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Does your pet qualify as an emotional support animal?

The Barkery and Bath is here to explain what these animals are, where they’re allowed, and common rules of courtesy. Keep reading to understand how to treat other people’s support animals, and to learn if your dog or cat could qualify to become one!

What are Emotional Support Animals?

Emotional support animals are companion pets that help their owners feel comforted and secure. These animals work to support humans with various emotional conditions, such as depression, anxiety, mood disorders, panic attacks and other psychological conditions.

Many state or local governments legally provide for people to take their emotional support animals into public places. However, these animals have not been trained to perform a specific job, so they do not technically qualify as certified service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

How to Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal

You might qualify to have an emotional support animal if you have a psychological or emotional condition. To know for sure if you qualify, it’s important to speak with a mental health professional first. Many housing places, travel companies, or public spaces may require a letter from a licensed mental health professional authenticating your need for an emotional support animal. Check with your local and state government about laws regarding Emotional Support Animals to fully understand the requirements in your area.

Common Rules for Emotional Support Animals

It’s very important to understand that not every pet should be an Emotional Support Animal. Temperament and training will play a large role in determining if your pet will be allowed to act as your support animal. Keep in mind these common rules for ESAs.

  • They are not allowed to run wild. Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals must be leashed, harnessed, or secured in public places. The only exception is if leashing the animal would interfere with its work or if the person’s disability obstructs harnessing devices; some service dogs are trained to go find help if their owner suffers an attack. In these instances, the dog would still wear its harness but run to get help. Emotional Support Animals are not considered this kind of service dog and therefore must be leashed at all times.
  • Service accessories are NOT a requirement for emotional support animals. Many owners, however, find that a vest, leash, tag, and collar are helpful in indicating that their animal is an emotional support animal, reducing questions asked. Additionally, there are certain understood rules of etiquette about service dogs wearing vests, which may be helpful in keeping your animal focused, as will be discussed later.
  • Public Safety comes before your Emotional Support Animal practices. If your animal hinders a certain public program or service, it may not be allowed to participate. For example, if your pet is uncontrollable or not housebroken, staff are allowed to ask that your animal be removed from the premises.

While keeping these common rules in mind, the Barkery is here to explain a bit more about common etiquette for interaction with emotional support animals.

Etiquette for Owners

Train your animal. Your emotional support animal should obey simple commands from you easily and immediately. Don’t forget: they must be on a leash at all times.

Avoid busy or reactive spaces as much as possible. For training, you may need to visit some busier areas, but don’t overstimulate your dog to the point of exhaustion. This will end badly for both of you and may cause your training process to stall or regress. It’s better to take fewer steps more slowly than to jump ahead and create negative interactions/habits for your pet. These negative experiences may not only set you back in training, but can even interfere with your pet’s personality, causing reactiveness, for example.

Use a vest if you would prefer people to not pet your animal. Most people can recognize a service vest and will respectfully ignore your dog, or at least ask before petting.

Do not try to misrepresent your ESA as a certified service animal. The increase of this unethical practice has created dangerous and unfair situations for other people in public spaces. Some people are allergic to dogs or cats and may have an allergic reaction in the presence of your animal; additionally, pets that are not trained to be in public spaces may react unpredictably. Beyond public accidents, like wetting or waste depositing, untrained animals may panic, bark, bite someone or attack real service animals. These kinds of behavior endanger other people, real service animals, and even the handler. Unfortunately, due to incidents of fake support dogs attacking people in public, many states now have laws banning individuals from misrepresenting their pets as service dogs.

A note on travel: Because of these unfortunate incidents, some airline companies have completely banned emotional support animals from flights. Only certified service dogs who meet requirements are allowed to accompany passengers into the cabin area; support animals may have to be transported as regular pets would be. Be sure to check ahead of time with the airline company about their pet policies. Other than that, don’t forget to take the supplies you will need to care for your pet: leash, food, harness, crate. etc. Of course, you can find any of these supplies in-store or online at the Barkery! Purchase easy-to-pack and easy-to-clean collapsible bowls, collars and leashes, or even an adjustable pocket pet sling for smaller support animals on the go.

Etiquette for Passers-By

Service animals have a job to do. Some work as guides or mobility assistants; others alert for diabetes incidents or seizures. It’s important to understand how to properly interact with these service animals in order for them to be able to do their job well.

While Emotional Support Animals are not technically certified service dogs, it’s polite to treat well-behaved support animals with the same respect so that they can continue to focus on their owner and their job, too. The Barkery is here to share some insightful tips on interacting with service and support animals in a respectful way!

Do not call out to a service or support animal or distract them in any way. This can endanger their handler. No kissy sounds to the dog, and no clapping or waving is helpful. Even with the best intentions, it’s best to not praise the animal for doing its job. The service or support animal needs to concentrate on doing its job.

Ask before touching. It’s important to speak to the person first, not to the dog. Acknowledge the handler and show them care and respect before asking to pet their animal. Some handlers may allow you to pet their animal, but many have strict no-petting rules for their safety, and for yours. Many service or support animals will wear a vest; this vest serves two purposes. First, a service vest helps the animal recognize that it is time to focus on their job. Second, a service vest helps passers-by to recognize that the animal is working. If the animal has a vest on, it’s best not to ask to pet the animal. If the animal is not wearing a vest, it may be okay to pet them, as long as you respectfully ask the handler first.

Keep your pets or children away from service animals. If you have kids that want to pet the animal, teach them to respectfully ask the handler first! Please keep pet dogs to yourself and away from the service animal for your safety and theirs. Some dogs are guard dogs and are trained to protect their owners. Unless the handler says your children or pets are allowed to approach, please keep your distance.

Both owners and nearby people should be respectful of each other’s needs and spaces. By following these common rules of courtesy, both the general public and handlers with service dogs will be safe and able to interact appropriately.

Interested in qualifying your own pet to be a support animal? Drop by the Barkery; we’d love to answer any questions you have. We even have quite a few options for treats and toys to help with the training process!