Are emotional support animals service animals?

Are emotional support animals service animals in the USA? The answer depends in which context you are making the comparison. For some cat owners, domestic cats provide emotional support to ward off depression or loneliness. For the owner, their emotional support cats are as good as or the same as service animals. However, in respect of that vital piece of legislation in the USA, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), emotional support animals or comfort animals are not considered service animals.

Are emotional support animal service animals?

Photo (words added): Pinterest.

In fact under Title II and III of the ADA a service animal is any dog trained to perform tasks for the benefit of an disabled person. Such tasks might be retrieving an item1.

This is important because the ADA bestows many rights upon Americans with disabilities and it overrides laws if there is a clash in legislation. There is an interesting story on this online in the Albert Lea Tribune.

The story concerns a woman, Kim Jameson, living in Hartland (which I believe is in southeast Wisconsin, USA). The question before judge Ross Leuning at the Freeborn County District Court was whether she had to limit her cats to 2 in order to comply with city laws or whether she could retain her 10 cats because she argued that they were emotional support animals.

Jameson represented herself in court and argued that the cats are important to her for emotional support. They helped to relieve anxiety and depression.

Does the ADA override Hartland city law restrictions on 2 cats?

Importantly, Leuning asked Jameson to provide a written argument that the ADA provided an exception to the city law limit of 2 cats if the cats were emotional support animals.

Well, I think I can provide the answer. It does not. She could produce this article in court if she wishes. Under the ADA emotional support animals are not service animals as explained. Arguably this is a shame and incorrect. It is just a question of drafting by the lawyers who wrote the ADA. They decided to leave out cats. I’d argue that that is a mistake because warding of depression is at least as valuable to the owner as fetching the newspaper in the morning.

Note: 1 – ADA National Network.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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4 Responses

  1. M E King says:

    The ADA on service animals was written at a time when most SD were seeing eye and a few other specific functions it has since been exploited to include everything including fraud due to the limitations placed on landlords and merchants on accessibility. The easy fix is to require a registration like the one for handicapped parking that discloses no personal information except the right to use the parking or a SA.
    My dear friend has an ESA cat and her lease clearly states only one. If she adds another she could be evicted.

    • Michael Broad says:

      Yes, for me it would have been sensible for the Act to have assisted your friend. I think it is an oversight.

      • M E King says:

        They did Micheal. Her doctor gave her the Rx for an ESA and the landlord complied and then limited it to the one cat she had. The housing she has a no pets policy. The system worked.
        When someone owns a house and wants to circumvent the animals per household rule they can usually buy a kennel licence. If you are renting landlords/owners have a right to protect their investment. While they may be required to allows service and ESA they don’t have to allow property to be destroyed. I believe in protecting everyone’s rights.

        • Michael Broad says:

          Agreed – it is a balancing act. But landlords can take a bigger than usual deposit to protect their property.

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