There are approximately ten laws in the United States that protect or “cover” people with disabilities (PWD). Of those, three have specific parts that apply to Service Dogs, Emotional Support Animals, and/or Companion Animals. Let’s define those three before we go any further.
Service Dog – A Service Dog (SD) is a dog that has been trained to do specific task(s) that directly assist a person with a disability. The difference here is that word “trained”. A PWD has the right to be accompanied by their SD wherever that person is allowed to go even if animals are not allowed.
Emotional Support Animal – An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is any animal that provides emotional/psychological comfort to someone who has psychiatric or psychological issues. No training of the animal is involved as it is the very presence (or stroking, holding, etc) of the animal that assists the person in remaining calm, focused, grounded, or whatever the presence provides. In terms of the ADA, a person accompanied by an ESA does not have the right to bring the ESA into a public area where animals are not usually allowed. However, they do have rights to keep their ESA with them on airplanes according to the Air Carriers Access Act.
Companion Animal – Companion Animals are, I believe, only mentioned in the Fair Housing Act. It allows for persons to keep a pet if the pet provides for them certain comfort but not psychiatric/psychological stability when the housing situation would not normally allow them to have a pet.
This page will list the three main laws, provide links for more information, and briefly discuss them to provide information on what they are and how they relate to SDs.
For public access (movie theaters, restaurants, malls, etc), it is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Originally made into law in 1990, most of it was updated in 2010 to fix several things the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) had made worse and/or more confusing. One of the biggest changes made was to define service animals as dogs. There are a few exceptions in very limited situations.
The ADA defines a Service Animal as:
Service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual´s disability. Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing non-violent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors. The crime deterrent effects of an animal´s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.
Air Carriers Access Act
The next law is the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), formerly known as Part 382 which covers airports and air travel. This law has been updated and changed and tweaked so many times since it was first approved by Congress in 1986. As proof, it took FOUR years for it to become law! As we say here in the South, “bless its heart”.
When at the airport and on board an airplane, the ADA does not apply. It is the ACAA that is in place. This is why Emotional Support Animals can be in the main cabin but not in the movie theater. Part 382.117 concerns Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals:
§382.117 Must carriers permit passengers with a disability to travel with service animals?
(a) As a carrier, you must permit a service animal to accompany a passenger with a disability.
(b) You must permit the service animal to accompany the passenger with a disability at any seat in which the passenger sits, unless the animal obstructs an aisle or other area that must remain unobstructed to facilitate an emergency evacuation.
(c) If a service animal cannot be accommodated at the seat location of the passenger with a disability who is using the animal, you must offer the passenger the opportunity to move with the animal to another seat location, if present on the aircraft, where the animal can be accommodated.
(d) As evidence that an animal is a service animal, you must accept identification cards, other written documentation, presence of harnesses, tags, or the credible verbal assurances of a qualified individual with a disability using the animal.
(e) If a passenger seeks to travel with an animal that is used as an emotional support or psychiatric service animal, you are not required to accept the animal for transportation in the cabin unless the passenger provides you current documentation (i.e., no older than one year from the date of the passenger’s scheduled initial flight) on the letterhead of a licensed mental health professional (e.g., psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, including a medical doctor specifically treating the passenger’s mental or emotional disability) stating the following:
(f) You are never required to accommodate certain unusual service animals (e.g., snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents, and spiders) as service animals in the cabin. With respect to all other animals, including unusual or exotic animals that are presented as service animals (e.g., miniature horses, pigs, monkeys), as a carrier you must determine whether any factors preclude their traveling in the cabin as service animals (e.g., whether the animal is too large or heavy to be accommodated in the cabin, whether the animal would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others, whether it would cause a significant disruption of cabin service, whether it would be prohibited from entering a foreign country that is the flight’s destination). If no such factors preclude the animal from traveling in the cabin, you must permit it to do so. However, as a foreign carrier, you are not required to carry service animals other than dogs.
What this says is for Service Dogs, the only requirement is either some sort of documentation (which could be the card from a training facility such as CCI), the harness, or simply our word. But for Emotional Support Animals, they must present a letter with precise information on it. The final bit concerns the definition of what species can or cannot be a Service Animal. Spider? Seriously?