Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)

Region: Ontario Answer # 4017

What are emotional support animals (ESAs)?

An emotional support animal (ESA) – sometimes referred to as an assistance animal – is an animal that provides companionship, comfort, support, and security to individuals who suffer from mental or emotional, and sometimes physical illnesses or disabilities.

This can include:

  • PTSD
  • chronic pain
  • panic attacks
  • anxiety
  • depression, and
  • various health issues, such as high blood pressure

Types of emotional support animals

Because an ESA’s role is to primarily provide comfort and security, the types of ESAs are broad. Some common types of ESAs include:

  • dogs
  • pigs
  • cats
  • ferrets
  • monkeys
  • miniature horses
  • hamsters
  • fish 

Do ESAs require training or certification?

Unlike service animals, an ESA does not require any specific training. However, an “ESA letter” from a qualified mental health professional who practices in your province is required to be covered by ESA laws across Canada. Otherwise, the animal is simply considered a normal (companion) pet.

What is an ESA Letter?

While provinces vary on the regulation of ESAs, there is no law in Canada that requires an individual to register their ESA or obtain certification for an ESA.

Rather, an ESA letter may be required to demonstrate that an individual requires an ESA in order for it to have access to certain places like airplanes, public places, and employment and housing. The ESA letter must be provided by a licensed mental health professional who is in good standing with the law. This means that they must comply with the Canada Health Act. The contents of this letter will generally disclose information about the owner and why an ESA is needed.

The contents of an ESA letter may vary depending on the need for the letter. In the context of travel, the ESA letter should:

  • Be on your attending mental health professional’s letterhead
  • Include the type of license held by your mental health professional and the jurisdiction in which it was issued
  • Be less than a year old
  • State that you are currently under the care of the licensed health professional who prepared the document
  • State that you have a mental or emotional disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM V)
  • State that you require the assistance animal as an accommodation for air travel and/or for an activity at your intended destination
  • State the task that the animal performs for you when travelling
  • State whether you require your assistance animal to travel as a lap-held emotional support animal

What access rights do emotional support animals have?

ESAs do not have the same access rights as service animals given their lack of training. ESAs known as therapy animals are often allowed into places such as medical facilities, nursing homes, and schools.  Different legislation defines where other kinds of ESAs are allowed.

Provincial law

There are very few legislative approaches to addressing ESAs in each province. However, most, if not all, of the provinces address the issue of ESAs and housing and employment rights in provincial human rights laws.

Ontario Human Rights Code

The definition of “disability” under the Ontario Human Rights Code includes any person with a physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal. The Code recognizes all types of dogs, as well as other animals serving as service animals which includes emotional support animals. The Ontario Human Rights Commission has stated that “service animals for people with psychiatric disabilities or addictions do not have to be trained or certified by a recognized disability-related organization.”

Duty to accommodate

According to the Code, organizations have a legal obligation to not refuse entry or access to a building, premise, good, or service on the basis that the person uses a service animal. Failing to accommodate an individual with a guide dog or service animal is potentially a failure to accommodate a disability and ultimately a ground for a discrimination complaint.

Exceptions – undue hardship

Some exceptions apply. The organization is required to accommodate these circumstances unless they amount to undue hardship. Undue hardship arises where it may not be practicable for the organization to accommodate the needs of the individual, due to cost considerations and health and safety requirements.

The penalty for infringing on an individual’s right that is covered under the Code can result in a fine of not more than $25,000.

Residential Tenancies Act (RTA)

When it comes to housing and accommodation, Ontario’s Residential Tenancies Act provides some protection for ESAs. In Ontario, landlords cannot prevent tenants from owning pets. Under section 14 of the Act, leases cannot include a “no pets” provision, and if they do, that section of the lease is void. This means that “no-pet” rules would not apply, and an ESA is permitted.

Condominiums have their own rules regarding pets.  Refer to the Condominium Authority of Ontario for more information.

Federal law – air transportation

In Canada, disabled individuals travelling with service dogs or emotional support animals are protected against discrimination during air travel under the Federal Accessible Transportation for Persons with Disabilities Regulations (ATPDR).

While the Air Transportation Regulations specifically addresses the training and harnessing requirements of service animals when travelling, carriers are not prevented from accepting assistance animals that do not meet these requirements. Many carriers do accept such animals, provided that:

  • The animal is not merely a pet but performs functions that assists a person with a disability.
  • The animal may wear a harness, vest, or cape. If not, the animal must be on a leash, or if small enough, carried in a pouch.
  • The animal does not require training.

In general, carriers are not allowed to charge any extra fees for passengers with disabilities who travel with their assistance animal.

What steps to take when planning on travelling with an ESA

Be sure you are familiar with the ESA policy of the airline you want to travel with. Contact them for more information, including any conditions that may apply, such as what type of animal is allowed.

Provide the carrier with as much information as possible if you are considering travelling with an ESA. Steps to consider include:

  • Giving the carrier notice so that it may prepare accommodations.
  • Providing the carrier with information pertaining to:
    • The weight, length, and height of the assistance animal;
    • Whether there is a connecting flight for the other carrier to prepare accommodations;
    • Provide an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional.
  • Asking questions about the carriers’ policies for assistance animals (i.e., travel documentation, harnessing requirements, etc.)

Some carriers may have restrictions and limitations in place. An animal will be denied transport if it:

  • Exceeds a safe size and weight
  • Poses any type of health and safety threat (i.e., snakes, spiders, rodents)
  • Has not been trained to behave properly in a public setting
  • May cause a significant disruption to cabin service

More info

For more information, contact your local government or visit our Links to view provincial legislation.


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