Emotional support animals are a great help to their owners; their job is to provide comfort to their owners and make living with a mental health condition easier. These pets are prescribed by a licensed mental health professional and, usually, have been added to an ESA registration list. Thanks to federal laws, people are not allowed to deny you housing or prevent you from flying with an ESA. But can you bring your pet with you to other public places, such as restaurants? Keep reading to learn more.
The simple answer is that it depends. Unlike service dogs who are allowed to go anywhere with their owner, ESAs are only allowed to go into stores and restaurants that have pet-friendly policies. Service dogs have been trained to perform a specific task to help those with physical and mental disabilities. They are also protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), whereas emotional support animals are not.
But this doesn't mean that you can't bring your ESA with you when you go out to eat. Stores and restaurants set their own policies on whether or not to allow animals into their establishments. Do some research to find a pet-friendly restaurant before you go out. Call ahead and ask about their policy on emotional service animals. Additionally, some states have their own laws and regulations about bringing ESAs to public locations. Check your local laws to see if you are prohibited from bringing a support animal to a restaurant.
If you are allowed to bring your ESA into a restaurant, it's crucial that you are both considerate of the restaurant owners and other guests. It is thoughtful to call in advance to ask about their policies, but also to let them know when you plan to go out to eat. This will let them make any necessary arrangements before you arrive, so both you and the other guests will be comfortable.
Additionally, you should train your pet to behave in public when they are around other people and exciting stimuli-like plates of food. Since ESAs aren't required to undergo any special training, it's up to you to teach your pet to be well-behaved. A trained pet has a better chance of being allowed in a restaurant over a badly behaved one. It also helps to visibly identify your dog as an ESA by putting a vest or collar on it and have the proper registration and documentation with you to validate your claim.
Though they may not ask for proof outright, it is often helpful to carry your ESA's documentation with you while in public. With this information, you can further validate your claim that your emotional support animal should be allowed to accompany you into the restaurant. Be sure to have an official letter from your licensed therapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist, as well as any registration documents. This will make it easier to gain access to restaurants, stores, hotels, and other public places when you're with your ESA.
To learn more about emotional support dog certification and how to bring your ESA with you in public, visit the National Service Animal Registry.