All the Buzz About Emotional Support Animals

Christopher Sweet May 26, 2020

When I provide technical assistance to our various stakeholders that call into the Northeast ADA Center, a recurring topic is the use of service animals outlined in the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA). There can be much confusion in the general public as to what is allowed and what is not when it comes to service animals. One common misunderstanding is around emotional support animals (ESA). Many people believe that an ESA falls under the category of a service animal and therefor can be taken into a place of public accommodation such as a library or a grocery store. Ultimately, I have to inform people that an animal that provides emotional support only and that does not do a specific task, while an important benefit to its owner, is not recognized under the ADA as a service animal and therefore is not allowed in places where service animals can go. 

Other laws do recognize emotional support animals though, such as the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). Under these laws, an ESA is recognized and individuals that need one are afforded protections. At times I receive calls about suspicion of a person faking a service animal. This can be unfortunate for people that have legitimate need of a service animal as a business or agency may tend to doubt actual service animal users. The same could be said for a person in need of an ESA.

One misconception for service animals and ESA’s alike is that there is a registration process for both, and by registering an animal, it will “officially” make them a service animal or an ESA. One recent example of this in the media appeared in a December 9 article in the New York Post. In the story, a skeptical man went to and was able to register his bees-yes-bees as his emotional support animals. 

It is important to note that while FHA and ACAA will recognize other animals besides a dog as an ESA, there will be limitations as to what is deemed acceptable when on a plane or in a rental unit. Along with bees, I can think of things like crocodiles, or honey badgers, or peacocks as things that might not go over well in an airplane or in my apartment building.

More importantly is that websites claiming there is a registration process for your service animal or ESA is incorrect, misleading, and at times costly. You essentially are paying for something that is not recognized or needed under any laws. Therefore, while you will have to leave your bees where they belong you can certainly brew a hot cup of tea and take comfort with a spoonful of that lovely honey they produce.