Animals that Help People with Disabilities

Photo of a service dog

There are different types of animals that are used to support people with disabilities — service animals and emotional support animals. Both types may be used by people on campus, but their purposes are very different.

  • Service animals are working animals who are specifically trained to support the needs of a person with a disability.
  • Emotional support animals (ESAs), on the other hand, are not trained to perform a task but their presence can provide comfort and help alleviate the impact of mental health concerns.

Both types of animals are viewed very differently under the law and therefore are allowed different privileges on campus.

Service Animal

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities (ADA Amendments Act, 2008).

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 of a dog or miniature horse 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.

No documentation is needed and registration with the Office of Educational Accessibility is not required. All a handler needs to do is affirmatively answer the following two questions:

  1. Is the animal is required because of a disability, and
  2. What work or task the animal has been trained to perform?

A service animal is allowed to accompany its handler anywhere on campus that they must go, including laboratories and cafeterias. The service animal should be always under the handler's control.

Emotional Support Animal (ESA)

Any animal that is specifically designated by a qualified medical provider as affording an individual with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, provided there is a nexus between the individual's disability and the assistance the animal provides.

An emotional support animal is not a service animal and is thus not entitled to the same privileges as a service animal. At Old Dominion University's discretion, emotional support animals may be permitted in University housing, on a case-by-case basis.

It is important to understand an emotional support animal (ESA) is part of a therapeutic process and is meant to reduce the impact of long-term mental health issues/disabilities. A person requesting an ESA must be working closely and therapeutically with a therapist/counselor/doctor who is qualified to make the determination that an ESA is a necessary part of their treatment. If a therapeutic relationship exists with the therapist/counselor/doctor, then the service provider must write a detailed letter with the following information:

  1. An acknowledgement of the therapeutic relationship and length of time that they have been working together (This must be more than a couple of meetings. It needs to be ongoing and therapeutic in nature.)
  2. Statement of the specific diagnosed disability/disabilities
  3. Statement of the significant impacts of the diagnosed disability/disabilities. This must include the functional limitations of the disability/disabilities.
  4. Description of the therapeutic interventions that have been used in the past
  5. Explanation of the therapeutic rationale for having an animal in the residential hall.

The letter cannot come from an online source that solely provides ESA documentation for fees.

Documentation must be uploaded through the Office of Educational Accessibility's secure Register for Services link. The student and an office counselor will meet to review the documentation and determine if an ESA is a reasonable accommodation. If it is determined that it is reasonable, then the student will meet with Housing staff to review housing requirements related to ESAs.

Emotional support animals are not permitted in any other area other than the student's residence and immediate surrounding area.