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Pennsylvania Emotional Support Animal Laws: A Complete Guide (2023)

Owning an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) can do wonders for those struggling with mental health difficulties, however, there are certain rules that Pennsylvania residents must follow when bringing an ESA into their life. Learn more with Pettable.
Expert reviewed by:  
Written by:
Susana Bradford
Published on:  
March 17, 2023

Human beings are innately social animals, meaning that we are at our best – especially mentally – when we have companionship or a support system. The importance of good mental health goes without saying. This is where emotional support animals (ESA) come in. Numerous studies have highlighted the positive effects of the presence of an animal – whether specially trained or not – on mental health.

Because of the significant benefits of ESAs on emotional well-being, they are protected by federal law under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and even the Fair Housing Act (FHA). If you are a resident of Pennsylvania and you’re considering getting an ESA then lucky you. Here’s everything you need to know about getting emotional support animals in Pennsylvania.

What is an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)?

Emotional support animals help reduce a person's mental health issues by providing companionship. Unlike psychiatric service animals who undergo training to fulfill certain tasks, ESAs just provide comfort and support by being with their owners.

Research shows that the simple act of stroking or holding an animal can have tremendous health benefits and improve overall mental wellness. Benefits include reduced feelings of loneliness, increased awareness of your surroundings, and promotes the production of hormones that calm and relax you. A study conducted by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute found that 54% of animal owners felt that their animals help them connect with other people and reduce feelings of social isolation.

How to Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal in Pennsylvania

The criteria for qualifying for getting an ESA are quite straightforward, and anyone with generalized anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other common psychological disorders can get an ESA. To qualify for an ESA, you first need to get evaluated by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP). Once the specialists examine you and determine that you qualify for an ESA, then they can write you an official ESA letter. As soon as you get an official letter, all you need to do is to select your emotional support animal.

ESA vs. Service Animals

As we mentioned before, emotional support animals aren't specially trained to perform specific tasks but provide a sense of safety, comfort, and companionship for individuals with psychiatric or emotional conditions. Service animals on the other hand are trained to assist individuals by performing specific tasks related to their disabilities. The most common service animals are usually dogs and in some cases miniature horses.

Psychiatric service animals – who are animals trained to perform specific tasks to help someone with a mental illness or difficulty – also fall under the category of service animals. These tasks might include reminding them to take prescriptions at a specific time, keeping a disoriented handler from wandering or even turning on and off lights.

Benefits of Having an Emotional Support Animal

Having an ESA offers numerous benefits, some of which we are going to quickly discuss.

1. Help Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Emotional support animals can help reduce stress and anxiety by lowering cortisol levels and inducing the production of serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin.

2. Encourage Regular Physical Activity

Regular physical exercise is often linked to improved physical and mental health, however, many people still don't embrace regular physical activity. With an emotional support animal such as a dog, regular physical activity becomes a lifestyle since you are responsible for your furry friend’s daily walks.

3. Help Alleviate Feelings of Loneliness and Isolation

Emotional support animals provide comfort and companionship, which helps assuage any feelings of loneliness or social isolation.

4. Help Individuals Develop a Sense of Responsibility and Purpose

People who suffer from psychological conditions often lose their sense of purpose. However, when a person is required to care for an animal, they tend to gain a sense of responsibility. This can help repurpose one’s life and find motivation

How to Get an ESA Letter

As we mentioned earlier, before you get an ESA letter, you first need to get assessed and qualified by a licensed mental health professional. If they determine that you qualify for an ESA, then they can write you an official ESA letter.

Why is an ESA Letter Necessary in Pennsylvania?

Without an official ESA letter, all companion animals are considered ordinary pets. Pennsylvania state laws are in line with the FHA and the ADA so that any person with a disability or mental health condition has the same opportunity to enjoy life in the state.

Pennsylvania Emotional Support Animal Laws

Emotional support animals don't usually have the same protection and legal entitlement that is accorded to service animals. Service animals are entitled under the law to be admitted in most public venues including shops, restaurants, workplaces, hospitals, hotels, theaters, libraries, etc. If you wish to bring your ESA into one of these places, ensure that you present an official ESA letter to whoever is in charge and ask them to consider accommodating your needs. You are not required to pay any extra charges for bringing your furry companion, but in case they cause any damage, then you are liable.

Travel Laws

As is the case with public venues, service animals are entitled to access public transport without any extra charges. ESAs are not accorded these same privileges, but with an ESA letter, you can request an exemption for your furry friend.

Air Carrier Access Act

Airlines are bound by the Air Carriers Access Act (ACAA) to accept service animals on board with their patrons. However, they are not required by law to allow emotional support animals. If you are planning a trip and want to take your ESA with you, it’s advisable to contact the airline in advance and request them to allow your companion on board.

You should always provide your ESA letter to help cement the official status of your furry friend. However, if the airline declines your request, then your ESA can travel with you like a normal pet if they are small enough to fit in the cargo hold. Ensure you get up to speed with the airline’s normal pet policies.

ESA Housing Laws

Housing laws in Pennsylvania are usually amenable to emotional support animals. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) stipulate that landlords must make reasonable accommodations for emotional support animals and their owners as long as they possess a valid ESA letter. These laws apply even to housing providers with no-pet policies.

Can a landlord reject my ESA?

Under the FHA and ADA, landlords are obligated to make reasonable accommodations for ESAs, and shouldn’t reject owners with official ESA letters from having their companions. You can take legal action against a landlord who rejects your ESA yet you have an official ESA letter.

ESAs in Student Housing

With an official ESA letter, you are allowed to have an ESA in student housing, even if there is a no-pets policy in place.

Places to Take Your Emotional Support Animal

In Pennsylvania, the Human Rights Act is amenable to allowing ESAs in public accommodations.so long as the patron presents an official ESA letter. These areas include restaurants, public transportation, theaters, bowling alleys, hotels, recreational facilities, shops, etc.

Get Your ESA Letter with Pettable

One of the easiest ways to get qualified for an ESA in Pennsylvania is through Pettable. We connect you with a mental health expert with the licenses and certifications to provide you with the best experience. Once you meet the consultant, they evaluate you and determine if your condition warrants having an ESA. If you qualify, you get an official ESA letter within 24 hours of your appointment. How convenient is that?

In the unlikely event that we are unable to get you an ESA letter yet you qualify, we’ll provide a full refund as part of our customer satisfaction guarantee. Get in touch with us today, and let's help you get your ESA letter hassle-free.

Meet the author:
Susana Bradford

Susana is an avid animal lover and has been around animals her entire life, and has volunteered at several different animal shelters in Southern California. She has a loving family at home that consists of her husband, son, two dogs, and one cat. She enjoys trying new Italian recipes, playing piano, making pottery, and outdoor hiking with her family and dogs in her spare time.