This content was reviewed by veterinarian Dr. Elizabeth Racine, DVM.
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I wouldn’t say I suffer from a major mental illness, but I do experience anxiety from time to time, especially in more stressful situations like when I’m traveling or at home alone. It turns out, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), that one in five adults in the United States has some form of mental illness.
Studies show that being around dogs can help relax and calm people in as little as 10 minutes. So, it’s no wonder that it’s common for people like me to use dogs as emotional support animals (ESAs). Having embarked on my own emotional support animal journey, I wanted to share the process of how to apply and put an ESA to use in real-life situations.
- What Are Emotional Support Dogs Requirements?
- How Does The ADA Look At ESAs?
- Do ESAs Help Improve Lives?
- Can A Landlord Deny My ESA?
- Can I Fly With My Emotional Support Dog?
- Do You Have To Register An Emotional Support Animal?
- How To Get An ESA & Best Emotional Support Dog Registration Companies
- Emotional Support Dog Vest
- Emotional Support Dog vs Service Dog vs Therapy Dog
- Why Trust Canine Journal?
When I first heard about ESAs, I was surprised to hear there is no formal training required. A dog trained to “ground” a person with a psychiatric disorder does work or performs a task that would qualify it as an ESA. Any dog can be an emotional support animal (ESA) without any training. The dog has to provide comfort to the person it is assisting.
Wondering what breeds make a good ESA? We’ve found the 13 best breeds that are known for providing the most emotional support. They should have a track record for being calm, good with others including children, and easy to train. Even puppies can qualify as an ESA.
Unfortunately, you may see some ESAs that aren’t the most well-behaved because there are no requirements. For instance, my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel suffers from anxiety (and is on anti-anxiety medication as a result). However, he still brings me comfort 99% of the time when he’s not acting hyper-anxious himself.
Emotional support animals are not considered service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). ESAs provide comfort to a person by being with them. However, since ESAs have not been trained to perform a specific job, they do not qualify as service animals under federal law.
However, some states and municipalities have laws that allow people to have ESAs in public, so it’s important to check the laws where you live. I’ve taken my ESA to restaurants, national parks, and other places where dogs are not allowed, and depending on the place, they made an exception if I showed the paperwork, which we’ll get into more below.
Do ESAs Help Improve Lives?
A study by CertaPet and The Assistance Dog Center (TARSQ) found that 100% of participants with an ESA dog reported that their quality of life had noticeably improved, and 95% of participants said they would get another ESA. I agree wholeheartedly with this statistic and can confirm that having an ESA has dramatically improved not only my life but others who I encounter with my emotional support animal. Whether you have a mental or emotional disability or not, dogs have been proven to improve the lives of humans in many ways.
When flying with ESAs was still allowed, I would often sit in the pre-board section with others who require special needs. The children traveling alone or elderly with mobility issues would ask to pet my dog and smile as I noticed almost instantaneously how my dog brought them joy. Many employers are now more accommodating with dogs coming to the office in an effort to bring happiness to the workplace too.
A Psychiatric Service Dog Could Be An Alternative For You
If you suffer from a mental disability (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc.) that significantly impacts your ability to perform normal daily functions, you could qualify for a psychiatric service dog (PSD). While the ADA doesn’t consider ESAs service dogs, the ADA does give PSDs the same legal rights as service dogs who assist people with physical disabilities. Learn more about psychiatric service dogs and how to qualify.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits discrimination in housing because of many things, including disability. Under this Act, landlords cannot deny tenants who use animals for assistance to perform tasks or provide emotional support. Additionally, it is illegal for landlords to charge extra fees to those who have an ESA. I’ve never experienced having a pet as a renter, only as a homeowner, so I can’t speak directly to this situation.
Please know that a landlord can request a legitimate ESA letter from a qualified physician, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional establishing the disability and the need for the ESA. Unfortunately, many people abuse the need for an ESA to get into “no pet” housing by stating their dog is an ESA. This practice isn’t fair to those who genuinely require an ESA. It’s also why landlords often request documentation of disabilities.
You can read up on some recent FHA cases regarding reasonable accommodations.
In December 2020, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that it no longer considers ESAs as special assistance animals during air travel. As of January 11, 2021, they are classified as pets. ESAs may fly as pets in the cabin portion of most domestic aircraft if they meet the airline’s weight restrictions and owners pay any additional fees (which vary by carrier). Learn more in our complete guide to traveling with pets.
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) prohibits commercial airlines from discriminating against people who have service animals. However, unlike ESAs, who do not require any training, service animals have been specially trained to perform specific tasks that assist people with physical, emotional, or mental disabilities.
You might be wondering how to register a dog as an emotional support animal. However, ESAs don’t actually require registration. If you pay a fee, your dog will be a registered ESA and will be listed in a database. Unfortunately, this registration database doesn’t hold much real value since landlords can still require a letter from a medical professional stating your disability.
There is no certification requirement. You’re paying a one-time fee for a letter from a medical professional stating your need for an emotional support animal (assuming you meet the pre-screening requirements). This letter holds no value unless it is from a licensed medical professional (either through an online service or from your mental health professional).
If you have an emotional condition, speak with a mental health professional about the potential benefits of getting an animal to support you emotionally. The doctor or counselor will tell you what characteristics to look for in an ESA, so you can adopt the best fit for you.
If you cannot meet in person with a mental health professional, you can get an ESA letter online using a consultation from one of the websites listed below. There are dozens of sites out there, but we feel these two are your best options based on reputation, availability, ease of use, and value.
Best Emotional Support Animal Registration Cost
|10% off with coupon code CANINEJOURNAL
|Available in all 50 states
|15% off with coupon code CANINEJOURNAL
|Offers a full 100% money-back guarantee if the letter ever doesn’t meet your needs
24-hour turn-around for letter
Online services require a free mental health pre-screening questionnaire online to determine if you qualify for an ESA (similar to what a mental health professional would ask during a visit before issuing a letter). If you meet the requirements, you will pay the fee and receive an electronic and/or paper letter from a mental health professional.
I have used a couple of different online ESA companies over the years (including those we recommend above) and found the process to be super simple. After answering a series of “emotional state and well-being” questions, I was then prompted to enter payment information and agree to the fees and terms. Within a day or so I received the ESA dog letter electronically from a licensed mental health professional. See an example of what the document might look like below (using my letter with private information blanked out for security purposes).
Emotional Support Dog Vest
It isn’t a requirement that you have your dog marked as an ESA, but it may prevent some questions about why you have an animal in a place that does not normally allow dogs. Identifying your dog as an ESA can also help prevent people from petting your dog without asking you first.
The vest we’ve linked to above is available in multiple sizes and colors. It’s high quality and has a one-year guarantee. The harness has “Emotional Support” clearly marked to prevent any confusion. I’ve never used a vest for my ESA before, but I have seen them on dogs and found it helpful to respect the dog and their owner’s space.
These three types of working dogs are all different, so don’t confuse them with one another. If you want to know how the training, certification, and use of these different types vary, read our service dog vs therapy dog vs emotional support dog article. Additionally, being around a dog frequently can boost your health in many different ways.
Why Trust Canine Journal?
Sadie is an experienced Emotional Support Animal Expert with more than 5 years of training and research on traveling with ESAs. She comes from a family of social workers and has a deep appreciation for those with emotional and mental health disorders. She volunteers regularly for the local Cavalier Rescue USA chapter in DC and raises money for the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) and other organizations that benefit mental health and raise awareness.Tagged With: Anxiety, Reviewed By Dr. Racine, DVM