Single, 50 years old and the human to two small canines, I cannot help but turn to my four-legged loved ones for just about everything on the emotional spectrum. “Zoey” and “Kiwi” are unconditionally present for me during times of happiness, sadness, or when I feel upset, anxious, or fearful. Anyone who has had the honor of sharing their life with a dog can relate to the experience of looking into your fur-baby’s eyes and feeling a sense of calm. In fact, research has revealed that petting a dog for a short period of time may actually lower blood pressure. So, does this type of “emotional support” qualify my dogs as Emotional Support Animals? The legal answer is “no”. This article contains the basic requirements for an animal to qualify as an emotional support animal, as well as a very brief discussion of the distinctions between a “service animal” and an “emotional support animal”. This is by no means intended to be an exhaustive analysis of Florida and Federal laws relating to animals and disabilities.
In Florida, a “Service Animal” is “an animal that is trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” The Florida law is not dissimilar to the Federal Law which is contained within the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), however the ADA has a more restrictive definition of a service animal defining them as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people living with disabilities”. The key distinction between a service animal and an emotional support animal is that the service animal must be trained to perform a specific task or tasks for an individual with a disability. Examples include: (i) guiding the visually impaired, (ii) reminding a person to take their medication, or (iii) detecting the onset of a seizure. Neither the Florida law nor the Federal law recognize emotional support animals as service animals and although these animals have therapeutic benefits, they are not individually trained to perform specific tasks for their handlers. An individual with a disability has the right to be accompanied by their service animal in all areas of a public accommodation that the public or customers are normally permitted to occupy. These include hotels and other lodging, public transportation, and restaurants, to name a few.
An “Emotional Support Animal” on the other hand is not specifically trained to perform any tasks and therefore, unlike the service animal, is not granted access to places of public accommodation. The benefits are purely limited to housing accommodations. An emotional support animal is viewed as a “reasonable accommodation” in a housing unit that has a “no pets” rule for its residents under both the Florida and Federal Fair Housing Acts. But for several exceptions, these reasonable accommodations must be made within apartments, condominiums, and single family homes so long as the person requesting the accommodation provides the appropriate supporting documentation from a health care professional indicating that the person has a physical or mental disability, how the disability substantially impairs a major life activity of the person, and how the animal ameliorates the effects of the disability.
In summary, a number of specific requirements must be met before a pet can qualify as a Service or Emotional Support Animal. While I can personally attest to Zoey and Kiwi’s leading role in regulating my own emotional health, they don’t quite check the legal boxes to officially be deemed Emotional Support Animals.
Scott A. Marcus is a shareholder in the Real Estate Practice Group of the Florida based law firm of Becker and Poliakoff, P.A. For further questions concerning animal accommodations in housing, email Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (954)364-6045.
 F.S. 413.08(1)(d)
 F.S. 413.08(3)