Companion Dog or Service Dog: New Department of Justice Ruling

I talked with a lady on the bus who told me why she brought her emotional support dog with her. She said the dog helped her stay calm and the dog was her companion.  This companion dog was a little dog she carried in a cat carrier-sized container.  She sat down next to me and I, being curious, had questions.  What dog guide school trained your dog? When was he trained? How old is he?

My dog guide is a 2004 graduate of Guide Dogs for the Blind, Oregon campus. He will be nine years old in July. Telly is my second dog guide and he goes everywhere with me.

The first time we talked was about a month ago. I saw her again about two weeks ago, but this time she exited the bus without talking to me. Since then, I’ve wondered if this same lady continues to use public buses. That is, if she does so following the recent revision of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) rule on use of service dogs in public places.

The law has defined a service animal specifically as trained dogs. It states: “trained dogs are the only species of animals that may qualify as service animals under the ADA (there is a separate provision regarding miniature horses) and emotional support animals are expressly precluded from qualifying as service animals.”

The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently sent out a newly adopted revision to the meaning and use of service animals. According to the DOJ – “new ADA rules define “service animal” as any dog that is individually trained for an intellectual, or mental disability.”

Does this mean that people who live with mental illness and use emotional support or companion dogs can no longer travel on public buses or in cabs?

Will veterans who live with mental illness, who need to use buses or cabs and have an emotional support dog be able to travel freely by using public transportation?

Do bus drivers and cab drivers enforce this rule by refusing rides to people who carry with them an emotional support dog?

It was also cited by the DOJ in the recent ADA ruling on service dogs  under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) that – “the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) recent amendments to its Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations’ do not affect reasonable accommodation requests under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974 (Section 504).”

The DOJ’s new rules limit the definition of “service animal” in the ADA to Include dogs, and miniature horses under some circumstances. The new rules also define “service animal” to exclude emotional support animals.

What do you think?

Do you like the revisions to the law?

With regard to the recent revisions in the DOJ ruling of what is a service animal under ADA, is the new ruling fair? 

Do you want a revision to the ADA law on the new definition and use of a service dog, companion dog, and/or emotional support dog?

Feel free to send comments/questions to

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19 Responses to Companion Dog or Service Dog: New Department of Justice Ruling

  1. donna zeller says:

    what does this new law mean. i am disabled with mental illness. my maltese has been traveling with me including airlines and stays at hotels. there seems to be an apparent misunderstanding on my part regarding the a d a law. does the law for an emotional support animal(my maltese in this case) allow for me to stay in hotels that may not allow a pet or to travel on an airline with her? the previous regulations set forth by the dept. of justice says that a letter from my doctor(psychiatrist) is required stating the need to have her for travel. yet recently after speaking with an individual who trains psychiatric service dogs, that it is against the H I P A laws to have to present such a letter to an airline or hotel, which has to actually disclose my “disability”, since someone behind me in line may overhear the discussion taking place and then i am targeted as “a psycho”, with no one actually knowing in detail, the exact extent of my disability and the need for such an emotional support animal to travel with me as my companion. what is the law? and how do i go about to have the continuance to travel with my maltese? who do i contact to find out what the law is. i recently traveled with my companion, stayed at a hotel. making the reservations over the telephone, telling the reservationist about my having an emotional support animal. upon check in no questions were asked if i had a “pet”,as they called her, and i the registration form was signed as aked(without reading anything) upon my checking out the next day , i was approached by one of the employees titled as a “system expert” and was told that i had to pay $200.00 because i “broke” the law to their “pet” policy. under my signature it stated”anyone “CAUGHT” smoking or having a “Pet” in a non smoking room is obligated to pay $200.00, since “pets” are not allowed in their non smoking rooms. well upon arrival and registration, after having made the reservation by phone, i did not mention again about my maltese being with me, since this was already spoken about, my husband signed the registration form as asked,to sign here, here and here, did not read the statement, or maybe just ignored, about any fine, of having our maltese(since under the law i believe she is not considered as a “pet”) and all was confirmed prior to our arrival. i told this system expert that she was an emotional support animal, .he asked for documentation, which i did not have(since i was told a letter is not longer required. plus when i made the reservation i was not told to bring documentation) he made quite a scene and i ended up leaving with the knowledge that he would be charging my credit card $200.00 , since we signed the registration that specifically stated their policy about having to pay $200.00 if anyone was found guilty to have to sneak a pet into a non smoking room. i totally understand , however, we did not sneak her in. the person who made the reservation offered me a non smoking room, yet she did not take note in our telephone reservation about my maltese. this totally upset me. i really need to find out what is the law regarding emotional support animals, at hotels, airlines, public places where “dogs” are not allowed. there is some maybe misunderstanding, on my part about the law and since i travel alot, on airlines and stay at hotels, this type of confrontation only makes my “condition” worse.please help. thanks and God bless.

    • Claudette g says:

      The quote you put there clearly says emotional support animals ARE covered if they are SPECIALLY TRAINED to respond or handle something for the person. For example, there are dogs trained for PTSD sufferers that have been trained to approach their owner and luck them/calm them down when they sense their vitals are climbing because they are about to suffer a panic attack, and trained to help calm them down when an attack happens.
      What the DOJ was excluding was strictly companion dogs they mean normal dogs with no training to perform any service for the mental illness.

  2. Dot says:

    That doesn’t seem very fair.
    If someone without limbs has a trained spider monkey to help them,
    or someone with deafness has a trained cat to alert them,
    or even someone with blindness has a trained bird…
    A mental disability can be as devestating as a physical disability.
    It’s like a necessary part of their family… helper, friend, companion?

  3. annette boyle says:

    Now the doj clearly discriminates against people with mental illness. MI continues to be misunderstood do they expect the general public to stop stereotyping us if they don’t see our issues as important as someone who has a physical dysfunction. The law change put us back in the dark ages again. An illness is an illness is an illness . If the doctor feels you need the dog that’s all the
    Information anyone and the doj needs
    to know. Change the rule back and be fair to everyone. Don’t discriminate against people with mental illness. How dare the doj decide what illness is worthy or worse. They have no idea.

    • Claudette g says:

      They aren’t discriminating, they are just clarifying the “service” aspect. The dog has to be specially trained to provide a service for the individuals illness. This takes them legally from being a pet to being a service animal who is working.

  4. Roymond says:

    Oh, great — one more encouragement to businesses to harrass people with service animals. I get crap so often from store personnel who claim, “I know what a service dog is, and yours isn’t one”.

    And only dogs count now? That isn’t what the law says! I met a lady whose service animal is a cat. It rides on her shoulder, and somehow it can tell when her blood sugar is getting low, before she can — and it warns her by pawing at her ear. What’s she supposed top do now?

    I notice the DoJ ADA business info web page hasn’t been updated on this, BTW.

    • Sunshine says:

      The ADA law is now that ONLY Dogs and Min. Horses qualify as service animals.
      An emotional support animal is allowed in the “Fair Housing Act” and allowed to fly on commercial airlines. That’s it. A service dog must be trained a minimum of 3 tasks (on cue) to facilitate a persons disability.
      It’s a grey area of allowing people the rights to have a service animal and making sure that everyone in public is safe, including other properly trained service animals.
      I have seen SO many emotional support or service animals that ARE NOT properly trained…meaning..they are all over the place, the owner has no clue where their dog is, the dog is very obviously uncomfortable (shaking, panting, tail tucked, whale-eye) and the owner hasn’t any idea that their dog is NOT appropriate for the job they are asking it to do. It’s a matter of animal welfare at that point.
      I digress, emotional support animals are not service dogs for public work. Get your dog trained appropriately by an ADI certified organization. Be responsible. Be safe and go by the guidelines so everyone else is safe also. That’s why the guidelines are there.

      Ps. It is your responsibility to make sure everyone knows that you have a dog with you. That was your fault. You even said you didn’t read the papers you signed.

  5. Robert Youngberg says:

    I haven’t read the new ruling yet. I do know what the original ADA said. “Service animals are trained to do specific tasks for the benefit of people with physical or mental impairments”. What does that mean? I’ve often wondered what was meant by “Mental Impairments”. And how do you train a dog, horse, bird or elephant for mental impairments? I have a Service Dog. As per the ADA and as prescribed by my psychiatrist. My impairment. PTSD. From the Viet Nam war and from severe (and I do mean severe) physical and sexual abuse from my father. Notice I didn’t call him my dad??? In 1958 at the age of 6, I testified against him for using me for child porn and from passing me around with his buddies. It put him in prison for a lot of years. That was something for that era. Then I ended up in foster homes where even worse things happened. At 13 I ran away feeling suicidal because of the abuse. Got introduced to drugs and started a 22 year run of insanity that nearly killed me in an attempt to shut out the memories. Now, at 25 years clean and sober, a ton of counseling, my one and only very brief marriage, my fear of people, my battle with authority figures, and a desire to stay locked in my apartment, I’m hearing that my “Wheelchair” to the outside world is being taken away from me. I don’t want to diminish anyone’s personal problems. Ones problem is ones problem. Period. My greatest fear is that because of this that I could return to that life of hell. Already my criminal mind is working on doing what the pot heads are doing. Finding a horse doctor that will lie to enable me to keep my dog. In all honesty, I won’t do that. You can bet, though, that thousands upon thousands of other people will. In closing, it’s not those of us with service animals for mental illness that has created a problem for society. It’s the abusers who simply want to take their pets with them. Guaranteed. My Service Dog is a friend. But it surely isn’t my pet.

    • Rachelle Goodman says:

      Thank you so much. The story and struggles u shared are almost the same as mine. Not only dose it break my heart to hear that some one elce has gone through the thing i have but it also fills me with relief to know im not the only one. I just turned 18 and was adopted recently. A few weeks after i moved in they got me a dog thinking it would help me learn how to love again. he has saved my life more than once. he has made walking out of my house possible. and he has taught me more about love than any person in my life could. i start collage in two days and because of our state law my dog cant come with me.

      thank you again for your post. its nice to know im not alone.

  6. Jeanene says:

    The new ADA regulations Do include psychiatric service dogs in their revisions. But take note that I say Service dogs, not emotional support animals. What is the difference? Emotional support animals can and some are trained to help their handlers but mostly they are there for support. They do not have public access rights, however they are covered under both the housing act and the air carrier act which provides their handler some rights to having them in public housing and on air planes.

    A Service dog is a dog that is Trained to mitigate their handler’s disability. There is a wide variety of legitimate tasks that a service dog can proform and a Psychiatric service dog is no less valid than a mobility support, guide dog ect. and their Handlers are provided the same right as any other disabled person. But keep in mind it’s the Person, not the dog that has the rights.

  7. JC says:

    And another thing I find interesting, how come a person who can’t go shopping alone cause of anxiety not able to have a dog to help them be able to go and live a normal life like everyone else? Why does the ada define service dog as having to be task trained? Why can’t a person with mental illness just benefit from a dog, being trained and obedient, being a dog? I have spent many years having to rely on others to get groceries or just go anywhere and started using a service dog that was in training and was so excited about being able to independant. But I guess the ada and the doj don’t care about that. They would rather have me stuck in my apt and not go anywhere. How is a person supposed to function that way? They talk about wanting to help people with disabilities live like everyone else yet act like the only disabilities that matter are physical ones.

    • Sunshine says:

      Because every uneducated, unaware Tom Dick and Harry would have their dogs in public…reacting to???? Loud noises, kids in their faces, electric doors, traffic in parking lots, carts in stores, strange smells, dark theaters with people moving around in shadows, staying in a down stay for hours at a time, staying with in an 18 inch space of the person and not mindlessly walking around on the end of an 8 foot leash, barking at strange looking people, knowing how to properly enter and exit a new space, not snarfing on the ground for every crumb.
      It’s about safety of public and people who want to do the service dog thing the proper way. 90% Of the general public are very unaware of dog behavior.
      An unstable (in any way) dog is helping someone…how?

  8. jessica says:

    @ Donna Tella: No, an emotional support animal is not trained to do anything, they are there for emotional support hence the phrase. Your Maltese can fly on a plane as an emotional support animal but hotels or any other public venue do not have to allow you in with your dog, she isn’t a service dog. You do need a letter to fly with your dog, you need a letter of support from your doctor. The letter must state what your doctor is treating you for and that you need the use of your dog for your well being. The airlines requires that anyone traveling with a service dog who mitigates a mental illness must call 48 hours ahead and notify the airline that you will be traveling with a PSD. Talk about discrimination!

    I love the new revision of the ADA. It keeps fakers from taking their dogs in public. You know how many scared, yappy little dogs I have seen in stores? way too many! Legitimate service dog owners like myself got tired of seeing untrained, ill behaved dogs in stores! These dogs would bark, pee on things, even growl and try to attack the service dogs! They also sniffed and ate food off the floor,etc.

    To be considered a service dog the dog has to mitigate your disability, the dog has to do something for you that you CAN’T do for yourself. Cuddling doesn’t count!

    The reason monkies were excluded from the ADA is because they are not always reliable in public. The organizations that do train these monkies let all of their clients know that these monkies are NOT to be taken in public. it takes up to EIGHT years to train a monkey and even then training is not solid. So this is why they aren’t allowed into public.

    Psychiatric service dogs ARE included in the ADA and I use a PSD myself. There are many tasks a PSD can do for you and they are as legitimate as any other type of service dog. PSD have access rights anywhere, ESAs (or emotional support animals) do not. What makes a psychiatric service dog different from an emotional support animal is that the dog is trained to DO something. Just being there doesn’t make the dog a service dog. For instance: my dog is trained to mitigate my disability, I live with severe PTSD. He is trained to lead me to the exits in stores, when i have panick attacks. He’s trained to tell me when people are near/around my house, he can do pressure therapy and tactile stimulation as well.

    If anyone has any questions about service dogs or psychiatric service dogs, i suggest you go to and take a look!

    • Glenda Burnside, M.A. says:

      Dear Robert, I applaud your talking about what happened to you. Similar happened to me as a child, and though I thought I’d worked through it, a car wreck with brain injury set me back where I couldn’t read, write, or walk. The PTSD, Anxiety Attacks, and profound depression hit me like a ton of bricks.
      Airlines and stores harassment only makes things worse, and I do understand ‘staying in your apartment’…I have groceries delivered, and most of my visits ‘out’ are to psychiatrist, neurologist, and doctors who deal with my mobility problems. A recent trip on Delta left me suicidal because of the ill treatment of me and my Emotional Support Dog…
      And when I got home, flippant comments like “Oh, anybody can get one of those ‘letters’….and ” aren’t all dogs emotional support dogs?” And, don’t put that dog in the buggy because people here have allergies. All against federal law, but no lawyer will take a case like this. I shall never travel by plane, bus, or any public transport again. I wish I had an answer, but do validate your experience, as mine is similar. Best wishes, try not to stress over the injustice of it, love your support animal, because they work hard. Glenda

  9. Jamie says:

    I don’t understand what you guys are all up about? They changed the definition to include mental and emotional disabilities as well as physical. That’s a great thing. It used to be just physical and the more vague line “or any other condition that limits one or more major life activities. Also they limit the type of animal to include non exotics. You can’t have a service snake, sorry :p Being able to choose between dogs and mini horses for your service animal is more than adequate. A lot of animals aren’t suitable for this type of work. Either because of health risks, the train-ability of the animal, how predictable and stable they are, etc. Emotional support dogs are NOT service animals. They are like diet service animals if that makes any sense. ESA’s are basically a well behaved pet that do not get any public access rights except for housing and public transportation. I use a service dog I trained myself for PTSD and various other issues I have to deal with. They’re awesome. The less confusion we can get in the world of service animals, the better we will all be. Less confusion = Less hassling from the public :)

  10. margaret says:

    I just received a letter stating I can not be in the lobby where I live if my dog is with me. I have a companion service dog. She bothers no one. I need her to be with me at times.Why am I treated diffrent than anyone else with a disability? This was the DOJ. Now to the Attorney’ Generals office, I must go.

  11. Steve says:

    I am disabled with a mental illness, and my emotional support animal is the only reason that I am alive. With severe depression, my animal is the only reason I get up in the morning. Out of concern for my animal, I have not acted on killing myself. I get up in the morning to take my animal outside, care for him, feed him, sleep and cuddle with him all the time. He keeps me calm and gives me a purpose to keep living. Without an emotional support animal, I would be dead. My doctor has written an extensive letter for reasonable accommodation, and the clear need for my emotional support animal. What the Department of Justice – ADA has done here is unconscionable. My animal is specifically trained by me. When I am in a very depressed state (which I cannot help) he comes near me, licks my face, or generally gives me affection and support. It lifts my mood just enough for me to begin the self-recovery work that is needed to pull me through major depressive episodes. Without my emotional support animal, I would be lost in my ability to recover on my own. I would spiral downward without any possible hope of pulling myself upward to a functional emotional state. This new ruling is wrong, and it needs to change, and soon.

  12. LeTisha says:

    What about people who have low incomes but are in need of a service animal and can’t afford the training? I was diagnosed with Epilepsy 21 years ago and severe depression and Bipolar 9 years ago….4 years ago my therapist recommended I get a dog to help alleviate my depression…this dog will allow me to exercise and alleviate anxiety in public places… I got a Malte-Chon….she’s been with me 4 years and it’s been a different life…2 years ago I noticed that she would alert me when I was going to have a grand mal seizure…however I don’t take her in public because her behavior is not under complete control but I would like to be able to because it would be helpful to my disability…I want to get her trained but I can’t afford it.

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