Emotional Support Animals
This collection of articles will tell you everything you need to know about emotional support animals (ESAs), what they do, and how to get an ESA Letter.
Emotional support animals (ESAs) are a type of assistance animal that provides support and comfort to individuals with disabilities and mental health conditions. Their companionship is a powerful bridge between the challenges of living with a disability and the ability to lead a more full life.
Emotional support animals provide necessary support to people with disabilities just by being there for them. They provide a sense of comfort, help alleviate loneliness, and can help relieve symptoms of depression or anxiety for their handlers. Unlike service animals like psychiatric service dogs (PSDs), emotional support animals aren’t necessarily trained to perform specific tasks. Their main role is to be a comforting, calming presence and companionship.
What is the Difference Between an Emotional Support Animal and a Service Animal?
Emotional support animals (ESAs) and service animals have several key differences. For starters, ESAs can be any type of animal that’s typically kept domestically. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals can only be dogs and in some cases miniature horses.
The other key difference between emotional support animals and service animals is the training they receive. Emotional support animals don’t have to be trained to become assistance animals. Service dogs, on the other hand, are required to undergo individual training in order to be considered legal and legitimate service animals.
What are the Benefits of an Emotional Support Animal?
Emotional support animals aren’t a replacement for medication or other types of treatments, but they can be a vital piece of the puzzle in managing your disability and the symptoms you experience as a result. Emotional support animals are also protected by federal law, offering some legal protections that aren't available to an ordinary pet. Here are some of the benefits of having an ESA:
- They Provide Companionship - emotional support animals can improve your mental health simply be being there when you need them most.
- You Can Live Anywhere With Your ESA - Protected under the Fair Housing Act, ESAs can live with you in any form of housing, exempt of fees or restrictions.
- They Give You a Routine - Your ESA will need attention and care, and having the regular routine & responsibility of caring for a pet can have significant positive health impacts.
- Provide Relief for a Mental Health Condition - There are numerous mental health disabilities that can benefit from the presences and support of an ESA.
How to Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal
To qualify for an emotional support animal there are a few requirements. You must have a documented mental health disability, your emotional support animal must help to alleviate symptoms of that disability, and to obtain a legitimate ESA letter you’ll need to meet with a licensed mental health professional.
You Must Have a Mental Health Disability
The first requirement to qualify for an emotional support animal is to have a mental health condition or disability. Documentation from your doctor or mental health professional can serve as evidence of a qualifying disability when it comes to getting an emotional support animal letter.
Your ESA Must Help Alleviate a Symptom of Your Disability
Aside from having a qualifying disability, to get an emotional support animal it must also be documented that having one will help to alleviate one or more symptoms of your disability. Emotional support animals can support all kinds of mental health conditions, including but not limited to anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), certain learning disabilities, and some phobias.
You Need to Consult with a Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP)
Finally, to qualify for an emotional support animal and obtain the necessary documentation to get an ESA letter, you’ll need to consult with a licensed mental health professional (LMHP). An LMHP can help provide you with a diagnosis, document your disability, and help you create a plan to manage your symptoms that includes an emotional support animal.
Pettable works with a network of licensed therapists and other mental health professionals in all 50 states who are able to provide legal, legitimate ESA Letters.
How To Get An Emotional Support Animal
We consulted with mental health and legal experts to craft an in depth guide on everything you need to know in order to get an emotional support animal.
Emotional support animals protect your right to have an assistance animal accompany you when it comes to things like housing and transportation. While emotional support animals don’t have all the same rights as service animals when it comes to public access and public transportation, having an emotional support animal letter protects both you and your ESA.
What is an ESA Letter For?
An emotional support animal letter (ESA letter) is a legal form that documents the fact that you have a disability and that an assistance animal is part of your treatment plan. ESA letters are written separately for each individual, focusing on your specific disability and needs, and serve as your health care professional’s recommendation for an emotional support animal.
Housing Rights for Emotional Support Animals
Emotional support animal letters are especially helpful when it comes to housing rights. It allows people with disabilities who have an emotional support animal more options and protects against discrimination for housing.
Emotional Support Animals Under The Fair Housing Act (FHA)
Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), emotional support animals are considered assistance animals and are afforded all the same rights as service animals when it comes to housing. This means that landlords can’t deny you housing if you have an ESA.
Emotional support animals are exempt from restrictions that apply to traditional pets. Assistance animals like ESAs and service dogs aren’t legally considered pets, but rather medical tools necessary for managing your disability. This means that emotional support animals (and of course service animals) are also exempt from additional pet fees that some landlords may charge for traditional pets.
Where You Can Live With an Emotional Support Animal
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) defines assistance animals as those that provide support or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. Generally, individuals with an emotional support animal can live anywhere they would live without an assistance animal.
Landlords are only able to deny an emotional support animal in owner-occupied dwellings with fewer than four tenants, if the unit is a single-family rented by the owner directly and not by an agency, or if the housing unit is operated by a private or religious organization.
Other than these circumstances, landlords legally can’t deny you housing because of an emotional support animal once you provide an ESA letter. The only case where a landlord can deny an emotional support animal is if the ESA letter is not legitimate, or if the animal poses a threat to the health and safety
Travel Rights for Emotional Support Animals
Traveling with an emotional support animal can be a bit different than traveling with a service dog, especially if you’re planning to fly. Not all airlines allow ESAs to fly in-cabin with their handlers, but what about hotel and other rental accommodations when traveling with an assistance animal?
Emotional Support Animals Under The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) exists to protect and regulate the rights of individuals with disabilities to travel and use public transportation free from discrimination or unfair restrictions.
Previously, the ACAA required airlines to allow emotional support animals in the cabin with their handlers free of charge regardless of the animals' size (within reason). As of January 2021, however, transportation of emotional support animals isn’t required by the ACAA and is left to the discretion of individual airlines. With a few exceptions, most airlines reserve the right to treat emotional support animals as they would regular pets.
Public Access Rights for Emotional Support Animals
When it comes to public access rights for emotional support animals, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t afford all the same rights to ESAs as it does to service animals. While their presence is equally important in the lives of those with disabilities, emotional support animals don’t have the same public access rights as service animals.
Under the ADA, service dogs are allowed in any place where the public, patrons, participants, or clients are allowed even if the establishment doesn’t typically allow pets.
State-Specific Emotional Support Animal Laws
There are different sets of federal emotional support animal laws that protect individuals with disabilities on a federal level, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).
These laws must be followed in all 50 states, yet individual states have the right to impose additional laws that don’t interfere with overarching federal ones. Certain states like California, New York, Texas, and Florida have additional laws around emotional support animals. These laws center around things like ensuring legitimate ESA letters and criminalizing fraud related to such, as well as allowing landlords to require emotional support animals to be vaccinated.
The Complete Guide to Emotional Support Animal Laws & Psychiatric Service Dog Laws
Are you wondering what rights you have as the owner of an emotional support animal or psychiatric service dog? Learn more in this comprehensive guide.
Traveling on Airlines with an Emotional Support Animal
When it comes to flying with emotional support animals, airlines aren’t required to transport them or allow them to fly with their handlers like they are service animals under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). Individual airlines are allowed to use their own discretion in creating travel policies related to emotional support animals.
What Airlines Allow Emotional Support Animals?
There are airlines that will let passengers travel with emotional support animals in the aircraft cabin, though many major airlines have opted not to offer this service once it was no longer required by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Among these are United, American, JetBlue, Frontier, Alaska, and Southwest Airlines.
Very few airlines still allow ESAs on their flight free of charge, and typically only for specific routes. Two examples of these airlines is LATAM and Volaris. Before making travel plans, it’s always best to check with the individual airline directly before or at the time of booking. This way there are no surprises when it comes time to travel with your emotional support animal by plane.
Staying in Hotels with an Emotional Support Animal
Hotels are considered public places, and unfortunately, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) emotional support animals don’t have the same public rights access as service animals. While there are many pet-friendly hotels available in different destinations, hotels that restrict pets aren’t required to allow emotional support animals the same way they are service animals.
Some hotels that don’t typically allow pets may allow emotional support animals, and depending on your state they may be allowed to charge an additional fee for doing such. For service animals, hotels must accommodate them free of charge.
Staying in Holiday Rentals with an Emotional Support Animal
When traveling and staying in a rental property with an emotional support animal, the property owner has the right to refuse both pets and emotional support animals. You can try making a polite appeal to the property owner and providing documentation, like an ESA letter, in hopes they might consider making an exception if they typically maintain a no-pets policy.
How to Travel with an Emotional Support Animal
Traveling with any animal can be challenging, but for those who require emotional support animals in their everyday life, the challenge of traveling can be that much greater. Having your companion by your side can be the difference between being able to travel or not.
To make the process of traveling with an emotional support animal as easy as possible, follow these essential travel tips:
- Get a legitimate ESA letter from Pettable and bring a copy with you when you travel
- Do your research and choose airlines and other transportation companies that allow emotional support animals to avoid being denied access
- Inform airlines and other forms of transportation that you have an ESA ahead of time. This way they can be prepared to make accommodations, request any necessary documents for traveling with an assistance animal, and give you time to provide them.
- Make sure your ESA is healthy and well-behaved. This protects you, other passengers, and the crew, and makes it much more likely your ESA will be accepted without issue.
The 5 Best Airlines to Fly with Dogs in 2023
Most airlines allow dogs in some capacity, although having a service dog ensures you can fly on all airlines free of charge. If your dog is a pet or emotional service animal, these 5 airlines are the best choice for flying with your canine companion.