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The use of emotional support animals (ESA) has been a hot button topic in recent years. Thanks to wide-spread abuse, individuals who suffer from debilitating mental or emotional disabilities may find themselves in a situation where they need to know their rights under California and Federal law.  Understanding the basic rules governing service dogs or support animals will allow you to be better prepared should any issue arise.

What is an emotional support animal?

While many people confuse support animals with service animals, it is important to note that they are different. A service dog provides the owners with a particular trained skill such as a visually impaired individual or someone that is blind or needs assistance with physical activities require a service animal. In contrast, animals that provide a therapeutic response would be considered a support animal.  A dog or other common domesticated animal that provides support to a disabled individual through companionship, affection, non-judgmental regard, or as being a distraction from issues can be an emotional support animal. Before an animal is deemed as an ESA, a diagnosis of a mental or emotional disability that significantly limits one or more of the daily major life activities must have been made by a qualified mental health professional. Animals that can be used for support may include other species; however, cats and dogs are the ones that typically come to mind. If the disabled person’s need is exclusively limited to a residential setting, any legal species of any age could qualify as an emotional support animal including cats, dogs, mice, rabbits, birds, hedgehogs, and ferrets. These animals are subject to the community’s species regulations, registration requirements, vaccination rules, and prohibitions. However, neither the federal government, the state of California or the city of San Diego requires any type of specialized training for an emotional support animal including basic obedience.

Types of protections for Emotional support animals

ESA Protections

The federal government enacted several measures designed to protect individuals who use service dogs or support animals. As well as adherence to the federal measures, California and San Diego have supported additional rules to govern ESAs.

 

Travel

Traveling can be an anxiety-producing task for anyone. For those who have severe emotional or mental illnesses, it can be debilitating. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) under the Department of Transportation (DOT) protects the rights of individuals using emotional support animals. Guidelines mandate that the animal is allowed to travel in the cabin along with their disabled handler for free. DOT rules for air travel allow for stricter regulations than compared to other accommodations. “Unusual” animals such as snakes, reptiles, rodents, spiders and ferrets are not allowed due to safety concerns. In addition to these limitations, many air carriers have decided to require additional information before allowing travel with emotional support animals. Widespread abuse and the issues associated with them have necessitated that air carriers require proof from a licensed healthcare professional stating your mental health disability and the need for a service animal. This letter must be dated less than one year prior to traveling and follow a specific format. Contact should be made with the carrier well in advance of travel so that travelers have an adequate amount of time to gather all pertinent information. It is also recommended 48 hours prior to air travel; additional contact is made to ensure that there are no last-minute complications that would hinder your travel plans.

While the DOT has a separate policy for air travel, other forms of transportation (mass transit buses, commuter rails, ferries, etc.) is only required to make accommodations for individuals who use service animals and do not make a distinction between them and ESAs. The local provider is allowed to treat ESAs as pets under the same pricing policy, or they are allowed to ban them entirely. Additionally, neither the ACAA nor Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protections cover ESAs in any type of transient lodging. Those wishing to travel with ESAs must be prepared to seek pet-friendly accommodations while traveling. Locations can also legally charge a pet-fee for emotional support animals, limit the types of animals and place additional requirements as they see fit.

Employment

Working With An ESA San Diego

As in all fifty states, employers in California are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. While the federal government has created a gray area when it comes to including those who use emotional support animals, California has decided to include support animals in the workplace an appropriate accommodation. Although the federal government only requires employers to have fifteen or more employees before they are subject to this law, California and San Diego make the law a requirement once the employer has a minimum of five employees.

Employers also have some protections under California law. If the accommodations would cause “undue hardship” exemption from the law might be warranted. Examples of “undue hardships” could be exuberant cost or the nature of the accommodation, the size and number of employees of the facility and the employer, the type of operation or how providing the accommodation would affect the facility and the employer. In addition to protections against undue hardships, employers have a right to expect any support animal to be free from offensive odors, has been housebroken, well behaved and not endanger the health or safety of anyone in the workplace including the handler.

Housing

The Department of Housing and Urban Development under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) has mandated that tenants or potential tenants have rights regarding emotional support animals. Reasonable accommodations designed to ensure that people with disabilities have equal protection to use and enjoy an apartment or house are strictly enforced.

Reasonable accommodations, as in employment laws would be a change or exception to a policy that would prevent a disabled individual from performing one or more functions related to life such as working or living independently. Tenants who live in San Diego and require an emotional support animal cannot be denied the right to live with their ESA unless the animal poses a threat to the safety of others or would cause significant damage to the property of others. While some landlords may believe that speculation or fear of an animal is justification for not adhering to this law, the decision must be based on factual evidence of a specific animal’s conduct.

Because the laws regarding emotional support animals are fairly new, many property owners do not know or understand the guidelines set forth by the federal or state government. If you have received your first ESA letter and are unsure of what to do next, there are few basic rules that you should remember. Additional requirements for individuals with ESAs is prohibited. For example, property owners are only entitled to the ESA letter from a qualified healthcare professional and are not entitled to any additional information or demands. Contact with the professional is limited to verifying that the letter is valid and does not include any specific medical information including but not limited to medications or course of treatment. In fact, directly contacting the healthcare professional is not advised. If a property owner or landlord suspects the information provided is fraudulent, such verification should be handled by legal representation.

ESAs cannot be required to wear identifying tags or garments nor can owners be assessed fees or deposits normally required for individuals with pets no matter what species or breed.

Property owners do have certain protections under the laws just as employers do. Though they cannot demand deposits or fees for emotional support animals, they can legally charge the tenant for repairs if the property has been damaged by the animal.

Unfortunately, public places are not required to admit emotional support animals regardless of the requirement to admit service animals. Many places in San Diego are friendly to emotional support animals however, there are just as many who do not understand their purpose. Being prepared to discuss the benefits of ESAs with misinformed businesses and individuals could help you advocate for yourself and others. Please keep in mind that although emotional support animals have numerous protections, it is imperative that ESA owners respect laws that are designed to protect others as well.

How to obtain an Emotional Support Animal in San Diego

If you feel you would benefit from an emotional support animal and live or work in San Diego, the first step would be to consult your licensed mental health professional. To legally qualify you must be certified as emotionally disabled by a licensed psychologist, therapist, psychiatrist or other properly licensed or certified mental health professional. Once diagnosed and it is determined that you would benefit from an ESA in California, a letter from that provider can be issued that outlines your specific mental or emotional disability and your need for that animal can be issued. It can take some time for this process but once completed you the benefits you will receive from your animal is worth the wait.

Give us a call at EZCare Clinic at (415) 966-0848; we’re open 7 days a week, from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm PST. Or you can click here to schedule an appointment online to get your ESA today.


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Unlike decades ago, the world we live in has become a complex global society where the movement of people is more fluid. The age of growing up and living in one area, never seeing or visiting other parts of the world or even within the United States has long passed for most of the population. Living among us, however, are individuals who face challenges that require special accommodations and considerations for them to live an independent life.
The time when those who have physical or mental disabilities were expected to have someone with them always to perform activities that otherwise would have been off-limits for them has passed. Thankfully great strides have been made in services that encourage independent living among the disabled. One such service that arguably may be the best program that supports independence is the service animal industry.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as any dog that is specially trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disabilities. The action or tasks performed must be directly related to the individual’s disability. Typical examples of such service dogs would see eye dogs for the blind; dogs used to pull wheelchairs or even those that can warn or protect individuals from imminent seizures.
While there are individuals who benefit from federal protections for service dogs, those who suffer severe emotional disabilities and require the use of an emotional support animal are not generally covered under the ADA’s guidelines except for two areas, travel and housing.

What is an emotional support pet?

An emotional support animal (ESA) provides companionship and emotional support for people diagnosed with a severe mental or emotional disability. An example of a disability that may benefit from an emotional support animal could be someone suffering from severe anxiety or depression. The need for an ESA is always documented by a letter from a mental health professional which legally guarantees their right to live and travel with the animal. These support animals are not always dogs or cats, though they are more common. Other species such as mice, birds, hedgehogs or other animals that are commonly domesticated can be used as well.

Traveling with an emotional support petEmotional Support Animal Travel Laws

The Department of Transportation (DOT) under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACCA) provides specific protections for individuals traveling with an emotional support animal by plane in the United States. Because of heightened safety concerns and the enclosed space in which air travel is done, the restrictions are considered tighter than other laws regarding ESAs. The ACCA allows disabled handlers the right to travel with their support animal in the cabin and free of charge, but there are certain conditions. Under the DOT’s rules, unusual animals are prohibited from the guidelines. It can include snakes, reptiles, rodents, and other animals.
If you are intending upon traveling with your ESA, there are a few things you should be aware of. First, the DOT gives carriers the right to request additional documentation before agreeing to allow your animal to be transported in the cabin. Though the added documentation may vary from carrier to carrier, most common requirements are for an ESA letter certifying the traveler’s disability and the need for a specific support animal that is no older than one year old or veterinary records stating the health of the animal.
Those individuals who rely on emotional support animals should also be aware that should you need to travel outside of the United States, foreign carriers that fly to and from the US are only required to accept dogs as an emotional support animal. Great care should always be taken when traveling abroad. Host countries do not usually have the same laws regarding these animals that we do, and you could find upon entering that your pet is not allowed. Consult an advisor at embassies and the State Department for additional information.
If you intend to travel by other means of mass transit (bus, commuter rail, etc.), the DOT’s rules are not as supportive and not covered by the ADA. In these circumstances, local providers are allowed to either classify the animal as a service animal or as a pet. If support animals are treated as pets, they can accept them under the same pet policy or pricing policy as service animals or ban them entirely. Transient lodging is also exempt from being forced to accept ESAs as anything other than pets. When traveling, we recommend that you seek out places that are pet-friendly.

Living with an emotional support pet

Individuals suffering from severe mental or emotional issues that require an ESA are protected by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (DOT) under the umbrella of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Rehab Act. They enforce the rules regarding emotional support animals as well as service dogs. While service dogs are required to be specially trained to perform a job, the FHA guidelines do not need any training for an emotional support animal including basic obedience. However, ESAs residing in a residential community are subject to specific regulations or requirements. This can include registrations, vaccinations, and prohibitions. Property owners or landlords have a right to request an ESA letter just like airlines to prove an individual’s legal rights under the ADA and HUD guidelines. Although pets may be denied under standard rental agreements or typically assessed fees or deposits, in the case of an ESA, no such demands can be made. However, if an emotional support animal causes damages, the tenant can be legally held responsible. More information here – Emotional Support Animal Letter for Housing

Employment laws concerning emotional support petsEmotional Support Animal Employment Laws

Individuals that are disabled are covered under the Equal Employment Opportunity Act (EEOC). The Act prohibits employment discrimination by race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, and marital or familial status. Added as an amendment to Title VII, it expands the protection of Title VII to public and private employers with 15 or more employees, both public and private labor organizations with at least 15 members, and employment agencies. In addition to the EEOC, disabled Americans are also protected under the ADA. The ADA requires that employers make reasonable accommodations for employees and applicants who have disabilities regardless if the disability is seen or unseen. Changes to how a job is completed or a change in a policy that does not cause undue hardship on the employer that allows a disabled individual to perform the task effectively are considered a reasonable accommodation. While service dogs are automatically covered under these laws, support animals currently reside in a gray area. Some emotional disabilities such as severe stress or anxiety may be covered under employment laws, but others may not.
Any employer that receives a request for the accommodation of an emotional support animal should treat the application just as they would for any other housing. It is always in the best interest of both the employer and employee to work together to build a supportive working environment as long as the accommodations requested would not cause undue hardship or create an environment that could be dangerous to the anyone including the disabled individual.
Undue hardships that may prevent employers from accommodating a request could be a substantial financial cost, the size and number of employees or how the accommodation would affect the facility and the employer. Employers are allowed to expect that any support animal is free from bad odors, be housebroken or potty-trained and not pose a threat to the health or safety of other individuals in the workplace.
While it is a gray area in the laws, many employers are open to an honest and forthcoming discussion about an employee’s need for an emotional support animal. They may request the ESA letter to help them make an informed decision. However, as with all other provisions, there is limited information that employers may demand regarding protected medical information. It is advisable to address specific concerns with a qualified HR representative or other legal professionals if additional information is needed.

Public access laws for emotional support pets

The United States government does not recognize emotional support animals as service animals that perform a job for their handler. Because of this, ESAs do not have the protections in public access areas like service animals do. If the individual state also does not offer protections, access to public areas with emotional support animals can be limited. If your state has not defined additional protections, seek out support-friendly areas that may be close by. Many businesses and business owners are becoming more sympathetic to individuals who suffer from debilitating disorders and are making changes in their policies to accommodate them.

Emotional support pet letter from EZCare Clinic

All fifty states are covered under the American’s with Disabilities Act, Air Carrier Act, Fair Housing Act, and the Rehab Act. While many states leave the protections associated with emotional support animals to the federal government, some states have begun to expand or add to those protections to ensure a higher number of disabled individuals receive equal treatment. To ensure that your rights have not been violated or that as an employer, you are not discriminating against someone unintentionally, check out your individual state’s website for additional information. Understanding the disability laws in your area allows you to advocate for yourself and others effectively regarding housing for emotional support animals and traveling with your ESA. Our physicians here at EZCare Clinic would be glad to help you with all of your questions regarding emotional support pets, as well as aid you in getting a legitimate emotional support animal letter. We are here to help 7 days a week, from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm PST,  feel free to give us a call at (415) 966-0848 and make an appointment today online or in-person.

Online applications, click here.

In-person appointments, click here.


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Traveling with your Emotional Support Animal without any extra costs or fee is permitted by airline carriers if there’s an ESA letter provided. But, you must comply with a few requirements. All airlines are going to require that your Emotional Support Animal be calm on the plane and well behaved in public. It’s possible to obtain an at home dog training guide then train your dog on your own. This won’t just save money, additionally, it will ensure you have an enjoyable experience flying with the dog.

Go over the following list for every airline in order for you to be prepared and avoid all hitches as you check into the flight.

American Airlines ESA

Airline Requirements for Travel with Your ESA

This airline acknowledges the necessities of some requiring a psychiatric service animal or emotional support animal. The airline requires supporting paperwork that facilitates the request, like an Emotional Support Animal travel letter that is issued during the year of travel.

The paperwork has to come from a medical doctor or licensed mental health professional, with this information as per the website of American Airlines:

  • That you have an emotional or mental disability recognized within the DSM IV
  • That you require the psychiatric service or emotional support animal as an accommodation for traveling by air and/or for activity at your next destination
  • That the person offering the evaluation is a licensed medical doctor or licensed mental health professional, and you’re under her or his care
  • The type and date of the medical doctor’s or mental health professional’s license and state or additional jurisdiction where the license was issued

The paperwork ought to be offered to American Airlines at the minimum of two days prior to the arranged flight or else the ESA would need to be checked into a kennel within the compartment while the flight is motion.

Delta Airlines ESA

This airline suggests an early alert about traveling with animals while arranging reservations and you already can ask for a seat assignment when doing so.  However, the animal will have to remain upon the floor beside the owner’s seat. As claimed in the airline’s website, ‘No animals are permitted to occupy seats which are designed for passengers.’

The company expects the ESA to be well-behaved and is going to require paperwork from the owner before traveling. Specifically, that letter has to have the following, according to the airline’s website:

  • License number, address, title and jurisdiction (country/state it was issued), a signature of a mental health professional, and phone number.
  • The passenger has a mental health-associated disability that is recognized in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual – Fourth Edition.
  • The passenger requires the psychiatric service or emotional support animal as an accommodation for traveling by air and/or for activity at the owner’s destination.
  • The person listed inside the letter is underneath the care of evaluating mental health expert or physician.

The airline may consider a digital letter saved on a device, so long as it contains the details above.

Jet Blue Airlines ESA

Like additional airlines, Jet Blue’s ESA travel requirements is paperwork which has the following, according to the airline’s site:

  • The customer has a mental health-associated disability.
  • Pet accompanying the owner is needed to the owner’s treatment or mental health
  • The type and number of pet(s)
  • Individual offering the evaluation of the owner is a physician or licensed mental health expert and the owner is under her or his care.
  • A physician or mental health expert’s license number or the kind of license, date of issue, as well as state or additional jurisdiction where it the license was issued

Also, the letter mustn’t be over a year old from travel date and it has to have the traveler’s confirmation number for reference.

Southwest Airlines ESA

This airline allows for travel of ESAs inside the cabin, except for Jamaican destinations. Also, the airline requires a travel letter from a licensed mental health provider with this information, as stated in the documentation guidelines established by Southwest Airlines:

  • The passenger has an emotional or mental disability that is recognized in the DSM IV – 4th Edition
  • Passenger requires the psychiatric service or emotional support animal as an accommodation for traveling by air and/or for activity at the customer’s destination
  • Individual offering the assessment is a licensed mental health physician, and the passenger is under her or his care
  • The type of date of the medical doctor or mental health professional’s license and state or additional jurisdiction where it was issued.

United Airlines ESA

Also, United Airlines requires paperwork that is similar to other airlines. But, the company has some regulations as to where the dog or another animal ought to be inside the cabin of the aircraft. Specifically, ‘the animal ought to sit at the owner’s feet without protruding inside the aisles in order to comply with safety rules. For smaller animals, owners might elect to utilize an approved in-cabin kennel. Exit row seating usually is prohibited, according to the site.

The airline requests that the travel paperwork and additional arrangements have to be advised at the minimum of 48-hours prior to the flight.

Virgin America ESA

This airline’s documentation policy for travelers with Emotional Support Animals is standard and like the rest, this ought to be issued no more than one year before traveling. It also must be written by a medical professional who is licensed, as posted on the website of Virgin America.

The paperwork has to ascertain that:

  • The customer has a mental health-associated disability
  • Having the pet accompany the customer is needed for the customer’s treatment, mental health, or to aid the customer (with her or his disability)
  • The person giving the evaluation of the customer is a licensed mental health expert
  • The customer is under the care of the person offering the paperwork.

Also, the airline requires a health certificate prior to the individual traveling with his animal to Hawaii. It ought to be valid for a minimum of one month from the travel date.

If you are flying soon and suffer from a mental or emotional disability, come to San Francisco for an ESA letter to avoid fees and bring your pet on board with you. We are open 7 days a week, from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm. You can get your Emotional Support Animal letter online, give us a call to schedule your ESA appointment!


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