Emotional Support Animals

Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals

To begin with, it is helpful to define these two categories of animals.

Service Animals – Service animals are dogs or miniature horses that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability and are allowed on campus as part of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008. The work or tasks performed by the service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability.

Types of Service Animals may include, but are not limited to:

  • Guide Dog
  • Mobility Aid Dog
  • Seizure Alert Dog
  • PTSD Dog
  • Hearing Alert Dog
  • Diabetes Alert Dog
  • Migraine Alert Dog
  • Narcolepsy Alert Dog
  • Seizure Response Dog
  • Psychiatric Service Dog

More information about service animals.

Emotional Support Animals - Emotional Support Animals, sometimes used as part of a treatment plan are not considered service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Individuals with a disability who can demonstrate a need for an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) in order to reside in University housing may apply for an ESA as a housing accommodation under the Fair Housing Act.  These animals are considered a different category than service animals.

Types of Emotional Support Animals may include, but are not limited to:

  • Animals to relieve loneliness
  • Animals to help with depression
  • Animals to help with anxiety
  • Animals to help with certain phobias

More information about ESAs.

In recent years, the topic of Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) has been discussed more frequently. Health services all over the country have received numerous requests from students to write letters stating that they have a mental health or medical condition that would benefit from the presence of an animal. Most often these requests are made by students who report some kind of emotional distress or difficulty adjusting to the environment and would like to be able to have an animal to comfort them in a residence hall or an apartment that typically would not accept pets. Students need to have documentation of a disability and the need for an ESA. There is some research evidence that petting dogs can decrease nervous system arousal, increase serotonin, epinephrine, and oxytocin (all feel-good neurochemicals).

However, as psychologists and social workers at PACS, we do not prescribe emotional support animals and we do not issue letters stating that a student needs one. Here are some reasons why we maintain this stance on ESAs:

  1. ESAs are not Service Animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because they are not trained to perform a specific task to address a disability. If a student does meet the criteria for a disability (which could only be determined after a thorough assessment) then a variety of accommodations may be considered, typically in collaboration with the Disability Services for Students office on campus. Staff at PACS are not qualified to do assessments for service animals.
  2. At this time, there is not sufficient established empirically supported protocols for psychologists to assess for the appropriateness and need for an emotional support animal. There are also no legal or ethical guidelines dictating how to appropriately evaluate such requests. It should be noted that as more research and literature is generated and with the potential for legal standards to change, this stance may be revisited in the future.
  3. There are many things that may produce similar positive effects in human beings (exercise, music, etc.). We may even recommend those things to you as a part of a healthy lifestyle, but we do not prescribe them.

Please let us know if you are experiencing distressing emotional symptoms or if you are having difficulty adjusting to this environment. We are available to assess and treat you using the knowledge, skills, and tools we have been trained to use. We truly understand the love and connection people can have with animals, how they benefit us, and many students’ desires to have one. However, at this time we are not able to provide documentation to establish the need for ESAs. Students can discuss the need for an ESA with their primary care physician.