What is an Emotional Support Animal?
An emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal that helps provide support and companionship to a person struggling with mental disorders or disabilities. They do not require any specific training and help alleviate the symptoms of their owner’s conditions with their presence alone.
Many different species of pets can be ESAs, including cats, hamsters, ferrets and more. The most common type of ESA is a dog. ESAs are not service dogs, but they do help their owners live more functional lives by providing love and support. Because of their “assistance aid” legal status, ESAs are given more rights than a typical pet is.
Can my dog become an emotional companion dog?
Generally speaking, any dog can become an emotional companion dog or ESA. There are no restrictions on breed, size or age. If you already have a dog that provides alleviation from symptoms of a mental disorder or improves your mental well-being, it may be a great candidate to become an ESA.
The process of making your dog an ESA is easy, as it does not require any special training. ESAs do not do specific tasks to help their owners but provide emotional support and companionship. As long as your dog is friendly and well behaved, a Licensed Mental Health Provider (LMHP) may write a note authorizing them as your ESA.
What disabilities qualify me to have an Emotional Support Animal?
Typically, mental health disorders qualify patients to have ESAs. Some common examples of these disabilities include anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, though there are many more. People who struggle with these mental disabilities often have a hard time living their daily lives and partaking in normal activities because of their symptoms.
People who struggle with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression often find that the companionship of their pets helps them cope with their disorder. Pets can help build confidence and strong, loving relationships, which is important for people struggling with their mental health. ESAs are also prescribed to people who struggle with urges to self-harm or partake in other destructive actions. LMHPs can help determine if the symptoms of your disability may be receptive to an ESA.
What legal protections do I have with an ESA?
The right to ESAs is fortified by two ironclad federal laws. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) was created to prevent people with disabilities from being denied housing or unfairly treated during the tenancy. The FHA protects ESA owners from having to make sacrifices to live with their ESA or from having to choose between their mental health and safe, affordable housing. It prohibits landlords from denying housing to ESA owners regardless of any “no pets” policies that may be in effect. Additionally, it prevents them from charging any additional fees for the animal and waives any breed or weight restrictions. The FHA helps ensure that ESA owners have equal access to housing and do not have to worry about their animal negatively affecting their living situation.
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) is the other protection that ESAs have. It was created to ensure that people with disabilities are not discriminated against when traveling by air. The ACAA states that ESA owners may bring their pets along with them on flights and will not be charged extra for doing so. Airlines are required to make reasonable accommodations for ESA owners so that they may spend their flight near the animal in an area of the plane that is not specifically singled out. They are not allowed to charge any fees for the passage of the animal, though they may request advance notice of the animal’s presence. Additionally, they may require airline-specific documents to accompany the notice to ensure the ESA’s legitimacy. Because these laws are upheld at the federal level, they do not vary from state-to-state, your ESA protections are safe no matter the area you are in.
If you struggle with a mental health disorder and feel that your symptoms are alleviated by the presence of a pet, you may qualify to get an ESA. In order to get an ESA letter, you will need to have your mental health evaluated by an LMHP who will determine if you do need an ESA. If you already see an LMHP, they may help you out or you can use an ESA service that will connect you with one. If the professional believes that an ESA would be beneficial for your mental well-being, they will write a letter that you can use to live and fly with your pet. If you don’t already have an animal to serve as your ESA, that’s okay! You may find the animal that is the right fit for you to become your ESA if you do not have a pet already.