Service Animals

Service Animal documentation

We frequently get asked to provide a letter for someone wanting to travel with an animal – or to have clearance to bring an animal into group housing, such as an apartment complex, dormitory or care facility. Here are some things to keep in mind.

Summary by:
Scarlett Shockley, LPC, LIMHP

Do you have an Emotional Support animal or a Service Animal?  It’s important to know the difference! I reviewed an online post from Kimberly Duff LPC, CRC, and I’ve distilled out the main points for you.

Service Animals

service animal is an animal that has received special training to help a person with a physical, sensory, cognitive or psychiatric disability.

These animals are protected by Title II and Title III of the ADA.

The work of the service animal must be directly related to the person’s disability and certification and documentation of this specialized training is required for purposes of the ADA.

A letter from a doctor or other professional does not make the animal a verified service animal. Examples of service animals include guide dogs, animals that assist persons with a hearing impairment, and animals that provide a signal of an impending seizure to persons with epilepsy.

Service animals are specially trained to help a person with a disability and are protected by the ADA.

Emotional Support / Comfort Animals

An emotional support animal, sometimes known as a comfort animal, may help provide support to an individual by helping mitigate symptoms of depression, relieving loneliness, and / or providing companionship. 

Because emotional support animals are not trained to provide a service to a person with a disability, these animals are not covered by Title II and Title III of the ADA.

Emotional support animals do not have specialized training and these animals are not protected by the ADA.

When it comes to living and traveling with service animals, it is clear that the ADA protects the owners’ rights. However, a comfort animal can be more challenging, if allowed at all. Comfort animals are not protected by the ADA and should not be allowed in public places unless the establishment permits pets or other animals.  If you have a comfort animal, and are wanting to travel or move into a residence that allows comfort animals, you may need documentation from a health care professional supporting the need for your animal.  Ask the travel venue or the residence administrator if they have a form for you to fill out. If they do not, then speak to your healthcare provider about a letter of verification that includes:

  • The professional’s license, state or jurisdiction of the license
  • The date(s) of the license
  • The individual’s clinical diagnosis
  • A statement that the individual is under the care of this professional
  • That the animal is necessary for the individual’s functioning & treatment plan


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