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Massachusetts Laws on Emotional Support Animals

2022-05-06

Emotional support animals provide essential services to their owners. These well-trained animals can provide an important buffer that aids their owners in interacting with the world beyond areas where they feel comfortable. 

Despite the crucial duties of emotional support animals, they don't always have the same protections as service animals. Adding to the confusion is that no two states have the same legislation regarding ESAs. 

This guide takes an in-depth look at service animal and ESA laws in Massachusetts. Knowing the specific laws may help you determine whether an emotional support animal would be suited to your situation and the rights you have for reasonable accommodations.

Here's everything you need to know about public entities, reasonable accommodations, and qualifying for an ESA in Massachusetts.

Which Public Entities Must Allow Service Animals?

There is a distinct difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal. A service animal has received specialized training to provide aid to a person with a disability. Service animals include guide dogs who help visually impaired owners navigate the world while hearing dogs alert their owners to important sounds around them. However, they also can assist people with emotional and mental disabilities. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects the rights of service animals and the person with disabilities they serve. It gives them the right to expect reasonable accommodation in all facilities that serve the public. 

Emotional support animals are not considered service animals under either Massachusetts state law or the Americans With Disabilities Act. Emotional support animals do not undergo specialized training, so they do not meet the eligibility requirements of service animals.

In Massachusetts, the state laws concerning ESAs can be more restrictive than the ADA, so the distinction is essential to know. It can affect access to public facilities. The expectations for reasonable accommodation may vary for a service animal vs. an emotional support animal owner. 

Local laws in your city and county are also worth considering as they may also alter and regulate the rights of emotional support animals. Regarding service animals specifically, one critical fact is that while any animal can qualify as emotional support animals, only dogs and miniature horses can be service animals. 

Many of the regulations which protect emotional support animals come not from the Americans With Disabilities Act, which provides many of the regulations that codify the rights of service animals, but from the federal Fair Housing Act. 

REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION 

"Reasonable accommodations" is an important term regarding various sorts of assistance animals. This term means that the place must either make or be willing to make a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service that may be necessary for a person with a disability. However, this term also applies differently for different circumstances, such as the context in which a disabled person visits the location.

Housing 

Reasonable accommodations for housing in the context of the rights of service and emotional support animals are a tricky subject for many prospective handlers. A straightforward example of reasonable accommodations in housing is the fact that many locations that otherwise disallow pets make exceptions for assistance animals. 

However, it is worth noting that in many cases, landlords can deny requests for accommodations if the animal in question would be an undue financial burden, alter the nature of the service provided, or do significant damage to the property. 

Air Travel 

Before booking airline tickets, make sure you do your research. The ADA protects passengers with service animals, but it does not have the same protections for ESAs. 

As of 2021, emotional support animals are no longer a protected class for air travel. Some airlines have already banned them from their airlines. 

Before 2021 airlines asked that travelers traveling with such companions notify them in advance but could not ban them outright. Some airlines that have outright banned emotional support animals include American Airlines, Delta Airlines, JetBlue, and United Airlines. 

If you plan to fly with an ESA with a carrier that still permits them, contact your therapist to acquire a letter for your emotional support animal.

Access to Public Places 

Service animals enjoy a wide array of protections for access to public entities. The Americans With Disabilities Act has an expansive definition of public entities, including hotels, sales establishments, any place of public gatherings such as a stadium, places of recreation such as a park, and many other locations. While the broad definitions here are to benefit those who have service animals, there must still be considerations made by the people who need service animals. 

Service animals are still animals, so public entities can exclude them if they pose a direct threat to the health and safety of the establishment. In addition to that, public facilities can exclude service animals if they are behaving in an unruly manner, if they are not house-trained, or if their owner is not willing to control them effectively.

How to Get an Emotional Support Animal in Massachusetts

You may find that more than a service animal trained to perform a specific task, you need a companion to support you in times of distress, anxiety, depression, PTSD, and various other emotional and mental health issues. 

In Massachusetts, you can get an emotional support animal as long as you provide documentation from a licensed mental health provider stating your animal companion aids you with managing a mental health condition. The ESA letter should have the professional's licensing, signature, and contact information.

Frequently Asked Questions

The following is a list of questions we regularly receive regarding emotional support animals. These commonly asked questions are well worth considering before you decide to get an emotional support animal of your own. 

Can a landlord deny an emotional support animal in Massachusetts?

Landlords, generally, cannot deny an emotional support animal in the state of Massachusetts. They may be able to do so under specific circumstances, but not arbitrarily because emotional support animals are not considered pets in the state of Massachusetts. It also means that a landlord cannot ask you to pay a pet fee or other cost, and even no-pet facilities must allow your accommodations.

With that in mind, it is worth noting that landlords are entitled to ask for and see the documentation that proves the status of your animal as an emotional support animal. 

If you wish to ensure that your emotional support animal receives all its rights, be sure to house train whatever animal you have in mind. Landlords retain the right to deny accommodations to an untrained or aggressive animal. If the animal damages the property, the landlord also has the right to charge you for the destruction. 

Does Massachusetts allow emotional support animals?

The state of Massachusetts does allow someone to have emotional support animals. The rights of such companions are encoded in both federal and state law, thus ensuring that their status as valuable and legally protected allies to those with various mental health disabilities. 

Nevertheless, their rights are quite different and often relatively weaker than service animals. Even among emotional support animals, not all animals receive equal treatment. A critical example of this difference even within the category of emotional support animals is psychiatric service dogs, a subcategory of assistance animals that aid with specific mental health disabilities. 

These specific companions have more rights than emotional support animals, such as being allowed on flights, which is not available to other emotional support animals. To make your companion a psychiatric service dog, you need something more specific than 

How do I make my dog an emotional support dog in Massachusetts?

To make your dog an emotional support dog, in the state of Massachusetts, you need the aid of a licensed healthcare professional. Once contacted, these individuals will help you confirm whether or not you have a disability that would qualify you as needing an emotional support dog. If you do qualify, they can provide you with a letter that you can use to make your dog an emotional support dog. 

Conclusion

The world of emotional support animals can be a difficult and confusing one to navigate, mainly because service animals have different rights compared to emotional support animals. 

We know how hard it can be to navigate this bureaucracy alone and how vital the services of these companions can be to those who need them. We hope that by creating this guide, we can make it easier for you to get the support you need while protecting the rights of the animal that makes that possible. While they may not qualify as service dogs, they still deserve to have their rights protected—and so do you.

Take your ESA's protections one step further with registration. At ESA Registration of America, we can help you complete the ESA sign-up process from the qualifying letter to the certified registration.