Dogs have long been called man's best friend, which is no surprise considering their massive impact on our daily lives. For centuries, dogs have served as essential companions for people from all walks of life. The importance of a companion dog is finding new meaning today as they provide comfort and emotional support to people with significant mental health problems.
For people suffering anxiety or emotional distress, companion dogs, also known as emotional support animals, serve as constant partners, helping their owners gain a sense of freedom and independence. In fact, many owners feel calm in situations that might otherwise paralyze them with depression or anxiety. Dogs have evolved to understand their owner's needs and feelings while even reacting to changes in their owner's mood.
Who Qualifies for a Companion Dog?
Unlike a service dog, a companion dog is not trained to perform specific tasks. A companion dog provides comfort to its owner by its mere presence and can help people with anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, phobias, and even substance use issues. An emotional support animal must be prescribed by a mental health professional -- such as a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist -- deeming the animal necessary for the person's well-being or mental health. Additionally, a companion dog can be of any age or breed.
Companion Dogs and No-Pet Policies
While service dogs are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and have access to all public spaces, companion dogs are not service animals and, therefore, are not protected under the ADA. However, the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) protects those with recognized disabilities so they cannot be discriminated against, including those who have emotional issues and require their companion dog at all times. The Fair Housing Act also protects companion dog owners. Even places with 'no pet' policies have to respect the person's needs.
However, this is not a blanket protection against being asked to leave, only that the owner or landlord of the establishment is required to make reasonable accommodations for companion dog owners. If a companion dog is not well-behaved or causes excessive noise or damage to the property, companion dog owners can still be legally asked to leave.
To keep a companion dog, even in places where animals are otherwise not permitted, the owner should keep a companion dog prescription letter to ease the process of gaining access to locations with their companion dog. Per the Department of Transportation (DOT) guidelines, emotional support animals cannot travel in an airplane cabin but must travel in cargo instead.
Because so many people do not understand companion dog laws, owners should have their companion dogs look as official and professional as possible. An official companion dog certificate will help owners gain access to places without being challenged. Additionally, emotional support animal vests and tags -- though not required – can help prevent potential issues and confrontations.