For the purposes of this post:
ESA – Emotional Support Animal
PSD – Psychiatric Service Dog
Let’s talk about Psychiatric Service Animals first. Let’s recall that in order for a dog to be a service dog it must be trained to help a person with a disability and have specific tasks it is trained to perform to mitigate the person’s disability. So, with that being said – under both state and federal law, a dog that is trained to perform specific tasks to mitigate a person’s psychiatric disability, is a psychiatric service animal. There are many tasks that someone can perform. The most common task that I have seen or heard about is “blocking,” where the service dog will stand beside or behind their handler if others are approaching to prevent them from getting to close to their handler.. for example if the individual has PTSD or an anxiety disorder. Other tasks that I know psychiatric service dogs can do are to prevent the handlers from engaging in destructive or impulsive behaviors, reminding the person to take their medicine, checking on their handle periodically, removing their handler from dangerous situations or when they become disoriented, etc.
Emotional Services Animals (ESA) also benefit individuals with psychiatric disabilities. They comfort them when they are anxious, upset, or otherwise unwell and provide companionship that can assist in maintaining one’s overall mental health. However, most often they benefit them by their mere presence, not because they perform specific tasks. Comforting the person, being their companion, or just helping their general well-being aren’t the kind of tasks that the ADA considers when talking about what legally makes a service dog, a service dog. They dogs are not covered under the ADA. However, ESAs are not limited to just dogs, whereas PSDs are (aside from miniature horses in some situations). A lot of people try and take ESAs especially to take their dog on flights with them.. I’ve heard this is an increasing trend which is unfortunate and disheartening. ESAs ARE covered under the Fair Housing Act though as a reasonable accommodation.
This is just a little bit about the difference between Psychiatric Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals. What you should remember most is 1) Psychiatric Service Animals are covered under the ADA and are trained to perform specific tasks for their handler with a psychiatric disability. 2) Emotional Support Animals can be of great assistance but they aren’t covered under the ADA but are covered under the Fair Housing Act.