Is an emotional support dog the same as a service dog?

C.F. writes:

Dear Paul: If the condo building is considered to be ‘no pets’ and one owner who just moved in claims that he will file a human rights complaint if we don’t let him keep his emotional support dog…is this a valid argument? The board knows that service dogs are an exception to the ‘no pets’ policy however, does an emotional support dog qualify as a service dog?

Paul replies:

Dear C.F.: This is an interesting question. Thanks for bringing it forward. I am not an expert in this area, but I can state for certain that service dogs are the definite exception. For example, seeing-eye dogs can go anywhere with their owner. A service animal (usually a dog) performs a task that the disabled individual cannot do for herself. A service animal goes through a rigorous training process that can be as long as 18 months. They can be trained to detect an epileptic seizure before it happens, they can learn to detect a diabetic’s blood sugar being high or low, or they can alert a deaf person that a phone is ringing, or an alarm is going off. They do for their owners what their owners cannot do for themselves. They have a job to do, they are a working dog.

On the other hand, just because it makes you feel good when your pooch affectionately lays on your lap does not make it an emotional support animal (ESA). If this was the case, every pet owner would claim that their pet is an ESA. Emotional support animals do not require any training, nor do they usually perform any task that the owner cannot do for themselves. If a person is diagnosed with a mental health issue such as anxiety attacks, or post-traumatic stress, by a qualified medical practitioner, a psychiatrist, or mental health expert, they may provide a letter similar to a prescription attesting that their patient needs the ESA to help them cope with their condition.

In your scenario, you state that this is a “new owner” and that he will file a human rights complaint if he is not allowed to have his emotional support dog in a “no pet” building. To begin with, the individual should have done his due diligence before making the purchase of a condo in a no-pet complex. This matter could have been resolved before he moved in. Regarding the human rights issue, I would think that the complaint would have to be on the basis of the complainant’s disability. Once the disability is established, then the need for the ESA would have to be determined. Many claims for an ESA are fraudulent, therefore the suspicious nature of condo board’s to accept an ESA without question.

Note: While service dogs are universally accepted, the emotional support dog is treated as a service dog only in certain areas. You should check legislation, or consult an organization that caters to people with disabilities for more information about an ESA’s status where you live. Best wishes.

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