Service Dogs are not Emotional Support Animals

December 2018

Confusion about service dogs and emotional support animals can lead to disputes in condo communities. Some individuals take advantage of this confusion and lack of understanding of the laws surrounding service dogs for their personal benefit.

Service animals receive special status that can make them exempt from certain condo rules.

For an animal to be considered a service animal, the owner must have a disability as defined in the Ontario Human Rights Code. When this is proven, pet restrictions in condo documents may be curbed by protections in the code which may require condo corporations to accommodate certain owner disabilities.

A second criteria is that the service animal must be needed to accommodate the owner’s disability-related needs.

Service animals require special training – two years or more – and certification. They are almost always dogs trained for a specific task pertaining to their owner’s disability. Tasks may include helping someone with limited vision get around, alerting an owner to a seizure or reminding them to take medicine. Full access is provided for service animals meaning they can enter any place open to the public. In condo buildings a service animal is exempt from pet restrictions.

Some people claim the need for a dog, or other animal, to serve as a companion or to help alleviate anxiety. This is an emotional support animal, or comfort animal, that provides comfort to a specific person thus not entitled to the same legal protections as service animals.

For $99, it is possible to obtain a letter via the internet supporting the need for an emotional support animal within 24 hours. One condo owner was able to obtain letters supporting the need for two emotional support animals; one to comfort the owner and a second to comfort the animal that was supposed to comfort the owner.

An emotional support animal can be any animal – dog, cat, duck, chicken or even a pig. No training of the animal is required. They are not granted automatic access to public areas and can be asked to leave any business establishment.

There is no easy way to distinguish between a service animal and emotional support animal. The Disabilities Act requires that a condo corporation accept written confirmation from a medical professional which may include a physician, chiropractor, nurse, occupational therapist, optometrist, physiotherapist or psychologist.

Individuals seeking to have their pets allowed in a condo building may claim emotional support animal status. This status is unlikely to exist in condo corporation governing documents. Such a claim is a disservice to those who require a service animal. It can create mistrust of those truly in need.

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