Monday, June 6, 2016

A range of emotional support [companion] animals

Under federal [US] fair housing laws, people with mental, emotional, or psychological disabilities - with doctor's supporting documentation - may keep an "emotional support" animal.

These animals are NOT "service animals", which are specifically trained to assist the disabled individual.  Think dogs who (1) help the blind navigate while away from home,
(2) alert persons that a seizure is coming,
or (3) assist persons in wheelchairs with retrieving objects.
An emotional support animal provides therapeutic comfort for individuals with physical or mental disabilities.  They are common for autistic individuals, those with PTSD, and other types of psychological, emotional, or mental disabilities, especially in stressful situations like a hospital visit -
Emotional support animals do not enjoy the same level of legal protection as service animals. However, they are covered under the fair housing laws.  Therefore, landlords must allow tenants - with proper documentation - to keep emotional support animals as a reasonable accommodation [absent other factors, for example if the animal is a nuisance], even if the property is a "no pets" property.  Landlords who fail to provide this reasonable accommodation can be fined.  Ohio's Kent State University was fined $145,000 for not allowing a properly documented emotional support animal in student housing. 

Unfortunately, sometimes people take advantage of legitimate laws for non-legitimate purposes.  As a landlord attorney, I've advised my clients on emotional support dogs, cats, chickens, and even a snake.

And it seems even the airlines are sometimes in the middle of things.  Because it is rather expensive to fly with your pet [typically the cost of another ticket], but a valid emotional support animal flies at no extra charge, people have fraudulently mocked up documents so they can fly with their "emotional support animals" without the added expense.  In that linked article, some flights approach "flying barnyard" status. [An emotional support turkey?!]

This obviously makes it more difficult for those with legitimate needs and disabilities.  Businesses [and landlords] will generally not trust their valid documentation, because of all the fraudulent documents in existence.

If you have a legitimate need, you have rights.  If you do NOT have a legitimate need, please don't mock those who do by faking documents and pretending to be someone you're not.


  1. Does that mean Janet gets to fly for free with her clients?

    "Excuse me, Mr. Somers, what is THAT?"
    "My emotional support Shark."


    1. LOL that is too funny! But Jeff would need a letter from a healthcare professional, attesting to his need for an emotional support shark. And there is a high probability that his shark would need to make the trip either in his lap or at his feet. Awkward.......

  2. I've never heard of this. At first I thought what a ridiculous way to say pet.

    The tales you lawyers hear are sometimes complete insanity. Not this one. A friend of mine passes her final exam to become a judge this Thursday. Last week she finished the four month learning term in the court room. I'm not sure what you call it but she presided over the court.

    Anyhow, she's told me some of the details of some of her stuff. It's unimaginable.

    1. Congrats to your friend! I've been a temporary judge. It's a LOT of work and the stories I heard.....

      Of course, I hear some doozy stories as an attorney as well. And yes, it does seem like just a fancy way to say "pet".