A new study of mental health professionals may pave the way for clearer guidelines for certifying emotional support animals (ESAs).
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Missouri, explored the ways mental health professionals make determinations about the certification of ESAs. By understanding how and through what processes mental health professionals make their assessments, researchers hope to provide clearer recommendations in the future.
Unlike service animals, a term which has been recognized and defined under federal law, ESAs exist in a fuzzy legal space. Service animals must undergo rigorous training and certification processes to ensure their suitability for the tasks they perform as well as the environments in which they perform them. ESAs, however, require no particular training to obtain the “emotional support animal” title. Many of the protections granted to service animals and those who use them, including the right to enter many establishments, are not extended to ESAs under federal law. State and local laws vary from location to location, resulting in confusion among those with ESAs and those asked to accommodate them.
“ESAs are legally different from service animals, such as guide dogs. An ESA usually provides companionship, relieves loneliness and sometimes helps with anxiety or depression. Although emotional support animals can be pets, they’re not considered pets under the law and sometimes special accommodations must be afforded to individuals who have ESAs. Because of this requirement, owners seek out ways to get their pets certified without thinking about the ramifications of their actions.”
— Cassie Boness, Graduate Student, Clinical Psychology, Missouri University
The confusion among the general public about ESAs and service animals has led to numerous instances where ESAs with inadequate training have been placed in situations inappropriate for them and those around them. By providing greater clarity about ESAs and the guidelines for their use, the authors of the study hope to facilitate the development of better legislation in the future.