Animals in Shelters

Shelter providers often encounter people presenting to the shelter with animals. While some animals may be pets, others may be considered assistance animals. An assistance animal “works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability” according to a memo from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The Fair Housing Act (FHA), Connecticut Human Rights Act (CHRA), Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), and Americans’ with Disabilities Act (ADA) all require shelter providers to make reasonable accommodation for individuals with disabilities presenting with assistance animals. It is the shelter provider’s responsibility to know the applicable laws to their shelter. This resource page is intended to provide information on best practices on working with individuals with assistance animals, including reasonable accommodations, HUD guidance, definitions, and more.


Which Act applies to you?

“The FHA applies to most housing providers, both public and private, and prohibits discrimination on the basis of “handicap” or disability with limited exceptions. Section 504 covers housing providers that receive financial assistance from any federal department or agency, such as public housing authorities (PHAs) and owners of project-based Section 8 buildings. Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination by state and local governments in its programs, activities, or services. Title III of the ADA covers public and common use areas of housing developments when these public areas are, by their nature, open to the general public. Many public entities are covered by the ADA as well as the FHA and/or Section 504, including PHAs and some rental offices, homeless shelters, transitional housing, assisted living facilities, and housing at places of education.” (Excerpt from article by the National Law Project).

Again, it is the housing provider’s responsibility to know which laws apply to their agency and/or program(s).


Service Animals vs. Emotional Support Animals

An emotional support animal is a type of assistance animal recognized as a “reasonable accommodation” for a person with a disability under the Federal Fair Housing Act. The emotional support animal is not specifically trained to perform tasks for the owner but  instead, usually provides a therapeutic benefit. An emotional support animal is not a pet according to HUD, which is the agency that oversees the FHA and investigates claims of housing discrimination. Though HUD does not list all the possible disabilities for which an emotional support animal can be used, it does say the functions include “providing emotional support to persons with disabilities who have a disability-related need for such support.“A few examples of disorders that qualify for an emotional support animal are Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Depression, Anxiety Disorders, and Learning Disabilities.

Service animals are dogs that are “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability”. Examples of tasks include pulling a wheelchair, guiding someone who is visually impaired, or alerting a person who is having a seizure.


Guidance from HUD

“A housing provider may not deny a reasonable accommodation request because he or she is uncertain whether or not the person seeking the accommodation has a disability or a disability-related need for an assistance animal. Housing providers may ask individuals who have disabilities that are not readily apparent or known to the provider to submit reliable documentation of a disability and their disability-related need for an assistance animal. If the disability is readily apparent or known but the disability-related need for the assistance animal is not, the housing provider may ask the individual to provide documentation of the disability-related need for an assistance animal. For example, the housing provider may ask persons who arc seeking a reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal that provides emotional support to provide documentation from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional that the animal provides emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of an existing disability. Such documentation is sufficient if it establishes that an individual has a disability and that the animal in question will provide some type of disability-related assistance or emotional support.

However, a housing provider may not ask a tenant or applicant to provide documentation showing the disability or disability-related need for an assistance animal if the disability or disability-related need is readily apparent or already known to the provider. For example, persons who are blind or have low vision may not be asked to provide documentation of their disability or their disability-related need for a guide dog. A housing provider also may not ask an applicant or tenant to provide access to medical records or medical providers or provide detailed or extensive information or documentation of a person’s physical or mental impairments. Like all reasonable accommodation requests, the determination of whether a person has a disability-related need for an assistance animal involves an individualized assessment. A request for a reasonable accommodation may not be unreasonably denied, or conditioned on payment of a fee or deposit or other terms and conditions applied to applicants or residents with pets, and a response may not be unreasonably delayed. Persons with disabilities who believe a request for a reasonable accommodation has been improperly denied may file a complaint with HLTD. ”

(Excerpt from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, April 25, 2013)


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