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Animal Law: Federal and Illinois State Treatment of Emotional Support Pets

Pets are a large part of people’s lives, and many depend on them for emotional support. Thus, the issue of whether emotional support pets or service animals can accompany its owner to public places becomes an issue. This post will discuss some common questions that come up when evaluating whether a pet can accompany its owner in a public place.

What is a “service animal”?
Emotional support pets are different from “service animals” and are treated differently under the law. A “[s]ervice animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” Other species of animals, even if domestic and/or trained are not service animals.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”), a service animal is an animal trained to do specific tasks. Specific tasks do not include providing emotional support. However, if there is a disability and proof that the animal provides emotional support that alleviates one or more of the symptoms of the disability, then a reasonable accommodation is likely required. Additionally, psychiatric illnesses are covered.

What places have to accept service animals?
The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in places of public accommodation, such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, theaters, parks, concert halls and sports venues.

Can a public place deny entry to a service animal?
There are two exceptions that allow a public place to refuse to accept a service dog:
(1) when the animal is out of control and the handler cannot control it, thereby creating an unsafe environment, or
(2) the animal is not housebroken.

What is the difference between an emotional support pet and a psychiatric service animal?
The difference between an emotional support animal and a psychiatric service animal is the type of work or tasks that the animal performs.

What about air travel or housing?
Emotional support animals that do not qualify as service animals under the ADA, may in fact qualify as permitted reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities under the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act. These two arenas are little more lenient with emotional support animals.

Are churches a place of public accommodation, required to accept a service animal?
Religious organizations, such as churches, are not included as a place of public accommodation according to the ADA. See Title 111 36.102(e).

If not obligated to accept a service animal, why would a religious congregation do so?
Compliance with the ADA, while not required, is advised because being inclusive of people with disabilities encourages more members to join the church and raises the goodwill of the church as a business.

What about when a church rents space and is not acting as a private place of worship?
When a church rents meeting space, operates an independent school or day care center, the ADA applies if a lease exists and consideration has been paid.

What are the laws in Illinois at the State level, regarding individuals with disabilities?
(A) Illinois’s White Cane Law includes people with disabilities as those with visual disabilities, blind people, hearing impaired people, people subject to epilepsy or seizure disorders and people who have physical disabilities as those who are entitled to have use of their service dog in a public space. See 775 ILCS 30. This law does not mention anything about psychiatric or other mental conditions.
(B) Illinois’s Service Animal Access Act prohibits denying accommodation in a public place for a person with a physical, mental, or intellectual disability requiring use of a service animal.

Are service animals defined more broadly or more narrowly at the State level?
A service animal is defined more broadly in Illinois. Accordingly, a “dog or miniature horse trained or being trained as a hearing animal, a guide animal, an assistance animal, a seizure alert animal, a mobility animal, a psychiatric service animal, an autism service animal, or an animal trained for any other physical, mental, or intellectual disability.” See 720 ILCS 5/48-8.

Are there any limitations on service animals in Illinois?
Yes, similar to the Federal level, there are contingencies that the animal (1) not pose a danger to other patrons and (2) be housebroken.

What should I do if I feel I am being discriminated against?
If you feel that you were wrongly denied access to a public place with a service animal, you should promptly contact an attorney to discuss the specific facts and circumstances of your case.

Disclaimer:
"This blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship. It is recommended that you speak to an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction before relying on the information in this blog."

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