An emotional support animal (ESA) can support its owners in immeasurable ways by providing assistance, giving them a sense of purpose, and being their best friend.
Many know what service dogs are, but there’s a difference between service dogs and ESAs. It’s essential to know about ESAs, and what kind of person would benefit from owning one.
What follows is a comprehensive guide on emotional support animals, including the benefits, the disabilities and disorders that qualify one for ESA ownership, and the registration process. It also answers important questions for prospective ESA handlers concerning housing, the law, and documentation.
What Are Emotional Support Animals?
ESAs are more than just pets. They help someone with a mental disability, a psychiatric disorder, or an emotional condition like depression or post-traumatic stress disorder to cope. They can even support people with addiction.
Research by mental health professionals has proven the health benefits of ESA ownership for those living with mental illness or struggling with their mental health.
In our society, treatment for emotional and mental health issues usually involves a combination of prescription medication and therapy. However, these approaches don’t always work for everyone, and some treatments are prohibitively expensive, especially for people without access to comprehensive health insurance that ensures proper treatment.
Emotional support animals are an alternative option for people with mental illness and people struggling with their emotions.
Emotional Support Animals vs. Service Dogs
Service animals and ESAs both help their owners and classify as “assistance animals.” However, the similarities stop there.
The primary way a trained service animal differs from an emotional support animal is that service animals perform specific tasks for their owners. For example, a service dog might help its owner’s physical disability by opening doors. This type of dog can also help with a psychiatric disability, such as by calming someone with PTSD. For this reason, a service dog trained for specific tasks could prove life-saving. A service animal will always have training and documents of certification.
Emotional support animals don’t need special training, and the only documentation they require is an ESA letter from a psychiatric professional or another doctor.
Can anyone become the proud owner of an ESA? Yes and no. Unlike service animals, the rules with ESAs are less rigid.
All you need to make your pet into an ESA is a letter from a licensed mental health professional. Whether through therapy or individual appointment, that doctor will provide a diagnosis, such as for depression, and verify an ESA could help you.
Conditions that qualify include:
- Schizophrenia and symptoms of psychosis
- Bipolar disorder
- Other mental disabilities like autism
Again, you do not need a diagnosis to qualify. But you will need to speak to a licensed professional and undergo a proper evaluation to determine your eligibility.
What Qualifies for an Emotional Support Animal?
Another significant difference between service animals and ESAs is that just about any pet can be an emotional support animal. A service dog can only be a dog. While dogs are a popular choice for ESAs, all sorts of pets can qualify as emotional support animals, such as:
- Many, many more, including peacocks
Emotional Support Animal Physical, Emotional, and Mental Health Benefits
A person with a diagnosis like clinical anxiety or debilitating symptoms like agoraphobia and loss of appetite might not qualify for a service dog. Still, they could be a good candidate for an emotional support animal, which can improve quality of life in many ways.
The physical health benefits of pet ownership are significant. From coping with disabilities to lowering high blood pressure to mitigating the symptoms of traumatic events, the physical benefit of ESA pet ownership can be as good as therapy and medication treatment.
Animals’ emotional support capabilities are also enormous. Research has shown that pet ownership can alleviate the symptoms of emotional disorders. Emotions like loneliness, isolation, anxiety, and grief may see substantial improvement with pet ownership. Well-trained pets help owners deal with life challenges when sometimes no one else will.
Finally, there is substantial research attesting to the mental health benefits of owning pets, especially dogs. One doctor after another has concluded that pets can help patients with mental health conditions ranging from chronic anxiety to autism or schizophrenia.
If you’re curious about the potentially life-changing health benefits of ESA pet ownership, ask for medical advice from your doctor on the matter. They may determine that your mental health would improve with dogs or other pets.
Accommodations for People Who Require an Emotional Support Animal
The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the federal act that governs issues affecting the disabled community and provides protections for service dogs related to fair housing, public facilities, and transportation. However, it does not consider emotional support animals as service animals, meaning the same protections may not apply.
While ESAs have some protections under several federal laws, specifics can vary between states. It’s essential to know your rights as an ESA owner for you and your pet.
However, unlike service dogs, emotional support animals cannot accompany their handlers everywhere. Even if you have your ESA letter from a doctor, pets that are ESAs do not enjoy the same rights under the law as service dogs.
If you’re ever in need of ESA advice, it’s the ADA you should seek out and consult. Thankfully, the government has set up a handy resource page for just this situation.
Owners have the right to bring their emotional support pets into places that provide public services, including restaurants, shops, workplaces, certain kinds of housing, and university campuses. However, some establishments may have differing policies. It’s best to call ahead and acquaint yourself with those policies before visiting.
Bringing your ESA letter along is always a good idea. You may be able to stay with your ESA if you show documentation, but there is no law protecting their right to enter private spaces like there is with service dogs.
The Department of Transportation recently amended the Air Carrier Access Act and determined that airlines are no longer obligated to allow ESAs. But service dogs are still free to fly. The reason is that ESAs don’t require the same training that federal law mandates service dogs get. Airlines want all animals to behave, and they can’t guarantee that of ESAs.
You still may be able to fly with your dog or pet, but please make sure to check your airline’s animal policy before bringing your pet to the airport.
Even if university housing or a rental building does not usually allow pets, landlords cannot deny you reasonable accommodation. Furthermore, they can’t charge you pet fees or taxes. These protections are in place per the guidelines of the Fair Housing Amendments Act.
While a provider can’t demand documentation of your emotional need for an ESA, registering your pet and having this documentation can make it easier to receive your entitled accommodations. If you believe this benefit may help you, look into ESA registration.
ESA Registration: Our Process
We want everyone who suffers from mental health or emotional difficulties to get the care they deserve. That’s why we have made it easy and stress-free to get an ESA prescription and an ESA letter online.
When your disability prevents you from holding a job, visiting friends and family, or even simply going outside, you shouldn’t have to worry about getting an emotional support dog or another animal. We know that the first step is the hardest, so we’ve made it as easy as possible.
- Fill Out a Form: First, we ask you to fill out a brief online form. We never share this information with anyone else. Thankfully, ESA ownership doesn’t require you to deal with as many hurdles as service dog ownership, which requires training, registry, and much more.
- Chat With a Mental Health Professional: After you’ve submitted the form, one of our licensed mental health professionals will call you and conduct a brief phone assessment. In most cases, that is all you need to qualify for an ESA certification. Some states require additional therapy, which we can set you up with via our registry of licensed health professionals. We then provide you with a signed ESA letter online.
- Print Out Your Certification: You can print out as many copies as you need directly on our website. And that’s all you need to qualify for an emotional support animal!
When you receive an ESA letter, you are free to go out in public with your certified ESA without the fear of public providers denying you the right to be there. It leaves you healthier and happier with your best friend right by your side.
Once you have your ESA letter, feel free to browse our website to purchase ESA supplies, enter our emotional support dog registry, and keep up to date with the laws surrounding emotional support animals.
Improve Your Life With an ESA
Turning your pet into an emotional support animal is easy once you understand the process. We hope you enjoy this next step in your life and take full advantage of everything emotional support animals have to offer you!
Emotional Support Animal FAQs
Does My ESA Need Training?
There is no mandate for a person to put the pet through training to receive an ESA letter. Training is beneficial for any dog or cat owner, but it is not necessary for the animal to qualify.
Do I Need to Register My Dog as an ESA?
There is no national registry of ESAs like there is with service dogs. If you’re a person seeking ESA ownership, the only professional you need to contact is your medical provider.
The only required documentation for an emotional support animal is the ESA Letter, issued by a doctor certifying that the person has significant enough mental and emotional challenges. The doctor will recommend an ESA for patients to assist with those challenges.
How Much Does It Cost to Get Your Dog ESA Certified?
The beauty of ESA ownership is that it’s affordable. If your insurance doesn’t fully cover visiting a mental health therapist for that initial assessment, you’ll have to pay out of pocket. Besides that, ESA ownership is a relatively low-cost experience.
Should I Register My Dog With the AKC?
You do not need to register your ESA with any entity, but the American Kennel Club, or AKC, has a wonderful registration program that all animal lovers should consider.
Registering with the AKC means you get pet insurance for accidents and injuries. You can call a 24/7 Vet Helpline at no added cost and get a free initial vet appointment at any provider within the AKC network.
Those are massive benefits that come at a relatively low cost to consumers. You can even receive custom collar tags that provide 24/7/365 protection using microchip tracking technology. You’re able to receive live support and advice any time you want with AKC’s GoodDog! Training Helpline.
Do you need any of these benefits to keep an ESA legally? Of course not. But they do make the sometimes demanding role of pet ownership quite a bit easier.