Service,Emotional and Therapy Animals: What’s the ADA and HUD Laws have to say about it all?

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Please note: This post was originally written for the EP/Exceptional Parent, July 2018 Accessible Housing Edition article that I have written. It will be published by EP/Exceptional Parent Magazine, July 2018, I will share the entire article then!

Due to the abundance of information, I could not include the portion that follows in the article so am including it here. The following references children and youth with their parents, the information can apply to all individuals of all ages. Please come back late July to see a copy of the completed main article.

Assistance Animals at Home and Abroad

Assistance animals are loved and are popular topics in the media these days. You have rights under the ADA and HUD/ Fair Housing Act Guidelines as to where can you take them and where you can live with them. It seems every few weeks there is news about people escorting one’s best animal friends out and about, and the controversies that sometimes tag along with the leash.

In this post, We will explore the ADA and HUD and the Fair Housing Act Guidelines, or at least direct you to the pros who can tell you all about it. I am by no means an animal expert but when it comes to the built environment, animals are very often part of the design of the home and so this information is relevant for many home designers and their clients with pets and assistance animals.

Differences Between Emotional Support Animals, Therapy Animals, and Service Animals

There is a defined difference between service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy animals when they come to their protections under USA laws. As I understand it, service and emotional support animals can be considered assistance animals while therapy dogs are not, so far as a strict interpretation of the ADA. (I might get into trouble with that one, I’ll leave further research to you!). It is all a matter of semantics under the laws, in my opine there all assistance animals. A very general/generic explanation is as follows.

Service animals, and more specifically service dogs, are highly trained assistants with specific jobs they are trained to do in order to help their companions. Service animals are covered under the ADA, and so they may escort their handler anywhere into the public domain.

Emotional support animals (ESA’s) do not require specialized training to be considered as such and they provide emotional support to disabled individuals. Emotional support dogs, animals, and their owners are not granted the same rights as service animals in the public domain unless it is public housing in which case the FHA and ADA may overlap.

Therapy animals are often dogs, much like their service dog counterparts, but have different roles and legal designations. They provide psychological and physiological assistance to individuals. They may be other animals as well. Therapy dogs can provide comfort to people in nursing homes, the ill or soothe a child with anxiety while struggling to read, as an example.

Service Dogs:

Allow me to refer back to service dogs. Service dogs can accompany you and your youngster everywhere when they are trained to perform a specific task. The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service animals specifically as dogs and in some cases mini horses.

The ADA applies to a dog (or mini horse) companion that is trained to perform specific tasks. The rule defines “service animal” as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. The rule states that other animals, whether wild or domestic, do not qualify as service animals.

Dogs that are not trained to perform tasks that mitigate the effects of a disability, including dogs that are used purely for emotional support, are not service animals (they are called assistance animals). The final rule also clarifies that individuals with mental disabilities who use service animals that are trained to perform a specific task are protected by the ADA.

Unless the service animal meets a set of minimum standards and is certified, it cannot be considered a service animal. Once the minimum standards are met and documented, a service dog can enable someone with a disability to have greater independence into the public. They need the dog for access and safety.

Oh yes, under the ADA rules, any kind of dog can be trained as a service dog under the ADA, although most are German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers as they seem to aspire to the preferred temperament s. According to the webinar below, “Who Let the Dogs Out”, It is noted that of any given dog breed, only 1 in 1000 has the right temperament to be a service dog. This is a great Webinar, you should watch it.

Animals other than dogs are not covered under the ADA as service animals, but are covered under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and are referred to as assistance animals. It is important to understand the definitions between service animals and assistance animals when it comes to the ADA and the Fair Housing Act (FHA) Guidelines. I suggest you research the links I have provided for you below.

Emotional support animals (ESA’s)

Emotional support animals do not require specialized training and certification to be considered assistance animals. They provide emotional support to individuals with specific needs such as autism.

Emotional support dogs, animals, and their owners are not granted the same rights as service animals in the public domain unless it is public housing in which case the FHA and ADA can overlap. See, it can be confusing. As far as I can understand it (I am being honest) the level of “seriousness” for lack of a better word, when it pertains to laws goes in the order of:

  • Service Animals ( for people with mobility impairment, blind and deaf people),
  • Emotional Support Animals: for autistic, cognitive, or developmentally disabled and
  • Therapy animals, for anyone who benefits from simply petting a living creature.

The order of the above should not be confused with their importance and value by any means. I simply point them out so far as I understand the laws per the level of training and expertise each animal may have to attain. An assistance animal is specific to your needs, heart, and soul.  This is way beyond my expertise as an Architect!

Diverse types of emotional support- assistance animals

Emotional support animals can sometimes be exotic animals such as monkeys, cats, ferrets, pigs, ducks, caged birds and even Iguanas and snakes and even dolphins, and therefore they may not escort a disabled person everywhere into the public domain, which is what the ADA covers. However, these animals do enjoy consideration under the Fair Housing Act where people and animals live.

Please allow me to select the Capuchin monkey as an example. These cool little fellas have the benefit of having thumbs that provide maximum dexterity and grabbing abilities. Capuchin monkeys have the cute baby like faces, are very small and among the smartest of monkeys. Unlike dogs and cats, they have hair, not fur, and so allergies are typically not a concern with monkeys.

Although monkeys can be assistance animals, under the FHA, they cannot be “service animals” by definition, and so they are not covered under the ADA in public places. It is just as well that they are not allowed in public spaces: monkeys by their very nature need to be in predictable and safe environments.

Public places do not always guarantee safety and predictability for the monkey. It is important to understand that these monkeys are exotic animals, and they are much different than dogs and cats. Their habitat needs in your home are beyond the scope of this article.

The organization Helping Hands trains these monkeys and provides them for free to responsible and loving people. Do your homework and get on the list. There are several steps in the process and 3-6 months of approval and waiting time.

You can learn more about all kinds of assistance animals by clicking here.

Fair Housing Act and Reasonable Accommodation

The FHA protects individuals with “Assistance Animals”  (these could be service or emotional support animals) who need the animal as a reasonable accommodation in order to live in a rental property or to maintain employment. Such may be the case if your youngster has emotional needs or Autism and an emotional support animal (ESA) is beneficial.

FHA applies under the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in rental units of four or more when you have an assistance animal and want to live in a rental apartment unit or are living in a public shelter. In some cases, the laws overlap such as in the case of a public housing shelter.

In all cases, the animal must be under the handler’s control and you do need to conform to local health and pet license requirements. Service animals are no longer required to wear particular vests or identification. There are very specific questions you may ask a person with a service dog when it pertains to their health.

It can all be confusing which is why I am including several links. Check out the webinar listed below! As you listen (There are only 18 slides in the 90-minute webinar), browse to my Pinterest page on Specific Needs Kids and their Pets.

References for this blog post below:

Courtesy Webinar Presented by TransCen, Inc. and the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center

The following is an excellent webinar: Service Animals in Shelter Settings, The 90-minute webinar is explained as follows: “This session explored the differences in how the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act regulate service animals in shelter settings, including homeless, emergency and domestic abuse shelters. Our presenter, Jessica L. Hunt, Attorney Advisor for the Office of Disability Rights in the District of Columbia addressed scenarios in which these laws may apply. She provided guidance on issues related to service animals in shelter situations, including dogs with multiple handlers, how to accommodate service animals in shelters and housing individuals with animal allergies.”

Subject: ADA and FHA Service and assistance animal laws:

Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUDFunded Programs. Available at: available at ALS_NTCFHEO2013-01.PDF 

Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA. Available at: 

HUD Fair Housing Act, General  “Go-To Resource”

Joint Statement of the Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development on Reasonable Accommodations under the Fair Housing Act. Available at:

Certification Organizations

Therapy Dogs International

Therapy Dogs International (TDI®) is a volunteer organization dedicated to regulating, testing and registration of therapy dogs and their volunteer handlers for the purpose of visiting nursing homes, hospitals, other institutions and wherever else therapy dogs are needed
Pet Partners

Alliance of Therapy Dogs

Research/ Certificates in Human-Animal Bond

Animal Assisted Therapy Programs of Colorado

Institute for Human Animal Connection

Human Animal Bond Research Initiative Foundation

School Therapy Dogs (accessed 6-29-2018)
Education Professionals Working with Registered Therapy Dogs in a School Setting
There’s a lot of fun photos and links on my Pinterest page. Thanks for reading this blog

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Author: Charles

Mr. Schwab is a home designer and licensed Architect specializing in universal and accessible design that is also sustainable and healthy. He also designs light commercial buildings.

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