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What All Small Businesses Should Know About Emotional Support Animals

When you first opened your high street business, you probably weren’t thinking about how many animals you would let run wild.

From restaurants to clothing stores, business owners need to know the full rundown of how to react when a patron tries to bring in an animal.

Sometimes, they have legitimate reasons for bringing an animal into your establishment, but what protections do you have?

That’s what we aim to explain in this post. First, let’s cover the basics.

What Are Emotional Support Animals?

Emotional support animals, otherwise known as ESAs, provide comfort and relief to their owners. They are assigned to their owners via a licensed mental health professional to assist with treatment, and many go through the process of ESA registration.

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They are usually used to mitigate the symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and many other mental health conditions.  However, they are not the same as service animals, despite the two frequently being confused.

What Is the Difference Between an Emotional Support Animal and a Service Animal?

Ultimately, a service animal is trained for a specific purpose, whereas an emotional support animal performs a wide range of roles that are not as specialized. Examples of service animals include seeing dogs and hearing dogs that complete specific functions when their owner cannot.

Though necessary in the lives of their owners, emotional support animals are not trained to complete these crucial tasks but rather play a more generalized role in their owners’ lives. This means they don’t receive the same protections or are granted the same access as service animals.

This includes access to your business.

Are Emotional Support Animals Protected Under the Americans With Disabilities Act?

As a business owner, you should already be aware of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It protects the rights of those with disabilities to access public services without discrimination.

This extends to service animals, therefore allowing them to go almost anywhere. Businesses that provide public services must accommodate them.

This includes restaurants, cinemas, and clothing stores. The act, however, does not protect the rights of ESAs.

As a business owner, you reserve the right to accept or deny ESAs as you see fit. This applies to both customers and employees. It is ultimately up to you whether an ESA is allowed on the premises.

If you believe that the presence of an ESA would negatively impact your business, you can turn the customer away without negative legal recourse.

Just make sure that the patron you’re turning away is using an ESA and not a service animal.

Service animals do have the right to accompany their owners on the premises, and you can land yourself in some pretty hot water if you can’t tell the difference.

Stay Up to Date, Avoid Getting Sued!

Knowing where you stand regarding service animals and emotional support animals is imperative for maintaining a positive legal standing.

By keeping up to date with ongoing policy changes, you can ensure that you provide a positive experience for all of your customers, no matter which furry friends they want to bring with them.


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