Emotional Support Animals Protected Under American Disabilities Act

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COLUMBIA - It may not be easy to see, but some pets living with Columbia residents are registered as emotional support animals. Similar to service animals, emotional support animals are protected under the American Disabilities Act, but the guidelines are much different.

The difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal is the amount of training required. A service animal, commonly used by individuals with limited mobility, requires at least six months of training. Emotional support animals apply to individuals with a variety of disabilities, including depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. Emotional support animals only require basic training, equivalent to the training owners put new pets through.

The low requirement of training by the American with Disabilities Act, under the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, for emotional support animals means that the owner can get the their pet anywhere, including the Humane Society.

Central Missouri Humane Society Shelter co-relations coordinator Colin LaVaute said he only knows of two service animals coming from the shelter, used for owners with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but he understands why people would turn to animals for emotional support.

"Having a furry animal of any kind can be therapeutic," Lavaute said. "Especially if you're dealing with high stress levels or depression, things like that, I could imagine having that furry companion by your side would especially be therapeutic."

Emotional support animals are protected under the ADA when it comes to the Fair Housing Act It states that the owner and pet cannot be turned away in "no pet" housing and all fees are waived that tie to the ownership of a pet. Apartment complexes in Columbia with a "no pet" policy must allow residents with registered emotional support animals.

ADA Specialist Troy Balthazor said the ADA and the Fair Housing Amendments Act are different in the way of what animals are considered for emotional support. According to Balthazor, the ADA only recognizes dogs as emotional support animals and the Fair Housing Act is more lenient in the type of animal used for emotional support.

Bathazor admits that the ADA does not provide follow ups on owners and emotional support animals after the animal is registered.

If you are interested in finding out more information about emotional support animals, visit the National Service Animal Registry website.