Disability Services Center

Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals

Service Animals

Image of Service Dog Walking with Man and Cane

Service animals are animals that provide assistance to individuals with disabilities. Service animals are dogs that are professionally trained to perform specific tasks for an individual.  When you see a service animal at USM or in the community, here are some tips to guide your interaction:

  • Speak to the person first.  Remember the dog is working.
  • Never touch a service animal without asking first and never feed the animal.
  • Recognize that the person and the animal are a team and that engaging with the animal disrupts their working relationship.
  • Do not ask the individual personal questions related to their disability or their service animal.

Need to learn more about interacting with a service dog?  Please visit the Pacer Center to view an informative handout on service dog ettiquette.

A summary of Maine law related to service animals is available from the Office of the Maine Attorney General.

The University of Maine system has published guidelines regarding service animals.

Still have questions?  Visit the U.S. Department of Justice FAQ about service animals and the ADA.

Want to learn more about the difference between service animals and ESAs here at USM? We have a Fast Facts handout available in PDF and Word versions. 

As always, if you have additional questions or concerns, please contact our office at (207) 780-4706 or by email.


Here is a video about service animals created by the Maine Human Rights Commission.

Emotional Support Animals


An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is defined by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and covers a category of animals that may work, provide assistance, or perform physical tasks for an individual with a disability and/or provide necessary emotional support to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability that alleviates one or more identified symptoms of an individual’s disability, but which are not considered Service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the University of Maine System Service Animal Policy.   It is typically an animal selected to play an integral part of a person's treatment process and it is not a pet.  The animal must demonstrate a good temperament and reliable, predictable behavior. An ESA is prescribed or recommended to an individual with a disability by a mental health professional.  An ESA may be incorporated in a treatment process to assist in alleviating the symptoms of that individual's disability. This treatment occurs within the person's residence and, therefore, may be considered for access to university housing.

The question in determining if an ESA will be allowed in University housing is whether or not the ESA is necessary because of an individual’s disability to afford the individual an equal opportunity to use and enjoy University housing.  If it is determined that that animal is necessary for University housing, an ESA, as defined above, is not permitted in other areas of the University (e.g. dining facilities, libraries, academic buildings, athletic buildings, classrooms, labs, individual centers, etc.).

Generally, the presence of only one ESA will be approved for a student, in order to fulfill the intent of the Fair Housing Act requirements in providing support to the student with a mental health disability.

For additional information about the steps, please review the USM Emotional Support Animal Policies and Procedures document. For students who want to initiate the ESA process, please start by completing the Emotional Support Animal form.