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I have read the term "emotional support animal" several times now. I have some imagination about them, but no real information. Because of that my question is:

What are emotional support animals? Most importantly: where are the differences to "normal" pets' duties and rights?

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The difference between an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) and a "normal" pet is not so much about the animal as the person. Essentially an ESA is a pet where their owner gets a benefit towards a specific emotional or psychological condition as a result of having them as a pet.

The animal has no specific training unlike a service animal which will be trained to do a specific task for their owner.

When it comes to "rights" regarding ESAs - well that will vary by jurisdiction. In the US for example it can mean that the owner can get exemptions from housing and travel restrictions on the pet where the animal is classed as an ESA - in order for a pet to be classed as an ESA the person needs to suffer with a diagnosed emotional or mental condition that a health practitioner will certify the animal provides a significant benefit for.

In the UK ESAs don't enjoy similar legal protection/status - there are some private registries that some businesses will agree to honor but this is purely voluntary, nothing gives ESAs (or their owners) any additional rights over a normal owner and pet.

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    Note that in the US, there is NO "registry" for ESAs, and any company promising to "register your ESA" is scamming you.
    – Allison C
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 16:24
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    @AllisonC Indeed.. to be honest I'm dubious about the ones in the UK too but didn't want to colour the post with what was just my own hunch. Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 16:27
  • in other words it's just a scam to allow people to take their normal pets and force companies to allow them in when normally only service dogs are allowed.
    – jwenting
    Commented Dec 5, 2019 at 7:44
  • @jwenting From the small amount of looking into it I've done the evidence for real benefits to those who have applicable conditions is - inconclusive. I'm not saying there is no benefit and I'm sure there are people who abuse the system and people who genuinely feel they get the benefit attributed to the ESA. Beyond that it's not something I can really say one way or the other. Commented Dec 5, 2019 at 9:02
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    @jwenting I think we are very much on the same page - personally I think the main area where ESA officialdom is useful is in allowing those who would benefit from having the pet be allowed to have them at home (i.e. exempting them from housing "no-pets" rules), I tend to think the travel and supermarket aspects go a little far IMO Commented Dec 5, 2019 at 9:45

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