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.
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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