For centuries, animals have been assisting and supporting humans with various activities, whether they are helping with farming, tracking, guarding, guiding, or hunting. Psychiatric service dogs, therapy dogs, service dogs, and emotional support animals all perform significant duties in aiding humans. However, these assistance animal terms are not interchangeable.
Each type of assistance animal is different, regarding both its role and the legal rights that it is offered. In this article, we will be looking specifically at emotional support animals (ESAs) and the legal rights that protect ESAs and their owners. We will specifically be exploring where you can and can’t take your ESA.
What is an emotional support animal?
An emotional support animal (ESA) is an assistance animal that provides therapeutic benefits to an individual suffering from a mental or emotional disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. While ESAs are expected to be generally well-behaved, they are not expected to perform specific tasks related to their owner’s condition. This is one of the main factors that sets ESAs apart from psychiatric service dogs, as psychiatric service animals are trained to perform quantifiable tasks that directly ease the challenges associated with their owner’s mental or emotional disability.
Another factor that sets emotional support animals apart from service dogs, is that ESAs can be any type of domesticated animal. Common examples of emotional support animals include dogs, cats, rodents, birds, fishes, or turtles. Keep in mind, while ESAs can be any animal species, your ESA should be domesticated. Exotic creatures and barnyard animals are not typically ESAs. An emotional support animal can either be a current pet or an animal adopted at a later stage.
How to qualify for an emotional support animal?
If you are grappling with a mental and emotional disability, you can legally qualify for an emotional support animal. However, to qualify for an emotional support animal you must be evaluated by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP). Licensed mental health professionals include therapists, counselors, clinicians, therapists, clinical social workers, psychiatrists, mental health nurse practitioners, primary care physicians, family nurse practitioners, and psychiatric pharmacists, as noted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). If your therapist or counselor believes that an ESA will improve your quality of life and is an appropriate course of treatment for your mental and emotional disability, then they will be able to “prescribe” you with an ESA letter.
The list below includes just a few examples of mental or emotional disorders that could qualify someone for an ESA:
- Anxiety disorders
- Intellectual disability
- Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Learning disabilities
- Bipolar Disorder
- Substance-related Disorder
Get your legitimate ESA Letter. Free pre-screening. 100% Money back guarantee.
Can emotional support dogs go anywhere?
As an ESA owner, it’s important to know that emotional support animals have limited rights. Emotional support animals do not meet the definition of a service dog under the law, which requires that service animals be specifically trained to perform tasks to help an individual with their disability. While this doesn’t diminish the support that ESAs provide for people with psychological disorders, emotional support dogs do not have unlimited access to public places.
One of the few special privileges that emotional support animals are granted under federal law regards housing. According to the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), an emotional support animal is any animal that provides emotional support alleviating one or more symptoms or effects of a person’s disability. Under the Fair Housing Act, housing providers must make reasonable accommodations for emotional support animals even in buildings with a “no-pet” policy. Under this act, people cannot be discriminated against due to a disability when obtaining housing. Because the Fair Housing Act includes emotional support animals in its definition of assistance animals, ESAs are not considered pets. This means that pet-related restrictions are also waived for people who have an ESA, which includes pet deposits, pet fees, and breed restrictions.
While a landlord can legally request to see a tenant’s ESA letter, they are not allowed to ask you to provide any further documents, including medical records. While tenants are not required to pay any pet-related fees for their ESA, they are financially responsible for any property damage caused by their ESA.
Do landlords have to accept emotional support animals?
Landlords are legally obligated to make reasonable accommodations for emotional support animal owners. However, there are certain circumstances where a landlord may be exempt from renting to a tenant with an emotional support animal. These circumstances include:
- If an ESA is too large for a specific accommodation (eg. if an ESA owner is trying to move their miniature horse into a studio apartment).
- If accommodating for an ESA puts undue financial hardship on the landlord (eg. if an ESA continuously damages property that the landlord needs to pay to fix).
- If the ESA threatens the safety of other tenants in the building
- If the ESA is overly disruptive to other tenants in the building
- If the building has four units or less and one of these units is occupied by the owner or landlord
- If the building is a single-family home that the owner rented out without using a realtor (the owner cannot own more than three single-family homes).
Can you bring an emotional support animal to school?
Colleges and universities must allow people with disabilities to live with their ESAs in college dorms or campus housing. There have even been instances where colleges and universities have been reprimanded for now providing reasonable accommodation for ESAs, as noted by Animal Law. -However, it’s important to keep in mind that rules regarding ESAs will vary from school to school. Many colleges and universities are now requesting documentation from students with ESAs in addition to ESA Letters. For more information, you should contact your college or university to clarify specific policies regarding ESAs.
While emotional support animals may be allowed to live with their owner on college campuses, these same privileges do not extend to the classroom. While this rule may differ from school to school, generally speaking, universities will not allow ESAs in a classroom or other school setting.
Are emotional support animals allowed in stores?
Unlike service animal owners, ESA owners can not bring their ESA to public places. This means that restaurants, stores, or other businesses are not required to allow ESAs. Each restaurant or store has the right to grant or deny an ESA access to its business. That said, some businesses may be more understanding of your situation than others, and more able to bend their rules to suit your needs.
Are emotional support animals allowed on planes?
In December 2020, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) announced revisions to its Air Carrier Access Act (ACT). As of January 2021, service animals are defined as dogs, regardless of breed or type, that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Under the new DOT definition, emotional support animals, comfort animals, and companionship animals are no longer considered “service animals.” These revisions were made due to the American Kennel Club’s growing concern over the number of people misrepresenting their pets as service animals.
Now, emotional support animals must abide by the same airline guidelines as pets. This generally means that your ESA must be able to fit in a small carrier bag to board an aircraft. You must also pay pet fees.
Can hotels charge for emotional support animals?
The Fair Housing Act does not apply to hotels or Airbnb. That said, hotels are not legally obligated to accommodate ESAs. When it comes to bringing your ESA to a hotel, you should figure out what the specific hotel pet policy is. If your hotel allows pets, then you should be able to bring your ESA along during your stay. If your hotel charges for pets, you will have to pay the associated pet fee.
Can I take my emotional support animal to work?
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to make a “reasonable accommodation” for employees and applicants with disabilities. That said, allowing an emotional support animal to accompany an individual with a disability to work may be considered an unreasonable accommodation. Human Resources Services recommends treating the request to bring an ESA to work as you would any other request under the ADA. This would entail asking for documentation about your disability and providing an explanation of how the accommodation of allowing the animal in the workplace would help the employee perform his or her job. If the employer can help accommodate you in alternative ways, such as providing you with more breaks during the workday, this should also be part of the discussion.
FAQs on Emotional Support Animals
Can cats be emotional support animals?
If you are not a dog person, you can most certainly have a cat as an emotional support animal. Emotional support animals can be dogs, cats, or any other animal species that a licensed mental health professional deems appropriate.
How many emotional support animals can you have?
An individual is legally allowed to own more than one emotional support animal. There is no law stipulating the maximum number of ESAs an individual is allowed to own. If your ESAs do not violate any state or local laws, and your therapist deems that both or all of your animals are helping to alleviate your mental or emotional disorder, then you will be allowed more than one emotional support animal.
How do you qualify for an emotional support animal?
To qualify for an emotional support animal, an individual must receive an emotional support animal letter written by a licensed mental health professional. This letter will serve as a recommendation from your LMHP stating that your ESA is a vital part of your mental health treatment.
What animals can be emotional support animals?
Any domesticated animal can be an emotional support animal. This includes dogs, cats, reptiles, fish, hamsters, and turtles. While an ESA can be any type of animal, exotic, rare, barnyard animals are not advised.
Do emotional support animals need training?
Unlike service animals, emotional support animals do not need to undergo special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities. While ESAs do not need to adhere to any behavioral standards, it is in an ESA owner’s best interest for their animal to be generally well-behaved.
Can landlords charge for emotional support animals?
Because an emotional support animal is not a pet, ESAs are waived of all pet-related fees and any pet deposits. However, if your ESA causes any property damage, the ESA owner is financially responsible for these damages.
What is the Difference Between an ESA and a Service Animal?
While an emotional support animal is available for the mental, emotional, and psychological help of its owner, a service animal has different tasks. Service animals are generally dogs, although miniature horses and other types of animals have taken up the role. These dogs have years of specific training.
Generally, emotional support animals are qualified because of what they already give to their owners. Service dogs, however, are trained to accommodate a person with specific disabilities. While any animal can be a registered emotional support animal, most service dogs require special training to perform their jobs.
Service dogs range from visual assistance to blood sugar awareness. Many people with chronic illnesses, diseases, or disabilities rely on their service animal to perform the tasks they cannot. The most common example of a service dog is a seeing-eye dog, but there are many other examples.
While emotional support animals have limits as to where they can go, service animals can accompany their owner anywhere. It is illegal to reject a person because of their service dog, as it is necessary for them to move through the world. Usually, service dogs wear vests. You should not approach them without the owner’s permission.
How Can I Tell When Someone Has an Emotional Support or Service Animal?
If you see someone out with a dog, you might be wondering if it’s a service animal. Generally, the way to tell a service dog from a regular pet is the service vest. It is usually brightly colored, attached to a leash, and says “Service Animal” somewhere on it. However, the law does not require service dogs to wear a vest or identification tag.
However, if you aren’t sure, it’s not your job to stop someone and check. It is impolite to ask someone about their service dog. Legally, businesses can ask whether it’s a service dog and about the tasks it performs, but that is the extent. Everything else is the individual’s private business.
What Breeds Are the Best Emotional Support Dogs?
While any breed of dog can be an emotional support dog, some are more suited to the task. Species with more loyal and compassionate traits make good emotional support dogs. However, any pet that has a special bond with you can qualify as an ESA animal.
The most popular emotional support dog breeds include:
- Golden retrievers
- Labrador retrievers
- Cavalier King Charles spaniels
- German shepherds
- Scottish terriers.
While these breeds are the most popular types of service or emotional support dogs due to their loyalty and intelligence, they aren’t the only breeds that can fill the role. Stereotypically tough or anxious dogs like pit bulls or chihuahuas can also be emotional support animals.
It’s not as much about the breed of animal as it is about the connection you have with your emotional support dog. If you already have a dog that helps you through rough days and keeps you emotionally stable, your psychiatrist could prescribe it as an emotional support animal. The bond is more important than the breed.
Emotional support animals can be extremely useful for their humans. If someone suffers from anxiety or depression, just having a constant companion can help increase their quality of life.
Can You Become Emotionally Dependent on an Emotional Support Animal?
While emotional support animals are crucial for many people’s mental and psychological well-being, they are not the only answer to stress or emotional disorders. If someone needs a support animal, they first need to get a letter from a licensed psychologist. Support animals should be part of ongoing treatment and therapy.
For someone with emotional, mental, or psychological distress, the presence of a comforting animal can be beneficial. However, a good therapist will also recommend ongoing therapy and medication for stability and recovery. This way, the person doesn’t become overly dependent on the animal for all of their mental health needs.
Of course, a person can become stable eventually and not need constant medication, professional attention, or consistent therapy. They might still have an emotional support animal for the hard days. Any animal can help someone enjoy life to the fullest, even if it’s not an ESA.