Emotional Support Animals

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Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are untrained pets that help a person deal with emotional or psychiatric disabilities through love and companionship. Almost any animal, including dogs, cats, and miniature horses, can become an ESA.
Updated on April 20, 2024
Robert Clendenin MD
Medically Reviewed by
Robert Clendenin, MD
Emotional Support Animals

What is an Emotional Support Animal?

An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is an animal that offers therapeutic benefits such as emotional support, comfort, and companionship to people experiencing signs of mental health or psychiatric disabilities. Under U.S. law, an ESA is neither a pet nor a service animal and is free from animal-type restrictions. Almost any domesticated animal, including cats, dogs, mice, rabbits, birds, hedgehogs, rats, minipigs, ferrets, and others, can qualify as an ESA.
An ESA does not require training. Its presence can provide relief from the signs of a disability. It’s important to understand that an ESA is a prescribed treatment recognized by a licensed mental health professional. To qualify for an ESA, you need a recommendation from a licensed mental health professional verifying your qualifying mental health or psychiatric disability.

Emotional Support Animal is Not a Service Animal!!!

A service animal has undergone individual training to assist people with disabilities. The animal performs specific tasks directly related to the handler’s disability, which goes beyond the regular exercise that a pet receives and the non-personalized training that a therapy dog receives. Some of the examples of Service Animals:

  1. Guide animals are trained to help visually impaired individuals navigate public spaces. They can recognize traffic signals, guide their owners across streets and through crowds, and even open doors.
  2. Hearing animals assist people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or hearing-impaired. They respond to sounds and guide their owners towards the speaker.
  3. Trained Psychiatric Service Animals provide powerful deep-pressure therapy to those who have PTSD, interrupt harmful behaviors, and support individuals with autism who may prefer interacting with animals due to social difficulties.
  4. Seizure Response Animals can assist in medical emergencies by clearing areas during seizures, fetching medication, and calling emergency services. Service animals can also alert people to allergens.

Emotional Support Animal is not a Therapy Animal!!!

Therapy animals tend to provide support and comfort to people in clinical settings. Unlike service animals and ESAs, these animals are permitted to work in various places, including clinics, mental health institutions, hospices, etc. Their presence positively affects those they interact with, proving them to be a vital asset to the healthcare industry.

Emotional Support Animal is not a Pet!!!

Pets are domesticated animals owned by individuals regardless of mental, emotional, or physical disability. They are fully capable of providing therapeutic benefits to their owners. Most people adopt pets for companionship or entertainment. Unlike ESA, SA, and Therapy animals, they do not have a designated work.

How to Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal?

Individuals suffering from a mental or emotional health condition substantially limiting their ability to perform daily life activities can qualify for emotional support animals. It is important to note that only a licensed mental health professional can define whether an individual has a qualifying condition. So, if you believe that you have the signs of an underlying disability that may qualify, you must consult with a doctor first.
DSM-V includes the list of qualifying conditions. It includes:

  1. Anxiety
  2. Stress
  3. Depression
  4. ADHD
  5. Bipolar Disorder
  6. Loneliness
  7. Personality Disorder
  8. Phobias
  9. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  10. Schizophrenia
  11. Other mental and emotional health conditions.

Also, It is equally important to check the pet’s (the one you will adopt) ability to assist. The critical role of an ESA is to help with the disability, and if you believe that the pet’s presence will help you perform better, they can easily qualify. It also applies if you already have a pet for which you are willing to get a recommendation.
As mentioned above, almost any animal can qualify, but only some animals fit the role depending on the type of disability you have. Other factors, like your lifestyle, budget, and apartment size, also affect the selection.

Where are Emotional Support Animals Allowed?

1. Rental Apartments

The Federal Fair Housing Act, a beacon of protection, allows disabled people to live in rental apartments and Airbnb with their pets. This law states that there should be no bias against a disabled person and their ESA. It also bars landlords, housing authorities, and property managers from imposing extra fees or security deposits for the ESA. This Act supersedes all landlord policies, including the “No Pet Housing Policy.” The Department of Housing and Urban Development oversees all kinds of complaints regarding the same.

2. College and University Housing

Federal Laws recognize college or university dorms as dwelling units. Consequently, colleges must adhere to the ESA Housing laws and be prepared to accommodate an ESA upon request. However, they retain the right to verify the disability. Upon receiving a request, they may request a doctor’s note as proof of the disability. They also have the option to contact the doctor for further verification via phone, email, or fax.

3. On an Airplane

It’s important to note that emotional Support Animals are generally not permitted on planes. This is due to a significant change in the Air Carrier Access Act, which no longer extends protections to ESAs. In 2020, the Department of Travel waived all ESA-related protections. However, a few airlines still accept ESAs. Therefore, it’s crucial to review the specific airline’s policies before planning to fly with an ESA.

4. At Work

Many employers are open to the idea of accommodating Emotional Support Animals; however, this is not a universal practice. Organizations have the right to decline a request for reasonable accommodation with an ESA. It’s important to note that offices and workplaces are not considered dwelling units and, therefore, cannot be covered under housing laws. However, Service Animals, which are distinct from ESAs, are permitted to access office space alongside their handlers. These animals are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act and are welcome to explore the office environment.

5. At Restaurants

It depends on the restaurant’s pet policy. For example, offices and restaurants are not dwelling units, so federal laws do not cover them. Still, you can find many places in your city with pet-friendly policies. However, service animals can accompany them to the restaurants.

6. In Stores

Emotional support animals are not allowed in stores as they are not protected under the ADA, which permits assistance animals in various settings, including but not limited to parks, public transportation, and government buildings, including the ‘no-pet-allowed’ ones. However, if you have a service animal, they can easily accompany you to stores

What Are the Benefits of Emotional Support Animals?

Emotional Support Animals are beneficial for people with emotional or psychiatric disabilities. They alleviate overall emotional or psychiatric disabilities by offering comfort, love, companionship, and support. Some of their benefits include:

  • They Offer a Promising Company – Whether you are lonely or feel alone even after being surrounded by people, an ESA can be your promising friend who will always be there for you. With an ESA by your side, you can easily overcome loneliness.
  • They Evoke Your Responsibility trait – It is known that keeping a pet in the house, taking care of it, preparing meals for it, bathing it, etc., makes you more responsible and accountable; the same applies to an ESA.
  • ESA Improves Your Physical Health – Walking or playing with an ESA naturally increases physical activity. This increase in activity will indirectly improve your heart health and balance cholesterol levels.
  • ESAs Curb Your Anxiety – Whether it is social anxiety, anxiety that comes up with OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), or any other type of anxiety, petting an ESA can alleviate anxious feelings and make you feel calm, relaxed, and loved.
  • ESA Helps You Heal from Depression – When depression makes it impossible for you to leave your bed, your emotional support animal can give you courage and help you to heal faster.
  • ESAs Help Overcome Trauma – Many people have cured their years of trauma by petting an ESA. Childhood Traumas due to sudden incidents or years of abuse are the most challenging to overcome, but an ESA can help you with this, too.
  • They Also Assist in Other Mental Disorders – Along with Anxiety, stress, trauma, and depression, an ESA can also alleviate symptoms of mental health disorders like Phobias, Panic attacks, Eating disorders, etc.

How To Get An Emotional Support Animal?

Your pet must have a letter from a qualified medical professional to be certified as ESA.

What are the Laws Around Emotional Support Animals?

As per the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), housing authorities must allow emotional support animals under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act prohibits this discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and sexual harassment), familial status, and disability.”
It’s important to note that the Fair Housing Act is designed to ensure fairness. It prohibits discrimination based on disability, whether physical or mental that limits an individual from performing normal life activities. Thus, landlords cannot discriminate against or deny a request for reasonable accommodation to a disabled individual.
A reasonable accommodation request can also be an emotional support animal for a disabled individual. Therefore, the landlords cannot;

  • Deny assistance animals in the building,
  • Demand extra pet fees to keep the ESA in the building,
  • Demand the ESA parent to get their ESAs specially trained,
  • Question about the details of a person’s disability.

However, federal laws do not protect if the emotional support animal harms the landlord’s property or other tenants. In these cases, the landlord can charge for the damage and even ask to remove the ESA from the building by giving an extra 10-day notice. This notice period allows the ESA owner to find alternative accommodations for their animal.

Section 504 of the American Rehabilitation Act

Section 504 of the American Rehabilitation Act states that disabled individuals cannot be discriminated against by the housing that receives federal financial assistance.
Therefore, schools or college dorms are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities or denying their requests for reasonable accommodation.
The housing authorities face the same obligation under Section 504 of the rehabilitation act that they cannot;

  • Deny assistance animals in the building,
  • Demand extra pet fees to keep the ESA in the building,
  • Demand the ESA parent to get their ESAs specially trained,
  • Question about the details of a person’s disability.

Similarly, housing authorities can waive the access of an emotional support animal to no-pet buildings if the ESA harms the housing property or other tenants.

Americans with Disabilities Act

Since 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has prohibited discrimination against disabled Individuals in the United States. The protections offered by the ADA are somewhat similar to those of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination against race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability(added later). However, the difference lies in that the ADA solely protects Disabled Individuals. The ADA protections extend to public accommodations, including transportation, employment, education, etc. In contrast, the Fair Housing Act explicitly addresses housing-related discrimination, including the right to have an emotional support animal in a no-pet building.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ensures that employers do not violate the ADA by discriminating against employees based on their disability. Similarly, the United States Department of Transportation ensures that all transit authorities in the U.S. make every necessary effort to make public transit vehicles and facilities convenient for disabled individuals, as per the ADA.
You should also know that Any state or local government, company, business, and even non-profit organization that serves the citizens must allow Service animals with disabled individuals. For example, service animals are allowed in public places like malls, stores, restaurants, local government agencies, schools, universities, and colleges. This includes public transportation, such as buses, trains, and even airplanes.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can any animal be an emotional support animal?

Any animal that provides comfort and aids the individual’s mental well-being can be an emotional support animal. These animals can include cats, dogs, mice, rabbits, rats, minipigs, birds, hedgehogs, ferrets, etc., and they can be any of age.

2. How to get approved for an emotional support animal?

To get approved for an emotional support animal, an individual must have a qualifying mental health or psychiatric disability recognized by a licensed mental health professional such as a therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, etc. The professional issues an ESA letter, the only legal document that legitimizes the presence of an emotional support animal.

3. Do emotional support animals have public access rights?

Emotional support animals are not covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act, so they do not enjoy the right to public access like service dogs. Nevertheless, they can be taken to pet-friendly establishments, and the Fair Housing Act provides housing benefits for them.

About the Author

Lisa Tevis

Lisa Tevis

Lisa is a talented professional writer at Fast ESA Letter, fueled by a deep passion for animals. With a natural affinity for their well-being, Lisa combines her writing skills with her love for animals to create engaging and informative content. As a proud pet parent, Lisa shares her life with two beloved dogs, who have enriched her understanding of the human-animal bond. Through her work, Lisa aims to raise awareness about emotional support animals (ESAs) and their positive impact on mental health.

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Can I Bring an Emotional Support Animal to School?

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Autism and Emotional Support Animals.

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Where Can I Take Emotional Support Animals?

Emotional support animals offer excellent assistance to their owners by providing comfort, support, and companionship that make living with mental health conditions easy.
In this blog, we’ll provide a detailed guide on where emotional support animals are allowed and places where they’re not allowed to accompany their owners.

Signs That Indicate You Need an Emotional Support Animal.

At some point in life, you might have thoughts in your mind that nobody understands you in a better way, and it’s obvious to think as people nowadays do not have that much time to understand you. In such circumstances, you may feel alone, depressed, and often get irritated for no reason.

Emotional Support Animals For Kids.

Emotional Support Animal for any age category with any mental disorder would work the same as an adult registering for an ESA. Now a day young kids had also started to suffer from various psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, Autism, Dyslexia, etc. Hence, It is an alpha topic to discuss. Who wants their children to suffer from any mental ail. Thus an Emotional Support Animal gives a lot of support to kids who suffer from mental disorders.

How to Ask Doctor for Emotional Support Animal?

Emotional Support Animal (ESA) plays a vital role in an individual’s life that is living with a disability or suffering from anxiety, depression, or any mental health issues. Just like any other health issue, talking about your mental health is also crucial. People generally feel shy regarding talking about their mental health. It gives them an embarrassing feel to talk about their mental condition. When it comes to visiting a specialist in this regard, they generally feel low about concerning a doctor for their mental issues.

Looking To Apply For an Emotional Support Animal Letter

Apply for your legitimate ESA letter online and get approved by a State Licensed Mental Health Professional. All done from the comfort of your home.

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