WASHINGTON, DC, April 15, 2020 — Opening Doors — an American company building pet-inclusive communities & solving house-related pet problems — is on a mission to remove the name “Emotional Support Animal” from the lexicon and replacing it with “Assistance Animal.” (

It may seem like a silly nitpick, but I believe it makes a significant difference in the way we view the validity of disability and provide support for it in society.

First, the term ESA is inaccurate. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines assistance animals as “an animal that 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.” Nothing in that definition restricts the types of disabilities it may be applied to.

ESAs are one type of assistance animal. The universe of impairments for which animals can improve our health is limitless, yet only mental health benefits are typically acknowledged. Some other ways animals help people navigate disabilities:

  • A rabbit who detects physical signs of an impending seizure and alerts his person before it happens.
  • A dog without specialized training who helps a child with autism increase her social functioning.
  • A bird that alerts his person who is deaf or hard of hearing when someone knocks on the door.
  • A cat who helps her person with cancer move about, keep her schedule, and function on an ordinary day.

When we use the term ESA, we dismiss these other crucial and powerful ways in which animals enhance the lives of individuals who are living with a multitude of disabilities.

Second, the phrase “emotional support animal” has become a punchline. People will use it to refer to someone in a disparaging manner, implying that the person is delicate and weak. “Oh, so you need an emotional assistance animal? Is the big, bad world too tough for you to handle without the security of your fuzzy wuzzy? Are you gonna curl up in a corner and hide until life isn’t so scary?”

“Ok, that may be a bit over the top, but the mocking is real. We don’t have ’emotional support doctors’, or use terms like ’emotional support medication’ so why use it in the reasonable accommodation context except to set it apart from other types of disabilities? The term ESA has baggage and only furthers the stigma against mental health,” said Abby Volin, Opening Doors President.

Finally, by using the ESA label, the individual is revealing more personal and sensitive information about their disability than required under the law. Unbeknownst to many, a housing provider is not entitled to detailed or extensive information concerning an individual’s disability, including the specific diagnosis. By using the narrow term ESA, the requester is already putting their cards on the table and often further divulges even more explicit medical information under the erroneous assumption that it will increase the likelihood that the housing provider will approve the request. Using the term “assistance animal” preserves one more layer of privacy.


Opening Doors ( is a proud woman disability-owned business. They are America’s animal accommodation law and pet policy experts helping residential & commercial property managers, tenants & residents, universities, employers, & healthcare providers, welcome paws through their front door by developing progressive & safer and legal pet programs that create a happy & healthier community for people & pets alike.

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Abby Volin
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Washington, DC 20012