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What is the difference between a service animal and an ESA?

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There are three general categories of animals who may be considered under these regulations:

Emotional support animals: These animals are not always explicitly trained, but serve as a comfort to individuals with a documented mental health condition. There is no restriction for the breed of Emotional Support Animals because all domesticated animals can serve as ESAs.

An ESA is not like a Service Animal. SAs have access into the public space. An ESA only penetrates no-pets-allowed housing and on airline flights. A Service Animal performs a task, is often highly trained and penetrates the public space.

Therapy animals: These animals are usually evaluated and registered by an agency and provide emotional support to individuals who need them. They are often used in hospitals, nursing homes and in school reading programs such as Reading Educational Assistance Dogs.

Service animals: These animals have been specially trained to perform tasks their owner can’t do on his or her own. Guide dogs for the blind are perhaps the most well known in this category. Service animals are not required by law to wear vests or have any form of identification.

Eighteen states, including Virginia, Colorado and California, have laws that criminalize fraudulent representation of a service animal. These violations are usually misdemeanors, but repeated violations can result in jail time. West Virginia is not one of the 18 states, however, businesses could pursue a trespassing charge if a second incident occurs. Play it safe with an ESA!

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