An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is a companion animal, a pet, that may provide comfort and emotional support to their owners. These animals which can include dogs, cats, parrots, and rabbits are not trained for specific commands to assist their owner/handler. An ESA's primary function is to provide emotional support through companionship. EAS's do not have the same public access as a Service Animal or an Assistance Animal or even a Therapy Animal. In Canada, ESA's public access is very limited.
“No Pet” Housing Policies and ESA’s
Our neighbours to the south have clear legislation surrounding ESA's for housing with their "Fair Housing Amendment Act". This 1988 United States (US) Federal amendment allows an individual, with proper documentation, to have an ESA in housing that has a “no pet” policy. While there can be confusion surrounding the inclusion of specific animals, the US does recognize the importance of companion animals living with their owners to support an individuals mental and emotional health. In Canada, legislation supporting ESA's is either non-existent or at best confusing if it does exist. Housing is mainly a provincial jurisdiction and therefore companion animals are primarily covered under Provincial legislation. Rules surrounding companion animals or "pets" in most Residential Tenancy Acts are governed by the specific lease. The lease is what governs in this situation, so if the lease states "no pets", then these conditions must be followed or the tenant is not abiding by the contract. Even if you have specific documentation from a medical professional that supports your pet as an ESA, a landlord in most provinces in Canada does not have to accept your medical note if they have a no pet policy. Service animals are completely different. Service animals are Not Pets and have specific legislation that permits their access in all public places.
Air Transportation and ESA’s
In January 2021the US Department of Transportation announced new regulations for animals that travel by air. These changes led to ESA's no longer being permitted in the cabin of US air carriers. Shortly after the US policy was enacted, Canada's major airlines adopted the same policies. In Canada, if you have a pet that provides you with emotional comfort and support, your pet now has to follow the air lines Pet Policy.
Most Canadian air carries have the same policies for pets. These rules may include a fee for your pet to travel as well as rules surrounding pets in the cabin and in the baggage compartment. For most airlines, pets are welcome in the cabin provided they are small enough to stand, turn around and lie down in its carrier under the seat in front of you. Pets are no longer permitted to be in your lap or on the seat next to you and they must stay in their carrier at all times. Pets not meeting the weight requirements to travel in the cabin must travel in their kennel in the baggage compartment.
If you are travelling by rail in Canada and require the emotional support of your pet, you are in luck. Canada's major rail line, VIA Rail, does allow ESA's to travel on board. In either Economy or Business class, a second seat will be booked at no additional cost to make sure both you and your guide, service or emotional support dog are comfortable. Specific medical documentation signed by a licensed medical doctor or mental health professional are required along with other travel documents.
ESA Certification Scams
A number of websites offer to certify your animal as an ESA for a fee. Remember, in Canada ESA’s Do Not have access to public establishments such as restaurants, educational facilities, or shopping malls. ESA's are not provided any special federal permission in a rental agreement and they are now no longer permitted on air lines in North America. So, in Canada even if your dog has a cute vest stating he is an “Emotional Support Animal”, no public establishment is required to allow him access. Most of these websites are scams and while they may provide you with a legitimate looking certificate and possibly a cute vest or badge, keep in mind that these certificates, vests and badges are not necessary in Canada. So save your money.
If you have a diagnosed mental or emotional disability and are looking for an animal that can assist you with your disability talk to your health care provider about a Service or Assistance Animal. Your pet may provide you with emotional support, however; given their limited public access in Canada, a Service Animal or Assistance Animal may be the better option.
Pictured to the right is K9 Chase, a PTSD service dog paired with an Army Veteran.
Lisa Wade MSW, RSW