Emotional support animals (ESAs) offer owners support, and companionship with their physical presence and can be any domestic breed of animal, including dogs. ESAs can reduce the impact of mental health conditions by providing their owners with routine, comfort, and unconditional love. As such, they bring major therapeutic benefits to their owners' lives.
If you’re interested in getting a dog as an emotional support animal and want to learn about what the process entails, this guide details everything you need to know.
How to Register a Dog as an Emotional Support Animal
While numerous online ESA registries promise recognition, be cautious—there's no official Emotional Support Animal (ESA) registry. To genuinely register your dog as an ESA, obtain an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional. This personalized letter, assessing your need for an ESA, is the legitimate and recognized path to ensuring your furry friend's support status.
How Do You Qualify for an Emotional Support Dog?
To qualify for an ESA, you will need to meet with a registered mental health practitioner in your home state. During the consultation, they will evaluate your ESA needs and determine if you have a qualifying mental and emotional health disability. If you do, they will write you an official ESA letter which can be used for housing rights and more. Most mental health conditions qualify for an emotional support animal, here are a few examples:
- Acute Stress Disorder
- Panic Attacks
- Eating Disorders
- Personality Disorders
- Bipolar Disorder
What do Emotional Support Dogs Do?
Emotional support dogs can help owners through a wide range of mental health conditions by combating loneliness, easing phobias, and providing a healthy routine. Many studies have shown that animals can significantly reduce our stress hormone (cortisol) and in doing so, significantly reduce our stress levels. They also boost our happy feel-good hormone known as oxytocin and provide social connection.
Where are Emotional Support Dogs Allowed to Go?
Under federal law, ESAs are not always permitted to accompany their owners to public establishments like restaurants and shops. However, some places are more pet-friendly than others and it’s always worth asking the establishment before you visit with your ESA.
Happily, ESAs are protected under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) which we will explore in more detail below.
The Fair Housing Act
The FHA prevents housing providers from unfairly discriminating against owners with ESAs by stating that they must make ‘reasonable accommodations’ for them. When it comes to ESAs, landlords must regard them as assistance animals and waive any pet rental fees. Housing providers can only deny ESAs under specific circumstances, including:
- They pose a threat to other tenants or animals
- Reasonable accommodations cannot be made (for example, the house is much too small or has no garden for a large ESA like a miniature horse)
- The housing unit comprises only four dwellings, one of which is owner-occupied
Do You Need to Register Your Dog as an Emotional Support Animal?
You don’t need to officially register your ESA, however, it is worthwhile to get an official ESA letter from a medical practitioner in your home state. This will legitimize your ESA claim and can be shared with prospective landlords to access housing rights. It can also be shown to employers if you want to advocate bringing your ESA to work.
What is an ESA Letter?
An ESA letter is often regarded as a prescription letter. It is written by a licensed mental health practitioner (LMHP) and stipulates that their patient needs an ESA to support their mental or emotional health disability. A LMHP might be a doctor, counselor, psychologist, social worker, or psychiatrist. It is essential that they are licensed within the patient's home state.
ESA letters should include the state in which the practitioner is located, their specific medical qualifications, their license number, and the date on which the letter was officially signed. It should also include important patient information, including their unique ESA needs.
How to Get an ESA Letter for Your Dog
Happily, Pettable can connect you with a licensed practitioner in your home state who understands your ESA needs. Get an official ESA letter in a few simple steps:
1. Complete Our Assessment
Fill out our quick and easy assessment so that we can streamline the process and determine your unique needs.
2. Consult With a Therapist
Chat with one of our therapists and discuss how your ESA adds value to your life. Once they have evaluated your case and examined your ESA needs they can write an official letter stipulating that you qualify for an ESA.
3. Get an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Letter
Once successful, your ESA letter will arrive within 24 hours. If, for some or other reason, you are not successful, Pettable guarantees 100% moneyback.
Emotional Support Dogs vs. Service Dogs
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), ESAs are not seen as service dogs since service dogs must be trained to perform a specific task or function that relates to the handler’s specific disability. For example, a dog might be trained to retrieve objects from the ground for an owner who is in a wheelchair or help a blind owner navigate the outside world. Psychiatric service dogs (PSD) have the same rights as service animals as they are also trained to perform specific functions related to their owner's mental health disability. This might include a dog waking an owner with PTSD from a nightmare or reminding an owner with depression to take their anti-depressants.
Nonetheless, ESAs bring huge therapeutic support to their owners and can significantly reduce the impact and severity of mental and emotional health disabilities.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Emotional Support Dogs
Let’s explore a few FAQs regarding emotional support dogs.
Can I Fly with My Emotional Support Dog?
ESAs were once protected by the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). However, as of 2021, ESAs are now seen as conventional airlines and will usually be charged with pet tariffs. Under the ADA, only service dogs have the legal right to fly in the cabin with their owners and may not be charged pet fees. Some airlines however might allow ESAs at their own discretion. It is advised to always consult your chosen airline ahead of time and inquire about their specific animal and ESA policies.
Can Any Dog Be an Emotional Support Animal?
Yes. Any dog, and in fact, any domestic animal species can be an ESA. This includes all breeds of dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, goats, pigs, rabbits, guinea pigs, and miniature horses.
How Much Do Emotional Support Dogs Cost?
This depends largely on where you find your ESA. If you purchase an animal at a breeder it will cost a lot more than if you rescue an animal from a shelter. An ESA might even be your existing animal.
Can I Have More Than One Emotional Support Dog?
There are no specific laws stating how many ESAs you can have, however, landlords can ask for an ESA letter for each animal.
How Do I Train an Emotional Support Dog?
You can train your ESA online or in person, depending on your specific needs. Online courses are great for those with busy schedules as these classes offer greater levels of flexibility. Explore Pettable’s online training solutions, including our special Focus Training module and our PSD training. All video sessions are with a qualified trainer, meaning that you get the best tools and insights to strengthen your bond with your dog.
What is The Best Breed of Emotional Support Dog?
Many breeds of dogs can make excellent emotional support animals. These include:
- Cocker Spaniel
- German Shepherd
- Golden Retriever
- Maltese Poodle
- Mixed Breeds
Ultimately, many breeds of dogs can make excellent ESAs, as long as they’re loving, obedient, affectionate, and well-tempered.
Is an Emotional Support Dog a Service Dog?
ESAs are not regarded as service dogs as they do not necessarily perform a specific disability-related task. Nonetheless, they still bring major support and can help handlers to function and better handle the symptoms of their mental and emotional health disability. While service dogs have more public access rights as per federal law, both ESAs and service dogs can be seen as assistance animals.
The Bottom Line
ESAs are hugely valuable in their owner's lives and oftentimes make life more liveable through their companionship and presence. If you’re looking to legitimize your ESA, connect with our expert team and we will help you to get an official letter.