Service Animal

Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals

People often ask about getting a letter that would allow them to have a pet in an apartment that otherwise doesn’t allow pets, or that would allow them to bring their pet with them in the plane.

There are two kinds of designations for such pets: service animal and emotional support animal (or assistance animal). They are defined differently by law and have different requirements, and allow you to bring the animal with you in different situations.

Whether it is a service animal or a support animal, your pet must be under your control at all times and maintain socially appropriate behavior. Please see the San Francisco City Service and Support Animal Behavioral Guidelines.

Service Animal

The ADA defines a service animal as any dog that is individually trained to work specifically for a person with a physical, sensory, psychiatric, or other disability. As of 2011 only dogs can be considered service animals.

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

The ADA definition is now similar to the definition in the Air Carrier Access Act. In the final rule a service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. Under the final rule an emotional support animal is not considered to be a service animal. Airlines are allowed to develop forms and processes for verifying that the dog has been trained adequately and will not be disruptive on the plane.

Emotional Support Animal

In order to be covered by the additional protections given to California residents, the only requirement is a letter from a licensed medical professional that states that your emotional support animal is a part of your treatment for a qualifying mental condition. Exactly how much information to include in the letter is between you and your doctor. In order to be valid for all purposes, the medical professional writing the letter must be licensed to practice medicine in the state of California and they must write the letter on their practice’s letterhead.

Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, a landlord is required to allow an emotional support animal to live with their owner in a rented home. Landlords cannot evict or restrict a renter because they have an emotional support animal. Additionally, landlords cannot ask for a pet deposit for an emotional support animal as they are not classed as pets.

Where Can I Bring My Service Animal or Emotional Support Animal?

  • Service animals ONLY as defined under  federal law are allowed in any public and private establishment.
  • All service AND support animals are welcomed at any building, program, or agency of the City and County of San Francisco and its contractors.
  • When it comes to private businesses or establishments that sell or prepare food, the state law is unclear; you may be denied access if you have a support animal.

Do I Need Service Tags or a Vest for My Service Animal or Emotional Support Animal?

There is no legal requirement for you to carry a service tag for your animal. Some people find it easier to access buildings and services by having a California assistance tag from Animal Care and Control which is only available for service/support dogs.