Handling Emotional Support Animals at Recreation Facilities

Posted by Jason Cerkan at 03/06/2024


Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) and Service Animals serve distinct roles and have different legal definitions and responsibilities.  Here are the key differences between the two…


  • Provide Emotional Support & Comfort
  • Not trained to perform specific tasks but rather offer companionship & alleviate symptoms of mental health disorders.
  • Not required to undergo any specialized training.
  • Not granted the same level of legal protection as Service Animals. Protected under the Fair Housing Act.
  • Typically require a letter from a mental health professional.

Service Animals

  • Specifically trained to perform tasks for an individual with a disability. This training is tailored to the individual's needs and may take several months to years to complete.
  • Protected under the ADA in the USA.
  • Do not require specific certification or documentation.

Handling Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) at recreational facilities requires careful consideration to balance the needs of individuals with disabilities and the overall safety and well-being of all facility users. Here are some guidelines to help you manage emotional support animals in recreational settings.

Clearly communicate your facility's policies regarding emotional support animals. Make this information easily accessible on your website, at the facility entrance, or through other means.

Expect emotional support animals to be well-behaved and under control. If an ESA displays disruptive or aggressive behavior, you may ask the owner to remove the animal from the facility.

Ensure that the facility remains clean and safe for all patrons. If necessary, establish guidelines for pet hygiene and cleanliness to prevent any health hazards. Animals are not permitted in a pool or beach water due to Department of Health guidelines.

Train your staff on how to handle situations involving emotional support animals. They should be aware of the laws, the facility's policies, and how to address any concerns or conflicts that may arise.

Respect the privacy of individuals with emotional support animals. Avoid asking intrusive questions or demanding unnecessary details about their disability or the nature of their need for an ESA.

Periodically review and update your policies to ensure they align with current laws and best practices. This may involve consulting legal professionals or disability rights organizations.

By following guidelines, you can create a welcoming and inclusive environment for individuals with emotional support animals while maintaining a safe and enjoyable experience for all patrons at your recreational facilities.