What is an Emotional Support Animal?
According to verywellmind.com, an emotional support animal is “an animal companion that offers some type of emotional or mental benefit to an individual with some form of disability.
The animal is intended to provide companionship and support that will help alleviate at least one aspect of the disability.” It is obtained through an emotional support animal letter.
What Qualifies an Animal as an Emotional Support Animal?
To qualify as an emotional support animal, a pet must be prescribed to a person with a disabling mental illness by a licensed mental health professional like a psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist. The animal’s presence must be deemed beneficial to the mental health of people with disabilities.
These disabilities can include anxiety, depression, and personality disorders, however, emotional support animals (ESA) are not the same as service animals. As such, they do not share some of the privileges service animals have. For instance, service animals are allowed to board planes for air travel, while air carriers are required by neither state law nor federal law to allow ESAs on board.
What Pets Can be Emotional Support Animals?
Emotional support animals can be any type of companion animal. They can be emotional support dogs, cats, mice, ferrets, minipigs, miniature horses, and birds, just to name a few.
What is the Difference Between a Service Animal and an Emotional Support Animal?
Here we discuss service animals vs. emotional support animals.
Service Animals may be paired with a person who has a vision impairment, anxiety disorder, seizure disorder, or hearing impairment. These can include guide dogs for the visually impaired and psychiatric service dogs for those who have been diagnosed with seizure disorders. Service animals like guide dogs are trained to perform specific tasks such as guiding a visually impaired person through the world safely.
Service dogs can also be trained to detect seizures or panic attacks before they happen and assist the person who is going through an episode. According to animallaw.info, “A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to help a person with a disability.
This function may be readily apparent or not readily apparent. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) state that if the function of the service animal is readily apparent, then “further inquiries are unnecessary and inappropriate because the animal is a service animal.” FHEO-2020-01 at page 6.”
Under the ADA, the work a service dog is trained to do must be directly related to the person’s disability. They must also be up to date on their vaccinations, be under the control of their owner at all times, and not pose a direct threat to public health.
Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA, these types of animals are considered emotional support animals. This definition also does not affect the broader definition of service animal set by the air carrier access act, which states service dogs are “a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”
In short, ESAs are prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to someone with a mental or emotional disability but are not trained to provide a service. Service dogs are assigned to people with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities and are trained for very specific tasks. For this reason, they are given more privileges under federal laws than ESAs.
Emotional Support Animals are comfort animals for a person who has been diagnosed with a mental disability or mood disorder by a licensed mental health professional.
Also known as emotional assistance animals, these pets are not trained by a professional to provide services that service dogs are trained to offer, such as assisting a visually or audibly disabled person. Instead, they are within reach to offer comfort and ease anxiety or phobias in everyday life and in challenging situations.
Emotional support animals are granted some accessibilities and freedoms non-ESAs are not. The Fair Housing Act (FHA), for example, details regulations for reasonable accommodations housing providers are required to make to allow ESAs regardless of pet policies a landlord or property owner may have.
Although housing providers may not be able to refuse ESAs as pets easily, ESAs may be restricted public access as they are not fully protected under law to have guaranteed privileges in public places. For example, ESAs are not generally allowed in malls or restaurants, and those places are not legally required to accommodate them. They are, however, required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to allow service dogs.
Emotional assistance animals are sometimes referred to as therapy animals. Therapy animals are a type of support animal that generally works with larger groups to bring joy and comfort to people and are not typically designated ESA for one specific person. Therapy animals are not the same as service animals as they are not certified as such and have not had the training service animals have, and in that way, they are very similar to emotional support animals.
What Conditions Qualify an Emotional Support Animal?
ESA for Anxiety: Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. ESAs can help ease anxiety symptoms by providing a constant source of companionship and stability to counteract feelings of instability or concern.
ESA for Depression: Depression is generally defined as feelings of severe despondency and dejection. ESAs can give those who suffer from depression a goal, a friend, and something to live for. They can also be good icebreakers to human-to-human interaction, which can be beneficial for depression.
ESA for Phobias: A phobia is an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something. ESAs can be helpful for those who have phobias. Dogs are especially good for this purpose as they instinctively know when their owner is afraid and in turmoil and will offer comfort by laying their head on the person’s lap or rolling over for belly rubs.
ESA for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress occurring as a result of injury or severe psychological shock, typically involving disturbance of sleep and constant vivid recall of the experience, with dulled responses to others and to the outside world. ESAs, especially dogs, are able to help those inflicted with this by providing them with a reason to leave the house, encouraging the person to feel “love” as a dog would give, and offering an outlet for fun and releasing endorphins into the brain.
ESA for Panic Disorders: Panic disorders are anxiety disorders characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress. ESAs are good for easing panic attacks as cuddling and petting animals have been shown to lower blood pressure and release endorphins into the brain to help the person escape an episode.
ESA for Mood Disorders: Mood disorders are characterized by moods that are inconsistent with a person’s surroundings and that interfere with a person’s ability to function. ESAs provide a ground to reality as someone is experiencing a panic attack. By providing a physical touch, an ESA can remind the person where they are and help bring them out of panic.
ESA for Personality Disorders: A personality disorder is a way of thinking, feeling, and behaving that deviates from the culture’s expectations, causes distress or problems functioning, and lasts over time. An ESA can bring a person back to reality if they are experiencing a personality disorder episode that brings them out of the reality they inhabit. Being there to be a conduit to the real world, an emotional support animal can be a vital tool for those suffering from things like Borderline Personality Disorder to help them cope with everyday life.
What are my Rights as an Emotional Support Animal Owner?
The emotional support animal laws can be tricky. Let’s take a closer look at them.
Fair Housing Act Emotional Support Animal: Rights as an ESA owner may vary at the state and local government levels, but federal law states owners of ESAs are allowed certain rights to housing and travel where possible with reasonable accommodations.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of a “reasonable accommodation” is “accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a person with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.”
This means those who have ESAs have the right to housing in areas that have a no-pet policy and state they must waive any pet fees involved in pet-friendly housing.
Emotional Support Animal Airlines: As of March 2021, airlines are under no legal obligation to permit emotional service animals on board. Airlines are now allowed to choose whether or not ESAs are allowed to board the plane.
In addition, for those who are aiming to travel with their ESAs via railroads, you can check Amtrak Emotional Support Animal for more context and clarity.
ESAs and the Americans with Disabilities Act: According to akc.org “(ADA) clearly states that animals that simply provide emotional comfort do not qualify as service animals. Some state and local laws have a broader definition, so be sure to check with local government agencies to learn if ESAs qualify for public access in your area.”
This means that under the ADA, individuals diagnosed with a mental and emotional disorder qualify for an ESA, and no business or entity is allowed to discriminate against them. They are protected by equal opportunity laws and have the same disability rights as those with physical disabilities.
Please check Alaska Airlines Emotional Support Animal for more context and understanding on the matter.
What Cannot be an Emotional Support Animal?
There are no animal restrictions as to what can and cannot be an emotional support animal. ESAs are animals a person feels comfortable being around and with whom is shared a deep emotional connection. This feeling is not limited to just dogs or cats. In fact, there have been an array of unconventional emotional support animals, including goats, spiders, and kangaroos.
Pet owners will need to go through the proper protocols for registering an animal as an ESA, including getting a letter from a mental health professional designating the animal as an ESA. Although this can be any type of animal, there are still some things to consider.
Scams also exist in the world of registering an animal as an ESA. These scammers write illegitimate letters designating your pet as an ESA, but the letters are not coming from a place of authority and are effectively useless. Be on the lookout for services that claim to “certify” your animal as an ESA, as there is no actual certification involved in the process.
Other red flags include claims like you can “take your dog anywhere” and registration-only websites. An emotional support animal letter will give your animal the right to live in “no-pet policy” housing without paying a pet deposit, and that’s about it. Any letter making claims beyond that is more than likely illegitimate.
How do I Get an Emotional Support Animal?
In order to get an ESA, you must first have a pet. This does not need to be a dog or cat and does not require specific training to become an emotional support animal.
So, wondering how to get an emotional support animal? Well, you will need a prescription from a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist for your animal to officially be deemed an ESA. The steps to receiving an ESA letter are simple and are laid out below:
- Set up an initial screening: This only takes a few minutes and is easy and confidential.
- Speak to a licensed therapist: Once this is done, you will see your therapist via a telehealth appointment to discuss your needs.
- Get your ESA letter: You will be issued a letter stating your animal is an emotional support animal.
How can I Get My Dog to be an Emotional Support Animal?
You will need a signed ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional to qualify your dog as an emotional support dog.
There is no such thing as a certificate, rather, it is a letter stating that the animal is necessary for your emotional and mental health. There is no special emotional support animal training. Also, it is not mandatory, but such a pet should wear an emotional support animal vest.