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Service Animal vs. Emotional Support Animal

At associations where pets are prohibited, or that have certain restrictions with regard to pets, many Boards are faced with requests from owners to have service animals or emotional support animals.  Often, Boards will ask: Do we have to allow this?  Is the animal allowed everywhere in our Association?  What kind of medical professional must certify that the animal is needed?

Unfortunately, issues involving these types of animals can be complicated.  First, there is a difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal/pet.  A service animal is not a pet.  It is an animal that is specifically trained to perform a task that is directly related to an owner’s disability.  Service animals are often used to assist a person with a visual or mobility impairment.  An emotional support animal, on the other hand, is an animal that works, provides assistance or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability.

Emotional support animals do NOT have to be trained in any specific manner, and in fact, are not permitted in places of public accommodation. 

When an owner makes a reasonable accommodation request for a service animal or emotional support animal, the Board must consider: 1) whether the person has a major disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities; and 2) whether the person making the request has a disability-related need for the animal, and does the animal work, provide assistance or perform services for the benefit of a person or alleviate symptoms by providing emotional support. 

If the answers to those inquiries are yes, then the Association should grant the request.

If the person has a disability that is not readily apparent (i.e., deaf, blind, mobility), then the person must explain and make the Board aware of the disability and how the animal will alleviate the handicap.  The Board must be able to have a meaningful review for a requested accommodation .

Any person who is granted a reasonable accommodation does NOT have a license to allow their animals to behave poorly.  Service animals or emotional support animals may be removed from the premises when the animals are: 1) aggressive, 2) noisy, causing a nuisance, 3) too numerous (i.e. no need for 20 emotional support cats), 4) the animals are in danger, 5) the owner is hoarding animals; or 6) the person refuses to clean the feces of animals, and this is an ongoing problem.

Normally, the Association cannot inquire into the nature/severity of a disability, unless, in response to a request for a reasonable accommodation received from an owner, the Association needs to: 1) verify that the person has a disability that meets the definition of the Act, 2) describes the need for the accommodation; and 3) shows the relationship between the disability and the accommodation.

Who can verify that the person meets the definition of disabled?

The person themselves may (if they are receiving governmental benefits for the disability); a medical professional; peer support group; a non-medical service agency; or a reliable third party may provide information.

The Association also needs to be aware that there are websites that essentially provide “medical” backup for emotional support animals, without ever having examined the patient and essentially provide information that is insufficient to support a reasonable accommodation request.  Any documentation provided must be reliable. 

The Association also may not deny a request for a reasonable accommodation based on height, weight and breed; nor may an Association charge an application fee for these animals.  Since these animals are not considered to be pets, they are not subject to the same restrictions as a normal pet for a non-disabled person.

What kinds of animals may be service animals?  Service animals must be dogs or miniature horses only.  Only dogs and miniature horses are permitted in public places in Ohio.

What kinds of animals may be emotional support animals?  Technically, any type of animal, but the requesting party must show the relationship between the disability and the accommodation for a specific emotional support animal.

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