Georgia residents who are suffering from mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD may benefit from the presence of an emotional support animal (an ESA). These animals can help calm their owners and bring a sense of ease to daily life.
If you are interested in adopting an ESA or wish to register your pet as one, there are a couple of primary legislations in Georgia that protect a person’s right to their animal. In this guide, we will be discussing the requirements for obtaining an ESA and the Georgia laws surrounding them.
What Is an Emotional Support Animal?
An emotional support animal is any animal that provides their owner with comfort or assists them throughout daily life. Unlike service dogs, ESAs do not undergo any specific training, and they do not assist their owner in performing particular tasks. The main purpose of an ESA is to provide comfort and support, lessening the symptoms of a mental health condition.
In order to have a legal right to an ESA, owners need to first obtain a signed notice or prescription from a licensed psychologist, therapist, or psychiatrist. This letter must state that an ESA is needed to alleviate at least one symptom or effect of the owner’s mental health condition.
Keep in mind that no one is allowed to request medical documentation about your condition or ask you to state the details of your disability; a letter verifying need for an ESA is the most information about your condition you are required to supply.
Benefits of an Emotional Support Animal
Emotional support animals can provide a number of health benefits to their owners. Recent studies have concluded that positive social interactions with an animal (such as petting or holding them) can have both psychophysiological and psychosocial benefits. These benefits include lowering anxiety; reducing stress, pain, and depression; and normalizing heart rate and blood pressure. Emotional support animals also relieve loneliness, enhance social engagement, and increase pleasure.
Types of Emotional Support Animals
All kinds of animals can be classified as an emotional support animal including dogs, cats, miniature horses, rabbits, and hamsters. You can also register snakes, rodents, and spiders. The only requirement for an ESA is that they are well-behaved and non-aggressive to other animals.
Traveling With an Emotional Support Animal in Georgia
The Air Carrier Access Act allows both service animals and emotional service animals to be present in the cabin of a flight with their owner at no additional charge. This is allowed even if the airline does not typically permit pets.
It is important to note that airlines are never required to accept animals such as snakes, reptiles, ferrets, rodents, sugar gliders, and spiders whether that are registered as ESAs or not.
What Documents Are Needed to Fly With an ESA
In order to access these airline travel accommodations, you must supply the correct documentation. This includes your ESA letter that has been issued within the past year by a licensed doctor or mental health professional.
The letter needs to specify that you have been diagnosed with a mental health condition and require this animal to accompany you as part of your treatment. It must also state the type and number of animals you are bringing on board, and details about the letter’s issuer such as name, license numbers, and affirmation you are under their care.
The airline may require further documentation about your animal such as veterinary health forms or confirmations of your pet’s good behavior. Notify the airline at least 48 hours in advance that you plan to bring your ESA with you and confirm any extra documentation requirements so you can be prepared.
Housing and Emotional Supports Animals in Georgia
Rights to accommodated housing are protected by the Fair Housing Act. This law states that landlords are not allowed to discriminate against emotional support animals and service dogs. Under the protection of this act, you can bring your ESA to live with you (without added pet fees) even if the housing has a no pets policy. Like with airlines, you will need to provide a letter stating your need, and may be required to supply additional veterinary health records.
Campus Housing and ESAs
Campus housing does count as a form of regular housing and is also protected by the Fair Housing Act. You will likely have to provide all of your documentation for this type of housing as well.
Workplaces and ESAs
While there are no specific laws that state an emotional support animal must be allowed into work with you, the Americans with Disabilities Act states that mental health disabilities are protected. The best course of action is to prepare all your documentation and discuss your needs with your employer. They may be willing to work with you to make sure you are accommodated.
Where and When Can an ESA Be Denied Entrance
Since ESAs are not service animals, they are not granted the same access to public places such as restaurants, malls, and other stores. Your ESA will only be allowed to enter pet-friendly public places.
If you are not carrying your ESA paperwork with you when trying to access your rights to accommodated housing or travel, your rights to the ESA may be revoked. Additionally, if your animal becomes violent or destructive in your housing or in other public areas, you will be on the hook for any damages and may have your pet’s status as an ESA rescinded.
Penalties for Misrepresentation of an ESA
In Georgia, there is no legal punishment for misrepresenting your pet as an emotional support animal like there is in other states. However, animal owners may face evictions from housing or university, or expulsion from public areas as a consequence.
Things to Know About ESAs in Georgia
When beginning the process of registering an Emotional Support Animal, there are some things you need to consider.
- Only a licensed mental health or medical professional that is currently treating you can issue you a letter stating your need for an ESA.
- An ESA is not the same as a service animal and will have different protections because of this. Your ESA will not be allowed the exact same freedoms as a service dog.
- ESAs do not have to wear a vest or other identifying accessories, but if you plan on bringing your animal out with you often, it may be a good idea to invest in these items.
- If you neglect or mistreat your animal, you could lose your rights to them. In cases of animal neglect, the relevant authorities have full rights to confiscate your animal, ESA or not.
Where to Find an Emotional Support Animal in Georgia
An emotional support animal can be found anywhere; the only requirement is that they are well-behaved. The main factor in selecting an ESA is that you share a bond with the animal, and feel loved, calmed, and supported by it.
Check out local shelters, rescue groups, and adoption agencies if you are interested in adopting a dog or cat. These facilities will often let you spend some time with the animal before taking it home to ensure you are a good match. You can also look at pet shops or rescue organizations if you are interested in animals such as rabbits, hamsters, snakes, and birds.
Over recent years, legislation has been improved to include protections and accommodations of emotional support animals and their owners. Federal laws now recognize the effect ESAs have when it comes to improving the lives of, and supporting, people suffering from mental health conditions.
Fortunately, if you live in Georgia, ESAs are afforded several legal protections that enable you to have access to your companion as often as possible. If you are considering getting an ESA or just wondering what your legal rights are, be assured that these laws are in place to protect you and enable you to live a comfortable daily life with the help of your emotional support animal.