is an emotional support animal simply because you don’t want to pay a pet fee at your new apartment.

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