If you have an emotional or psychological condition, an emotional support animal can be a great therapeutic option for you. The presence of comforting animals has been proven to enhance dopamine levels. This means that keeping a furry friend at your side can decrease anxiety and stabilize your emotions. That is what having an emotional support animal can be a major asset for many people.
While they can be a great source of support, dealing with the logistics of having emotional support animals can be tricky at times. There is a lot of confusion about the difference between emotional support animals and service dogs, as well as which places emotional support animals get access to legally.
Has your doctor recommended a furry four-legged companion? Here is everything that you need to know about having an emotional support animal and getting set up with the right documentation.
Who Needs Emotional Support Animals?
Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are animals that have been recommended by a doctor and appointed to provide assistance. While they are different from service animals, they are recognized by United States federal law. Although service animals are limited to particular types of animals and breeds, a wide range of animals can be considered emotional support animals. These emotional support animals are used to treat issues like depression, anxiety, phobias, and other emotional or psychological conditions.
Of course, the only way to determine if an emotional support animal is right for you is to talk to your doctor. If you have any of the above conditions, bringing up the idea of an emotional support animal to your doctor could be a great option. All you need to qualify for an emotional support animal is to receive a recommendation from your doctor or mental health professional.
It is also important to note that any type of animal or breed of dog can qualify as an emotional support animal. If an animal comforts you, it could be a great option for providing you with the support that you need.
Conditions That Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal
According to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a physical disability is “[a]ny physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory (including speech organs), cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin, and endocrine.”
Some of the common conditions that qualify for a service dog include autism, arthritis, asthma, blindness, deafness, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, paralysis, scoliosis, and seizures. On the other hand, emotional support animals are commonly recommended for conditions like anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, eating disorders, mood disorders, neurocognitive disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychotic conditions, and substance abuse problems.
Access to Housing with Emotional Support Animals
According to the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA), it is illegal to discriminate against someone with a recognized impairment. This law is relevant to emotional support animals because it means that housing rights must be given to those with emotional support animals. In other words, even if a property has a “no pets” policy, they must make reasonable accommodation to emotional support animals. This applies to public housing, college dorms, and any other accommodation. It is worth noting, however, that this law does not override existing health codes. For example, some states have public health laws that prohibit dogs, including emotional support animals, in swimming pools.
Generally speaking, landlords must accept emotional support animals but it is not always a clear cut situation. From a legal standpoint, a landlord is required to establish that a potential tenant has a physical or mental impairment that majorly impacts daily life. Secondly, you will want to show your landlord evidence that the emotional support animal is able to provide support to daily life. The majority of the time a letter from your doctor explaining your need for an emotional support animal. While “reasonable accommodation” must be made, there are some exceptions. Legally, a private club doesn’t need to accept emotional support animals. Likewise, a building with four or fewer rental units that is landlord-occupied does not need to need to accept emotional support animals nor does a single-family home that is rented without a real estate broker.
Types of Emotional Support Animals
The great thing about ESAs is that they do not need to be a specific breed or species of animals to provide support. As you probably already know, dogs and cats can be fantastic emotional support animals because of the unconditional love and comfort they give to their owners. Beyond the classic cat and dog duo, other animals like hedgehogs, parrots, ferrets, and bunnies also have the ability to provide someone with love and support. The most important thing to remember is that a specific animal that is good for one person might not be good for someone else. If you are trying to select the animal that you want for your life, be sure to take into account your personality, the mental or emotional struggle you are having, and which animal will help you most. Learn more about the types of emotional support animals here.
Staying in an Airbnb with Emotional Support Animals
If you are staying in temporary housing via Airbnb, it is important to note that they have a clear policy of nondiscrimination. They require all of their Airbnb hosts to accept animals that accommodate any type of “physical, psychiatric, intellectual or mental disability.” Unless a host can demonstrate that the support animal provides a particular health or safety concern (i.e. the host is allergic to dogs), they must accept service pets, emotional support animals, therapy animals, and comfort animals.
While Airbnb recommends informing your host that you will be staying with an emotional support animal, it is not actually required. It is also important to note that guests aren’t required to provide hosts with any documentation of a need for a service animal. If a host refuses a guest with an emotional support animal, Airbnb recommends that the guest file a complaint report with Airbnb to get the issue resolved and prevent the host from causing future issues.
Flying with Emotional Support Animals
The Air Carrier Access Act used to ensure that ESAs could fly in the cabin of the plane with you for free. However, the law has since been updated and ESAs are now treated as regular pets when it comes to airlines. This is a big difference between ESAs and psychiatric service dogs, who are always able to fly with you for free. Regardless of your pet’s status as an ESA, you will still need to pay a pet fee to bring your animal onboard the plane. Along with this, if your animal isn’t small enough, or if there have already been many pet reservations, your ESA may need to ride in cargo. Each airline has different fees and rules about the amount of pets allowed on the plane.
Airline Pet Policies
- American Airlines
- Alaska Airlines Pet Policy
- Delta Airlines Pet Policy
- Frontier Airlines Pet Policy
- Hawaiian Airlines Pet Policy
- JetBlue Pet Policy
- Lufthansa Pet Policy
- Southwest Airlines Pet Policy
- Spirit Airlines Pet Policy
- United Airlines Pet Policy
- Virgin America Pet Policy
Official Emotional Support Animals
It is also a smart idea to get an official certificate for your emotional support animal. Registering your emotional support dog isn’t legally required but it makes your life easier. Registering with US Service Animals gives you a certificate that you can use for access to properties, airlines, and other essential spaces. One handy thing about getting registered is that you will get an identifying vest with a photo ID, certificate, and an entry in the largest Service Animal and Emotional Support Animal database in the United States. Another notable perk is that US Service Animals offers 24/7 legal professionals and support staff who can help you anytime that you may have issues with your emotional support animal.
If you are thinking about registering any emotional support animals, it is essential to keep your eyes open to scams. It is crucial to realize that getting registered with an emotional support animal shouldn’t be too easy. If you can get instant approval, it is probably a scam. To give official documentation, it is essential to talk to a board-certified doctor. If a company offers to set you up with emotional support animal certification instantly and for a very low price, beware! Also, keep in mind that you will need a letter from your doctor every year for an emotional support animal so there is no such thing as a lifetime certification.
Essential ID for Emotional Support Animals
Legally speaking, it is not necessary to have a vest, leash, tag, or collar for your emotional support animal. All you just need to have a note from your doctor for your emotional support animal to be considered essential. While technically these are the rules, it is not always as easy in practice. To prevent confusion and ensure that you and your emotional support animal always have easy access to anywhere that you would like to go, it is often a good idea to have identifying information like a vest. By having this information visible, it clearly distinguishes your emotional support animal from a pet. This can often prevent you from even having to answer any questions or face any delays.
Service Animals vs. Emotional Support Animals
Wondering about the difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal? While people often confuse the terms, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has very clear definitions. To be considered a service animal, the owner must have a disability. According to the ADA, a disability is different from having an impairment.
Typically, a mental illness is considered to be an impairment unless it significantly affects your ability to function. Of course, only a doctor can decide this and it is the doctor’s opinion that will determine your classification. It is also worth noting that pѕусhiаtriс sеrviсе animаlѕ fall under a different qualification as well. One key distinction is that pѕусhiаtriс sеrviсе animаlѕ and service dogs need to be trained. While emotional support animals can’t disturb people, they don’t have to meet any particular training requirements for their designation.
Service animals are typically dogs or miniature horses. They usually work with people who are deaf, blind, suffering from seizures, or confined to a wheelchair. These service animals are specifically trained to manage the unique symptoms that come with these conditions. Service animals are trained to recognize and help to deal with symptoms as they arise. While they both provide valuable service, these differences are important.
Common Emotional Support Animal Questions
Does my emotional support animal need a vest, leash, tag, collar, etc. to identify him or her?
While a vest, leash, tag, collar, and other accessories are NOT a requirement for emotional support animals, they can often be helpful in clarifying that your animal is an emotional support animal and reducing questions about your animal
My landlord says “no pets allowed,” but can I still have an emotional support animal?
Once your pet is considered an emotional support animal he or she can stay with you at your residence even if they do not allow pets. While for some landlords, a registration may be acceptable, they can legally require that you have a Dr. Letter stating your need for an emotional support animal.
Do I need a note from a mental health professional?
Typically, if you would like to live in no-animal housing with your animal, landlords can legally request that you have a letter from a licensed mental health professional stating your need for your emotional support animal.
Can you get an ESA for Anxiety?
Emotional support animals are a great option for people who suffer from a milder form of anxiety and may not need the level of support a psychiatric service dog provides. Emotional support animals are easier to obtain and more cost-efficient than service dogs. The main role of these animals is to provide emotional support and comfort throughout the day and in times of distress.
For our answers to more FAQS regarding Emotional Support Animals, check out this guide.