Dogs As Emotional Support

Service Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs for People with Mental Illness


Posted by November 1, 2012 by Cindy

It seems people are always trying to find a way around the law – it’s just human nature, I guess. Nowadays, as more and more people learn about service dogs they are getting the bright idea that they can get around the “no pets” policy of rental homes by saying that their pet is a “service dog.” So, then, in a sort of backwards thinking they try to come up with a disability that would qualify the dog as a service dog.

Anxiety and depression are conditions that often come to mind for people wanting to qualify their pets as service dogs, but anxiety and depression may or may not be disabling.

A disability, according to the Social Security Administration is a condition that prevents an individual from performing the work he or she did prior to the disability and prevents the individual from engaging in other gainful employment. In order to be considered to have a disability, an individual must be afflicted, or expect to be afflicted with the disabling condition for at least a year, or expect death as a result of the condition. According to the Americans With Disabilities Act, disability is defined as a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”

In order for a dog to be qualified as a genuine service (a.k.a. “assistance”) dog the handler must be disabled according to the legal definition of the word and the dog must be trained to perform specific tasks to help mitigate the individual’s specific disability. Emotional support is not a qualifying task.

Service dogs must be temperamentally suited to the work they perform and trained for a specific individual. Specialized training, which follows puppy and basic training takes months and should not begin until the dog has reached, or is close to maturity. During this time it may become evident that a dog raised to be a service dog does not possess the necessary characteristics to undergo specialized training. At this point, the dog may be “career change” to another role such as therapy dog or pet.

Service dogs are not required under federal law to be certified, although organizations devoted to training these dogs do certify their own dogs. Service dogs are however required to meet specific criteria under the law and Assistance Dogs International, a professional association of member organizations that train service dogs offers guidelines for its accredited members.

A genuine service dog trained by a legitimate service dog organization can cost anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000. These dogs undergo extensive training by professional trainers who specialize in service dog training. Since most people who need these dogs cannot afford this expense, funding is usually obtained through charitable donations. Individuals applying for service dogs may also participate in fundraising to help pay for their dogs.

Individuals with disabilities who do not require the assistance of a dog for anything other than emotional support may also keep a dog that has not been task-trained so long as the dog is well behaved and recommended by an appropriate professional.

Under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 as well as the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) an individual with a documented disability may keep an “emotional support dog,” even when a landlord’s policy expressly prohibits pets.

An emotional support dog is basically a well behaved pet and allowed by law to reside with an individual with a disability in his or her rental home. The dog may also ride with its owner/handler in the cabin of commercial aircraft, but other than air travel individuals with emotional support dogs are not allowed the same public access that individuals with service dogs are allowed.

Emotional support dogs require no specialized training since they do not perform specific tasks and so the cost of these dogs is far less than service dogs – only the cost of the dog, its care and some basic training.

In order to qualify as an “emotional support dog” the dog’s owner must have a documented disability and provide a letter of recommendation or a prescription from an appropriate professional to his or her landlord.

Like service dogs, certification is not required. Also like service dogs, emotional support dogs may not be disruptive or the owner loses protection under the law, but unlike service dogs pet deposits may be required of emotional support dog owners.

For more information, readers can consult the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners, Assistance Dogs International and the United States Department of Justice Americans With Disabilities Act.

Contact Cindy at

This article was originally posted and shared by LucysBarkery