Psychiatric Service Dogs: Can You Have a Service Dog for Depression?

Middle aged woman enjoying her garden patio with her Great Dane service dog

The companionship and comfort dogs can provide to people suffering from depression is already well known. Service dogs, including psychiatric service dogs, have special training and are typically for people with severe issues. Emotional support animals (ESAs) can help to alleviate the symptoms or effects of depression or other psychological conditions. If you suffer from depression and have a dog, even if not trained to perform work or tasks for you like a service dog, your dog may qualify as an emotional support dog. You may be eligible for important protections under the law, including the right to keep your dog in pet-restricted housing.

Is My Dog a Service Dog or an Emotional Support Animal?

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service dogs as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” Importantly, examples of such tasks include “reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications,” or “calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack.”  To be considered a service dog, including pets seeking to be psychiatric service dogs under the ADA, the tasks the dog has been trained for must be specifically tied to the person’s disability. Dogs whose only function is to provide emotional support or comfort don’t qualify as service dogs.

Whether your dog qualifies as a service dog or an emotional support animal will determine the extent of your legal rights and protections. Service dogs are permitted to go anywhere their owners can go and are not considered pets. Emotional support animals do not afford you the same rights to public access. However, emotional support animals are covered under the Fair Housing Act, and you may be able to seek accommodation from your HOA or Condo Board to keep your support animal in pet-restricted housing. Whether you have a service dog or an emotional support animal to help with your depression, it is important to understand what is required under Florida law to obtain an accommodation from your housing association.

New Florida Law Makes it More Difficult to Get Accommodation For an ESA

To qualify for a service dog, you will need to show that you need the assistance of the dog for a disability and the work the dog has been trained to perform a disability related task. Under recent guidance by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, if the disability is readily apparent, housing providers should “not ask about the nature or extent of the person’s disability” or for documentation. Thus, while it may be difficult to obtain a properly trained service dog, the process for seeking an accommodation from your housing provider to keep one is fairly straight-forward.

Obtaining accommodation for an emotional support animal, however, can be more complicated. Reliable documentation of both your disability and your disability-related need for an ESA will be required to support your request and Florida law now makes it a crime, punishable by a fine and/or jail time, to misrepresent the need for an emotional support animal.

Get it Right the First Time

The key to obtaining an accommodation for your emotional support animal is getting it right the first time. You need to compile and submit proper and reliable documentation to support your request. Many online providers claim to provide all you need. However, be wary of online providers of ESA certification, as they are almost always a red flag for your housing association and will likely result in a delayed or denied request. Instead, proper legal documentation prepared by an experienced ESA attorney can save you time and the heartbreak of a denial.

How An Experienced Florida Condo Attorney Can Help

If you need assistance getting your psychiatric service dog or an emotional support animal approved in pet-restricted housing, we welcome you to contact us at (954) 966-3909.  We will help you with the accommodation request from start to finish to ensure that it is done correctly and that you receive written documentation of the approval.

We serve the legal needs of individual condominium owners, home owners and cooperative owners in resolving disputes with their associations throughout Florida, including Broward, Dade and Palm Beach Counties, as well as Miami, Naples, Brickell, Hollywood, Davie, Pembroke Pines, Hallandale, Sunny Isles, Aventura, North Miami, Boca Raton and West Palm Beach.  We never represent the associations or their boards so we always know who we are fighting for.

Please note that free case evaluation is by telephone and does not include legal advice.  Office consults with legal advice are available on a flat fee basis.

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