The Difference Between a Service Animal and an Emotional Support Animal

Knowing and understanding the various labels that come along with trained animal companions can be a lot if you don’t do your research beforehand. The slightest mistake could cost you thousands in a lawsuit if you aren’t diligent in understanding the laws and obeying them. When you are a property manager, a store owner, or really an owner of any business that caters to the public coming into your establishment, you need to educate yourself and your staff on these topics.

Your establishment, whether it be hotels, rentals, or a store, can be “NO PETS ALLOWED” but you must remember, these trained animals are not pets at all. They are classified as trained companion animals that serve a purpose to the individual that they accompany. Whether that purpose is for an individual that suffers from seizures frequently to a person who has PTSD and needs the emotional support of a companion. Some of these medical reasons may seem “invisible” to you, but these individuals must live with their symptoms every moment and just may not express this to the public.

Service Animals:

The first, best-known trained animal, is a service animal. According to, service animals are any animal that is trained to perform a service to an individual with a disability. These animals can be any breed and any size of dog. There are misconceptions about what a “service animal” should look like, but these are just misconceptions. Services animals also do not need to be certified or go through any set of training that grants them the title of being a service animal.

A service animal is to be permitted access to places that normal pets would not. This is because it is vital for the person to have their service animal in case of instances or an emergency, such as a seizure or a panic attack from PTSD. It’s important to remember that these animals are not just lollygagging along with their owners, they are literally there to provide a service to their owner when the time comes and know the signs to watch for to prevent an emergency.

As a business owner or worker of a facility that may encounter a person with a service animal, there are certain things you can and can’t ask of the person who has the service animal. You are not permitted to ask for proof of certification or a license that proves that the animal is a service animal. And you are certainly not allowed to ask the owner to make the animal perform said actions that it is trained to do. You are allowed to ask what services the animal provides for the owner and for what reason they are trained to do so. The only instance that you would be permitted to not allow a service animal in your establishment, is if the animal is behaving out of control or not housebroken.


Emotional Support Animals (ESA):

These animals serve a different purpose. They are much like service animals because they do serve their owners, but these animals provide therapeutic services to their owners who may have a mental health or psychiatric disability. They are not considered service animals, but they are also not considered normal pets. These, much like service animals, can be any shape or size of animal. These animals do not perform any set of tasks for the owner, but simply the presence is what brings the owner the security and emotional stability to be able to perform day-to-day tasks.

It is very important, regardless of what type of business you are running to educate yourself on the state laws about the rights of the individuals who have a service animal. This is not only to protect the individual’s rights to own a service animal, but also protects your business from making the wrong move, or wrong assumption and crossing a legal boundary. Checking out the ADA website is a great resource for a variety of information on these topics.