An emotional support animal (ESA) is any animal that provides comfort to a person with a disability through companionship. Most ESAs are commonly kept domestic animals such as dogs and cats, however, they can also be any species as long as they support a disability-related need.
Federal and state laws safeguard the rights of individuals to have emotional support animals. However, ESAs are subject to varying regulations across different states. If you reside in Massachusetts, the state has its own set of laws governing this subject.
These laws guide how ESAs are defined, the rights and responsibilities of ESA owners, and the accommodations and protections afforded to individuals with ESAs in Massachusetts.
Emotional Support Animal Massachusetts: The Laws
ESAs are not protected to the same degree as service animals. Federal and state laws differ in how each is classified and included.
ESAs are entitled to certain housing benefits thanks to the Fair Housing Act of 1988. However, they are not always allowed into public areas and airplane cabins like service animals. Take note that these rules and regulations can vary from state to state, and may be different when you’re traveling to New York, Nebraska, or Arkansas.
Therefore, it is important to frequently check all federal and Massachusetts emotional support animal laws to understand your rights.
4 Emotional Support Animal Laws In Massachusetts
1. ESA Laws For Employment In Massachusetts
Regarding workplace accommodations, neither the ADA nor Massachusetts state laws specifically address emotional support animals. If an employee has a legitimate need for their ESA to be by their side to perform the job, the standard process for requesting reasonable accommodations should be followed.
Similar to requesting housing accommodations, providing an ESA letter from a medical provider may be necessary to support the request for reasonable accommodations at work. It’s important to note that the employer holds the final discretion to choose the most effective accommodation.
2. ESA Public Access Laws In Massachusetts
Massachusetts does not offer legal protection for the presence of emotional support animals in public spaces. As stated on the official Massachusetts state government website, “ESAs are not recognized as service animals under the ADA or the Massachusetts law…”
While trained service dogs and other service animals are permitted in almost all establishments, emotional support animals in Massachusetts are not afforded the same rights. The admittance of an ESA into a store or other public place is at the discretion of the owner.
3. ESA Laws For Housing In Massachusetts
Can a landlord deny an emotional support animal in Massachusetts?
ESAs are entitled to certain housing accommodations and are protected from housing discrimination. The same housing law applies in all the other states thanks to The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Landlords and housing providers are generally required by law to provide housing to individuals with one or multiple ESAs. The rule supersedes any pet restrictions or no-pet policies in place.
The housing provider reserves the right to ask for a copy of your ESA letter or documentation of support from a medical professional to verify the need for an emotional support animal. In the absence of a letter, your animal companion will be considered a regular pet, and you may not be eligible for accommodations.
4. ESA Laws For Travel In Massachusetts
The Air Carrier Access Act was revised in 2021, removing emotional support animals as covered service animals. This change no longer requires airlines to admit an ESA in the cabin during flights. In most airlines, a small emotional support dog may be stowed below the seat in front of you for a fee.
Psychiatric service dogs are still within the definition of a service animal. Therefore, your psychiatric service dog can still accompany you in the cabin.
Emotional Support Animal (ESA): What Can It Do?
Emotional support animals provide therapeutic companionship to people with mental health disabilities. Unlike service animals, an ESA’s primary role is to provide emotional comfort rather than perform tasks to assist people with a physical or mental impairment.
Research shows that emotional support animals can reduce feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. They can support their owners in times of active symptoms and during crises. ESAs serve as a companion, offering a safe space for individuals to express themselves without fear of criticism or burdening others.
Military veterans who experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can also find significant benefits in having an emotional support animal as a companion.
An ESA can help reduce feelings of worry and irritability while promoting a sense of calmness. It can help decrease anxiety, tension, and restlessness commonly associated with PTSD. Additionally, an ESA can help with grounding and redirecting attention, reducing hypervigilance.
Emotional Support Animal In Massachusetts: How To Get One?
An emotional support animal can be an existing pet that you already have. If you have a dog that provides you with emotional support and helps you manage the symptoms of your mental health condition, you can pursue the necessary documentation to promote your pet as your ESA.
This process typically involves the following steps:
1. Speak To A Therapist
If you struggle with a mental health condition resulting in disability, you may benefit from an emotional support animal. Discussing this with your therapist is the first step in qualifying for an ESA. If you are having trouble finding a therapist, Certapet can help match you with a certified mental health professional in your state.
2. Obtain Your Emotional Support Animal Letter Massachusetts
After meeting with your healthcare provider, they will determine if you qualify for an emotional support animal letter in Massachusetts. Once it’s decided that having an ESA can be of benefit to your treatment plan, they will then provide you with an ESA letter.
The ESA letter is the only documentation needed to secure the many benefits that come with having an emotional support animal.
3. Online Sites Providing ESA Letters
To access the benefits of having an ESA, many reputable websites offer the service of providing an ESA letter. The best websites for this service include Certapet, ESA Doctor, and Emotional Pet Support.
7 Facts You Should Know Before Getting Your ESA
- ESAs do not have all of the protections given to service animals.
- Federal law provides some legal protections for ESAs that apply nationwide.
- Each state has the ability to put protections or restrictions in place for ESAs, therefore check with your state to understand your rights.
- Only a licensed mental health provider can prescribe an ESA letter.
- The two most prevalent ESAs are dogs and cats.
- A service animal is individually trained to perform services for their owner, whereas an ESA is not.
- ESAs provide companionship which is beneficial for many psychiatric disorders.
Taking An ESA On A Flight To And From Massachusetts
Due to recent changes in the Air Carrier Access Act, ESAs no longer have the same access privileges as service animals. Therefore, you may be required to pay a fee to bring your dog or cat into the cabin.
If your dog qualifies as a psychiatric service animal, you will be allowed to carry it in a carrier under the seat in front of you.
Emotional support animals have been reported to be beneficial for people with disabling psychiatric conditions. However, they are not granted equal access to public areas, planes, and places of employment compared to service animals in Massachusetts.
If you believe that an ESA could be beneficial for you, get in touch with a licensed mental health professional for guidance.
Frequently Asked Questions
A service animal is specially trained to help persons with disabilities perform daily functions that they cannot normally do on their own. Only dogs and miniature horses are legally allowed to be service animals. On the other hand, an emotional support animal provides comfort and companionship and can be of any species as long as it is prescribed by a qualified medical professional.