Service Animals/Emotional Support Animals

Service Animals

 Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a Service Animal is defined as...

28 C.F.R. § 35.104 and 28 C.F.R. § 36.104

"...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, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual's disability..."

Animals other than dogs are not considered Service Animals (although in some instances, miniature horses may be used), nor are animals that provide emotional support, comfort or companionship. To qualify as a Service Animal, the dog must be trained to do work or perform tasks which are directly related to the individual's disability. Examples of work or tasks include but are not limited to:

  • Guiding individuals who are blind or low vision
  • Alerting people who are deaf or hard of hearing
  • Stabilizing/calming a person with anxiety or Posttraumatic Stress Disorder during a panic attack or flashback
  • Assisting an individual in a wheelchair

Service animals must be permitted to accompany a person with a disability anywhere on or off campus (e.g. classes, meetings, events, internships, field work, etc.). In compliance with the ADA, service animals are welcome in all buildings on campus. However, if admitting service animals would fundamentally alter the nature of a service or program or if there are environmental hazards or risks (e.g. sterile environments, labs with hazardous materials, etc.), service animals may be prohibited. For example, a service animal could be restricted from a specific area of a residence hall reserved specifically for students with allergies to dog dander. Although it is not required, it is strongly recommended that any student with a disability who utilizes a service animal on campus consider registering with Student Accessibility Services (see registration and accommodation procedures).

When it is not obvious what service or task an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed (two questions):

  • Is the animal required because of a disability?

  • What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?
A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove their service animal from the premises unless:
  • The service animal is not housebroken.

  • The service animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it.

The owners of disruptive or aggressive Service Animals may be asked to remove them from university facilities. If the improper behavior happens repeatedly, the owner may be told not to bring the Service Animal into any facility until they take significant steps to mitigate the behavior. Cleanliness of the Service Animal is mandatory. Daily grooming and occasional baths should keep service dog odor to a minimum. Flea control is essential and adequate preventative measures should be taken. If a flea problem develops, it should be dealt with immediately and in an effective manner.

When there is a legitimate reason to ask that a service animal be removed, other accommodations will be offered to provide the individual with the disability equal access to services and/or programs without the animal's presence.

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are animals that work, provide assistance or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability. While ESAs are often used as part of a medical treatment plan as therapy animals, they are not considered Service Animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, they are viewed as a “reasonable accommodation” under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) in those housing communities that have a “no pets” rule. In other words, just as a wheelchair provides a person with a physical limitation the equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, an ESA provides a person with a mental or physical health condition the same opportunity to live independently and would be seen as a reasonable accommodation for a person with such a disability. An ESA is not a pet. 

To qualify for an ESA in UTRGV housing, a student must meet the federal definition of having a disability. Individuals with disabilities who are requesting an ESA in UTRGV housing must provide appropriate documentation to the Student Accessibility Services that meets the following guidelines:

  1. Documentation must be from a qualified professional such as, a physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional.

  2. The student should have an established, ongoing relationship with the qualified professional.

  3. Documentation must articulate the need for the ESA based upon the student’s medical and/or mental health condition.

  4. Documentation must indicate how the ESA alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of an existing disability.
NOTE: Providing the aforementioned documentation for an ESA in UTRGV housing does not automatically qualify students for any other type of accommodations at UTRGV in the academic setting. Students must follow the registration procedures and documentation guidelines in order to qualify for academic accommodations or other types of services provided by Student Accessibility Services.

What is the difference between a Service Animal and an Emotional Support Animal?

Service animals are defined as dogs (or miniature horses) that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. The work or task a service dog does must be directly related to the person's disability. Service dogs (or miniature horses) may accompany persons with disabilities into places that the public normally goes.

An ESA generally provides assistance and/or emotional support to persons with disabilities who have a disability-related need for such support. While dogs are the most common type of ESA, other animals can also be ESAs. The animal does not need to be specifically trained to perform tasks for a person diagnosed with a mental health or medical disability. Unlike a service animal, an ESA is not granted access to all places of public accommodation. As noted above, under the FHA, an ESA is viewed as a "reasonable accommodation" in a housing unit.