The difference between a Service Animal and an Emotional Support Animal
Emotional Support Animals vs. Service Animals: What’s the difference?
There are only two classes of service animals currently recognized and protected under federal law: 1) “Working” service animals and 2) Emotional Support Animals (ESAs).
- A “Working” Service Animal is an animal trained to perform one or more tasks specific to your disability, (a major life activity that you either can’t perform yourself or have great difficulty performing). Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSD) typically fall under the working service animal category by virtue of their task-specific training to ameliorate the effects of a handler’s psychiatric condition. NOTE: Businesses may ask you to describe the particular task your service animal is trained to perform for your disability.
- An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is an animal that, by its very presence, mitigates the emotional or psychological symptoms associated with a handler’s condition or disorder. The animal does NOT need to be trained to perform a disability-specific task. An ESA is treated differently than a working service dog, however, although they still fall under the service animal umbrella. A handler with an ESA will typically need to carry a letter from a mental health professional prescribing the need for an Emotional Support Animal. Airlines, for example, require a passenger who travels with an ESA to produce the letter of prescription before approving the animal for a flight.
If you have an emotional support animal, but need a letter of prescription from a licensed psychologist, click here to get one.
A final note: Some animals are innately able to predict the onset of a physical or psychiatric event or crisis, effectively enabling the handler to prevent or minimize the event. This is an ability that usually cannot be trained – some animals are simply born with the ability to sense the onset of the event. These types of animals, although not otherwise task-trained, are considered “working” service animals.