Emotional Support Animals In Rhode Island

ESA Laws

Anxiety and depression can be overwhelming. It’s a hard mountain when one side of your brain keeps driving you to action, telling you that you’re letting people down, you’ve forgotten something, you have to do better, to hit all these targets, and more… while the other part of your brain fights that by telling you that you’re not good enough, you’ll never succeed, you can’t do that, what’s the point, don’t bother. It freezes you and renders you useless, or worse panics you in a huge crowd of people so that you feel like you can’t breathe ad everyone is staring at you, making it all worse.

Friends are supportive, but unless they’ve been through the same experience, they often don’t know how to help. They offer advice then get frustrated when you can’t follow it, and eventually stop being able to understand why this happens constantly, or why you can’t just snap out of it.

The one companion you have that you can trust never to abandon you or attempt to make you feel better with platitudes is your pet. Animals are always there for us, and their unwavering love doesn’t change when we get upset or scared or depressed – it just brings them to us to comfort us and offer their companionship through wet nose touches, face licks, purrs, pets, and nuzzles. The warm weight of their body can ground us and secure us in a way no one else can manage, quickly bringing us back to ourselves, and often sensing before we do that we need them nearby.

More and more doctors are beginning to see the therapeutic value of support animals, and these days they will often recommend one of those in lieu of traditional pharmaceutical treatments. If you’re in Rhode Island, you may be wondering how to get your pet registered as an official emotional support animal (ESA). This article will teach you the basics and get you ready for that process.

Do I Need an Emotional Support Animal or a Service Animal?

A lot of people need help differentiating between service animals and emotional support animals. They serve similar purposes, so it can be difficult to know the difference. An easy way to tell is often by breed – service animals are restricted to miniature horses and specific dog breeds, whereas emotional support animals can be anything.

Usually, an emotional support animal receives very little specialized training (so be careful when taking yours into public; if your animal misbehaves or attacks someone you will be held responsible) whereas service animals undergo rigorous training. This is because service animals are specially trained to help blind people cross streets or to know in advance when an epileptic attack will occur and emotional support animals serve the purpose of keeping their owner grounded to prevent anxiety attacks and depression.

There are several federal mandates that cover service animals and provide exemptions from typical no pets policies. It is illegal to discriminate against them in any way, which means they are allowed into the places their masters go, including restaurants, casinos, malls, and public transit. Emotional support animals do not get such extensive coverage, but they are allowed to live in rental places with policies prohibiting pet ownership thanks to the Fair Housing Amendment Act (FHAA), so make sure you read over this piece of legislation.  Many states have begun taking it upon themselves to expand this coverage and protection, allowing more and more rights for emotional support animals.

Am I Qualified to Own an Emotional Support Animal?

Rhode Island has started cracking down hard on emotional support animals, so you really have to pay attention if you want to gain support for your ESA. Emotional service animals are given no coverage and no benefits under federal regulations regarding support animals, which require your animal to receive training that is specific to your disability and the special needs you have. You are still able to have emotional support animals at home as long as you meet certain requirements.

If you have an emotional or psychological disability then there is a good chance you can qualify for a support animal in Rhode Island.

Emotional Disabilities

Emotional disabilities pertain to your emotional wellbeing.  Most people with emotional disabilities have a hard time handling daily life because they are overwhelmed with emotions that paralyze them into inaction. The most common types of emotional disability that benefit immensely from having emotional support animals are depression and anxiety. These ESAs can ward off panic attacks, prevent suicidal impulses, and provide grounding support and comfort.


Psychological disabilities are perhaps less common reasons for getting emotional support animals but no less important ones. The most common psychological disorder that benefits from ESAs is autism. Children and adults on the spectrum respond extremely well to the consistent behavior of an animal. Their ESAs provide stability in otherwise unpredictable situations and the act of petting them can calm over-stimulated people before they have a meltdown from a sensory overload.

You Need A Letter to Receive Benefits

The thing that is absolutely necessary to owning an emotional support animal in Rhode Island is getting a letter that qualifies you as a person needing and benefiting from an emotional support animal.

Letter Requirements

The ESA letter is a written document issued by a licensed mental health professional. It must be printed on their letterhead and contain the provider’s license number, state, and date of issue and the type of medicine they practice. It also requires their handwritten signature and that you be under their professional care. The letter remains valid for a year after the issued date.

Proof of Treatment

In Rhode Island, getting this letter can be a difficult process. Because they feel that a large number of people have been abusing this legislative loophole, Rhode Island is inspecting their ESA letters much more carefully than a lot of other states.

For this reason, the typical online assessment sites are often not great options in Rhode Island. One of the letter’s requirements – the one about being under the professional’s care – is being scrutinized more carefully. They want to see proof of ongoing care for your emotional disorder and an actual therapeutic relationship between yourself and your provider.

Find a provider who is familiar with ESA letters but doesn’t just make a business out of selling ESA letters. You want to be taken care of for your disability, so your therapist should be qualified to care for you but still willing to write your ESA letter. This way, if your letter is scrutinized, you can show an ongoing therapeutic relationship and once your letter expires, you will already have an established relationship that allows for renewal without another assessment process.