For someone suffering from mental illness, an emotional support animal might be a lifeline. Emotional support animals give important assistance in addition to the nonjudgmental, unconditional love that animals already freely supply. They provide companionship and the security of a routine, as well as functioning as a trusted guide through anxiety-inducing social settings.
All of this is to say that emotional support animals (also known as "ESAs") aren't pets, at least according to the traditional definition. They're neither service animals nor therapy animals. Instead, ESAs enjoy special legal protections due to their categorization. Individuals must register their emotional support animals in order to benefit from their advantages as well as their legal rights. And it's a process that not everyone understands.
Difference Between an ESA and a Service/Therapy Animal
When contemplating whether or not to register an emotional support animal, it's helpful to know what distinguishes ESAs from other "specialty" animals, most notably service and therapy animals, of which there are several subtypes.
ESAs are animals that provide therapeutic benefits to their caretakers in the most fundamental sense. Unlike a psychiatric service dog, which may, for example, switch on the lights before their handler enters a room to assist them cope with phobias or symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, an ESA provides love and company to their human.
Animals are ideally adapted to interacting with humans on a profound level, as anybody who has ever shared their lives with a pet knows. When someone needs someone to weep to or someone to listen to them without judging them, a cherished animal friend may be the first person they turn to. This does not include the training required for a service or therapy animal.
Emotional support animals are classified halfway between service or therapy animals and regular pets, despite the fact that they provide invaluable services. While they may not have a comprehensive set of legal rights, they may have some. This is where registration comes into play.
Emotional Support Animals Rights
Emotional support animals' rights are limited to two areas: travel and lodging. Emotional support animals are allowed to fly without a carrier or additional cost, which might be used to get around no-pet regulations in rental properties.
You may have observed some controversy regarding the legitimacy of ESAs as a result of these exemptions, particularly when it comes to air travel. However, emotional support animals and their handlers now have legal rights that are distinct from those of regular pets and their carers. These rights are priceless for those who rely on their ESAs for assistance.
How to Register an ESA
Emotional support animals do not have an official registration database. Instead, all requests for an ESA must be accompanied by a letter from a licensed mental health practitioner. This letter must include:
- Be legitimate—i.e., on professional letterhead and written by a qualified physician and/or mental health provider.
- Include the provider’s license number, as well as their signature and the date the letter was signed.
- Clearly explain your need for an emotional support animal.
You have two alternatives if you don't already have a mental health provider: arrange an appointment with one and acquire your letter that way, or utilize an online ESA letter service like Emotional Pet Support, ESA Doctors, or CertaPet. Please keep in mind that these services are not free, and you will be asked to complete a mental health assessment before obtaining your letter.
Once you've certified your ESA, keep your letter handy in case it's needed when you go flying with your pet or while you're looking for a place to live. Landlords cannot discriminate against renters who utilize an animal for help, including emotional support, under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), but they can if you don't have the letter. While it is not essential, you may choose to get your animal a vest that identifies them as an ESA.
For more on emotional support animals, check out our list of the .
Where can I take my emotional support dog?
There are several restrictions governing where a service dog may be taken, but none apply to emotional support dogs: airlines are no longer required to transport them in the passenger cabin, and they are not permitted in restaurants, movie theaters, or retail establishments.
How do you train an emotional support dog?
While emotional support dogs do not legally need any specific training, it's important that they remain calm, well-behaved, and housebroken.
How much does it cost to train an emotional support dog?
As much as it costs to train any dog in your area; emotional support dogs have no specific training other than to behave.