Emotional support dogs were never intended to take the place of service animals. When the idea of emotional support dogs (and other pets) was first introduced, it was to provide people who suffered from anxiety and loneliness with a companion at home. The term was first coined to help people who needed a pet to improve their quality of life to work around housing restrictions.
Emotional support pets started out as a really good idea. The problem is that people have taken it too far. Rather than simply using them at home, they have started bringing them to stores, doctor’s appointments, and on airplanes. If anyone questions whether they can bring the dog into the facility, the person simply states that the animal is a service animal and allowed to go anywhere.
Things are changing in California.
The law went into effect at the start of January 2022. It’s designed to create a bigger distinction between service animals and emotional support animals. Not only will it impact pet owners who are trying to pass their emotional support pet off as a service animal, but it also takes a swipe at the business that fraudulently sells ESA-related certifications and merchandise.
One of the good things about the law is that it provides a specific definition of what an emotional support animal is. As of 2022, in California, an emotional support pet is: “a dog or animal that is not trained to do any specific action related to one’s disability. Instead, the owner derives therapeutic benefits simply through the animal’s companionship. An individual emanates calmness, safety, and an improved sense of well-being through the animal’s presence.”
For a pet to be legally considered an emotional support animal it must:
- Have a valid license
- Should have an ESA license which includes the license jurisdiction
- A client-provider relationship that has existed for a minimum of 30 days
- Have completed a full clinical evaluation that determines the need for an ESA
While the law does clarify what requirements an ESA must-have, it doesn’t provide any information about what happens if you’re caught with an ESA that hasn’t been properly licensed.
Businesses who sell ESA are now required to provide a written statement when they sell ESA-related merchandise that states the dog isn’t a qualified service dog, that it’s only an emotional support pet. They are also required to make sure that it’s clear that any owner who is passing an ESA dog of as a service animal is committing fraud.
It will be interesting if this new California ESA prompts other states to pass similar ESA laws.