Although these two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there are major differences between the two. It is important to know these differences, which begin with the legislation that defines them.
A service animal is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Service animals are limited to two species. The most common service animals are dogs. If the person using the service animal is allergic to dogs or is prohibited from being around a dog for religious reasons, a miniature horse can be a service animal, although this is quite rare.
Service animals are individually trained to do specific tasks necessary for the person they serve. They must always be under the control of their handler at all times. They are almost always permitted to accompany the person they serve in any place where members of the public are allowed.
An emotional support animal is NOT covered by the ADA. Instead, it is defined under the Fair Housing Act. An emotional support animal of any species is identified by its owner as providing emotional support; however, it does not need to have specific training or to perform any tasks for its owner. Emotional support animals are permitted in rental housing if a medical or rehabilitation professional provides documentation of its owner’s need for it. However, emotional support animals are NOT allowed in public places that do not allow other pets.
For more information about service animals:
For information about emotional support animals:
- “Everything You Need to Know About Emotional Support Animals” https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/news/everything-about-emotional-support-animals/
- “Evaluation of Assistance Animals” https://www.animallaw.info/article/faqs-emotional-support-animals#aa1