Unlike other types of assistance animals such as service dogs, emotional support dogs cannot go anywhere with you. Rather, they are only permitted in certain places where dogs in general are otherwise prohibited, those being the following:
- In-cabin in airplanes where such dogs would be prohibited if they were merely pets
- Living with their owner in no-pet or dog-free housing
In all other circumstances, it is up to local and federal law and the discretion of the proprietor of a given establishment whether or not an emotional support dog is allowed access. The following article explores these rules and distinctions in greater depth.
Why Can’t an Emotional Support Dog Go Anywhere With You?
Emotional support dogs are a type of assistance dog. Assistance dogs are a category of dogs used, as the name suggests, to assist people in need, typically people with disabilities. Since different people with different disabilities have different needs, different types of assistance dogs exist, each providing a different type and degree of assistance.
Service dogs, for example, are a type of assistance dog trained to perform certain specific tasks for people with one or more physical disabilities. Emotional support dogs, by contrast, assist people with mental and/or emotional disabilities and are not trained to perform specific tasks, but rather provide their assistance by simple virtue of their presence.
Because the different types of assistance dogs provide different levels of assistance to people with different degrees of need, each type is given its own set of rights above and beyond those granted to all other types of dogs, assistance and pet alike.
Service animals are allowed to go virtually anywhere with their owner because a person with a service animal typically requires that service animal to get around and live a normal life. While a person’s mental or emotional disability arguably prevents him or her from doing a lot more than traveling by plane or living on his or her own, current laws only recognize the need to accommodate people with emotional support animals in relation to housing and air travel. Perhaps in the future, this may change.
Where an Emotional Support Dog Can Go
As mentioned above, an emotional support dog can generally reside with you in housing, even if that housing doesn’t allow dogs in particular or pets in general, and they can generally travel with you in-cabin in airplanes, even if the airline wouldn’t normally allow that dog to travel in-cabin on that route if it were merely a pet. You’ll note the use of the word “generally” in those statements, suggesting, accurately, that some exceptions to these general permissions exist. The following provides more specifics on these exceptions.
Rights and Restrictions for Bringing an Emotional Support Dog on a Plane
On many planes, you can bring a dog, even if it’s just a pet, for an extra cost, be it a pet fee, pet deposit or an extra ticket for the animal. On other planes, you cannot bring a dog at all, even if you pay an extra cost. As per the Air Carrier Access Act, however, if that dog is an emotional support dog, you can bring it onto almost any plane for no extra cost whatsoever.
That’s the case for almost all domestic flights within the United States, with the following few exceptions:
- If the plane itself is too small to accommodate a dog, or a dog of your emotional support dog’s weight or size
- If that flight has already reached its safety quota of permitted animals
- If that flight lasts longer than eight hours uninterrupted
In such instances, an airline is required to make all reasonable efforts to find another flight to the same destination that could accommodate you and your emotional support dog. In the case of a flight lasting longer than eight hours, a possible accommodation would be an itinerary involving multiple shorter connecting flights.
Another exception to the requirement that an airline allow your emotional support dog to fly with you in-cabin is on international flights to destinations prohibiting dogs, even emotional support dogs, from landing there. One example of such a country would be a rabies-free country that prohibits animals from high-rabies or even rabies-controlled countries from entering. What countries are considered rabies-free, high-rabies and rabies-controlled is determined individually by each country.
In the case of a dog that is simply too large to be accommodated in-cabin on any flight, an airline should try to accommodate that dog in cargo, similar to a checked pet except without charging the related fee.
If you have more than one emotional support dog, an airline is still required to accommodate them all, though it is also still permitted to enforce its safety policies to protect the crew and passengers. All dogs must, for example, be able to fit in an airline-approved pet carrier under the passenger seat or sitting or lying on the floor at the passenger’s feet or in his or her lap without intruding on the aisle or other passengers’ seats.
In order to be sure your emotional support dog will be allowed to fly in-cabin with you on your flight, call the airline before you book your tickets, and inquire. If an airline tells you it will allow emotional support dogs on the flights on your planned itinerary, it is then your responsibility to notify the airline at least 48 hours prior to your initial departure that you will be traveling with an emotional support dog and to provide the airline with your valid emotional support animal letter and any other paperwork the airline may require.
Rights and Restrictions for Bringing an Emotional Support Dog Into Dog-free Housing
First of all, the rights granted to emotional support dogs to be allowed access to residential housing where dogs are normally prohibited are only applicable to emotional support dogs living with a resident of that property. In other words, they do not apply to an emotional support dog accompanying you on a visit to a friend or family member’s home in a housing unit that prohibits dogs.
Assuming you’re looking to take residence in no-pet or dog-free housing with an emotional support dog, there are certain other rights and restrictions to be aware of.
As per the Fair Housing Act, you are allowed to take residence in such housing with one or more emotional support dogs provided you have the proper letter from a doctor or licensed mental health practitioner authorizing you for one or more emotional support dogs, as applicable. Further, the landlord or owner or manager of that property cannot charge you higher rent or require an extra fee or deposit to rent to you with an emotional support dog. The landlord or property owner or manager cannot discriminate against a particular breed of dog or a particular size of dog, provided the housing unit is large enough to reasonably accommodate a dog of that size.
The landlord or property owner or manager is also prohibited from restricting your access with an emotional support dog to only certain units on the property, nor can he or she restrict your emotional support dog’s access to only certain areas of the property. For example, he or she cannot prevent your emotional support dog from accessing a shared yard accessible to all other tenants of the property, or an elevator, stairwell, mailroom or laundry facility. The exception to this rule, however, is in cases where allowing an emotional support dog such access would defy local, state or federal health or safety codes, such as in a swimming pool. Beyond these restrictions, however, your emotional support dog must, in fact, be granted access to the same spaces on the property that all other residents are allowed to access.
The landlord or property owner or manager is further required by law to make any and all reasonable accommodations to allow your emotional support dog or dogs access to reside in the property. What constitutes a reasonable vs. an unreasonable accommodation determines the restrictions on your emotional support dog’s rights. If accommodating your emotional support dog would cause an undue financial or administrative burden on the landlord or property owner or manager, he or she can claim an exception to the reasonable accommodation requirement on the basis that the accommodation required would, in fact, be unreasonable. If the landlord will lose other tenants because there is a dog on the property, that may constitute a valid claim for an exception to the requirement.
If a landlord claims an exception to the reasonable accommodation clause in the Fair Housing Act, you could dispute this claim by filing a complaint with your local Department of Housing and Urban Development.
You could likewise file a complaint with your local housing office if a landlord or property owner or manager refuses to rent to you with an emotional support dog and doesn’t even provide a reason. Even after you and your emotional support dog take residence in a property, you can still reach out to your local HUD office if your landlord or property owner or manager defies FHA rules in any other way, such as by raising your rent or charging you a pet fee or deposit for your emotional support dog or preventing your emotional support dog from accessing certain publicly-accessible spaces on the premises.
If a landlord is unable to accommodate you in a particular unit or property, he or she is required to make every reasonable effort to accommodate you in another unit or property.
Exceptions for Both Air Travel and Housing
In certain cases, an airline or landlord can refuse your emotional support dog access, even if you have all the proper paperwork and would ordinarily be allowed to bring an emotional support dog with you. If a landlord or airline personnel observe your emotional support dog being aggressive, out of control, barking excessively or appearing ill, unsanitary or abused, he or she can refuse your emotional support dog access. You could complain of discrimination to the Department of Transportation or Housing and Urban Development, as applicable, but there’s no guarantee the landlord or airline will be forced to accommodate you.
Where an Emotional Support Dog Cannot Go
The simplest way to express where an emotional support dog cannot go is anywhere other than in-cabin on an airplane and in residential housing. To be more specific, however, an emotional support dog is not automatically allowed to enter places like the following:
- Movie theaters and sports arenas
- Doctor’s offices and hospitals
- Hotels, motels and office buildings
- Buses, trains and other forms of public transportation
- Amusement parks, arcades, bowling alleys, roller and ice rinks
- Dog-free public parks and nature preserves
While this list provides examples of places not required to allow emotional support dogs access, it is far from exhaustive. Rather, it is safe to assume that any place other than airplanes and your own residential housing are not required by law to allow access to emotional support dogs. These places are, however, allowed to permit emotional support dogs access at their own discretion. Some places may choose allow all emotional support dogs access despite not being required to do so, while other places may choose to allow certain emotional support dogs access on an individual, case-by-case basis.
If you wish to access a particular facility or space other than airlines and your own residential housing with an emotional support dog, call the proprietor or manager of that establishment ahead of your visit to inquire whether your emotional support dog would be welcome. Be courteous, of course, and prepared to take “No” for an acceptable answer, as these individuals are not required to accommodate your emotional support animal.
If you feel that the limitations on where an emotional support dog can go with you are too restrictive for your needs, ask your doctor or licensed mental health practitioner if you qualify for a different type of assistance dog, like a service dog or a psychiatric service dog, that you may be able to take with you to more places, if not anywhere and everywhere you go.