The use of emotional support animals has increased dramatically in recent years, and with good reason. Many studies have shown that animals have a beneficial effect for people suffering from mental health conditions, such as depression, PTSD and others. While most of these animals present no risk to the public, some people are pushing the boundaries with exotic species. What are the legal requirements for these animals? What happens if they injure someone?
An Important Distinction: Service Animals Vs. Emotional Support Animals
Service animals and emotional support animals are not the same thing. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), only dogs can be service animals. These dogs must be trained to perform a specific task for someone with a disability, such as reminding a diabetic to take their insulin or leading a blind person across the street. These dogs to have access to a wide variety of public and private spaces, and the law does not consider them to be pets.
Unlike service animals, emotional support animals require no special training. While a person must still have a certified letter from a mental health professional prescribing the use of an emotional support animal, there are few other legal requirements beyond maintaining good behavior. These animals do not have the same degree of access to restaurants, hotels and public transportation, but the law still allows them in certain places, like commercial airplanes.
Pushing The Boundaries
Dogs are still the most common choice for an emotional support animal. However, some people choose other animals as well. There are documented cases of people using birds, hedgehogs, miniature horses and other species. A Pennsylvania man even uses an emotional support alligator that he rescued in Florida.
When Injuries Occur
While you’re unlikely to encounter an emotional support alligator on a plane, the fact remains that emotional support animals can pose a risk to the public. Just because an animal has never attacked someone before doesn’t mean that it won’t do so in the future, especially if the owner hasn’t trained it well. Unfortunately, children are the most likely victims of these attacks, and the resulting injuries can be quite severe.
An attorney who focuses on dog bites and other animal injuries will be your most powerful ally in these circumstances. Most people who use emotional support animals are responsible, and most of these animals maintain good behavior. However, for those that don’t, you may need legal remedies after an incident.