Getting An Emotional Support Dog

Studies have shown that people with disabilities often find comfort in owning companion animals. For this reason, many doctors prescribe support animals to their patients who need soothing, comfort and unconditional love. Most animals or ESA’s are dogs, but other animals such as cats may also fulfill this need. If you or someone you love is considering acquiring an emotional support dog, there are a few things you need to know regarding your rights and responsibilities as an owner.

What Is An Emotional Support Dog?

An emotional support dog is a pet that provides comfort and relief to those with disabilities. These animals are different than service dogs because they do not perform tasks for their owners. Instead, they provide security and love which relieves at least one symptom of their owner’s disability. These animals are often used to help those with anxiety, mental or emotional conditions.

Emotional support animals have been found to be an integral part of treatment for people with certain disabilities. Those who own a dog for this purpose often have lower cholesterol, reduced anxiety, and lower blood pressure. These dogs are often a key component to improved overall health and wellness of their owners.

Service Dogs vs Emotional Support Dogs

It is important to understand the difference between service dogs and emotional support dogs, as they are very different. A service dog is categorized as medical equipment for their owners. They are trained specifically to perform certain tasks their owners cannot complete on their own. Some examples are seeing eye dogs that help their owners cross the street or dogs that help owners do chores around the house. Service dogs are permitted to go places most pets cannot go because their owners need their help.

These animals are prescribed to owners who need emotional support and stability. These dogs do not perform tasks for their owners, but simply improve their quality of life through emotional connection and support. Since the dogs are not required to perform tasks, there is no specific training needed. Unlike service dogs, these animals are not considered to be medical equipment but laws are in place that allows these animals to be with their owners. The Air Access Carrier Act allows support dogs to fly with their owners at no extra charge. Owners must have written proof from a licensed physician or mental health professional to qualify for this benefit. The Fair Housing Amendment Act of 1988 helps emotional support animal owners qualify for pet-free housing at no extra charge. No other entities such as motels, libraries, theaters or public areas must abide by these laws. In these areas, these pets are considered pets and have no additional rights.

What Are The Qualifications For Getting An Emotional Support Dog?

Those who want an emotional support must legally qualify to do so. A licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist, therapist or psychiatrist must write a prescription letter in the proper format. The letter must state the name of the patient, that they are under the care of the practitioner and the type of disability that exists. In addition, the letter must state how this disability negatively affects at least one activity in life. The practitioner must also clearly state they are prescribing an ESA as an essential part of mental health treatment. In order to be legal, this letter must be written on the practitioners letterhead and dated. The license number of the professional and the state in which it was issued is also required.

Serious mental or emotional health conditions are considered to be disabilities. You may qualify to obtain an ESA if you have one of the following conditions that seriously impacts your ability to live:

Severe anxiety
Panic attacks
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Thoughts of suicide
Mood disorders
Seasonal Effective Disorder
Bipolar disorder

While emotional support dogs do not require special training, they must be well-behaved in public. Dogs that bite or bark excessively do not make good ESA’s. There are other types of animals that can be used in this capacity. Cats, rabbits, birds, ferrets or pigs may qualify. In certain cases, reptiles like lizards or snakes may be used but you should verify this before starting the registration process to be sure the animal qualifies.

Register An Emotional Support Dog

How To Register A Support Dog

While registering an emotional support animal is not required by law, it does make the entire process easier. The purpose of an ESA is to make the life of its owner easier and less stressful. Registering your ESA with the National Service Animal Registry will legitimize your pet as necessary part of your life. In order to begin the registration process, you must have a pet that meets the requirements for an ESA. In addition, you must be able to prove you need that pet to function fully. Your therapist or psychiatrist must provide a written letter stating that you have a disability that meets the requirements for an emotional support dog or other animal, as described by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV or V). The letter must also state how this disability limits you in at least one capacity in your daily life and that he is prescribing an ESA for treatment of your disability.

Once you have the letter of disability from your mental health practitioner, you can register your animal on the National Service Animal Registry website. You will need to complete a test to prove your animal is well-behaved enough to be in public and pay a registration fee. Upon acceptance, you will receive an official NSAR certificate, along with a photo I.D you can attach to the vest or leash of your animal when out in public.

Can I Have More Than One Dog As An Emotional Support Animal?

While there are no specific laws stating you cannot have more than one emotional support animal, it may not be beneficial. There are no laws requiring landlords to allow you to own more than one ESA. Landlords also have the right to limit you to certain dog breeds and size under the law. If you want to have two dogs for use as an ESA, you must have two separate prescription letters for each dog from your mental health professional. Your landlord has the right to refuse a second dog in a no-pet facility.

Air Travel With Your Animal

Traveling by airplane is stressful for most people, but it can be especially difficult for those who have an emotional or anxiety disorder. For this reason, the Air Access Carrier Act was put into place for those who need to fly with their dog. This law allows you to keep your emotional support dog, cat or another animal, with you for the entire flight instead of placing him in a separate area of the airplane. You cannot be charged an additional fee for keeping your ESA with you. In order to fly with your emotional support dog, you must provide the documentation from your health care provider stating the type of disability you have and that your dog is prescribed to you as part of treatment. This process is much easier and faster if your ESA is registered with the National Service Animal Registry. In addition, the airline cannot require you to sit in a designated area unless your dog is large and obstructs the seating or aisles in the airplane.

Housing With Your Emotional Support Animal

If you have an emotional support dog, there are laws in place to ensure your landlord makes reasonable accommodations to help you. The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 state that people with verified emotional or mental disabilities cannot be denied housing in no-pet facilities. To qualify for protection under this law, you must provide the landlord or property owner with proper documentation of your disability. This must be a letter from your mental health practitioner that meets the requirements.

Under this law, your landlord cannot require you to pay an additional pet deposit or fee for having your ESA live with you. This is true even if a pet deposit is required for non-emotional support animals. Your landlord is entitled to ask for documentation regarding the legitimacy of your ESA, but he cannot require you to show personal medical records. According to the law, your ESA is not required to undergo specific training before moving into the home but he must meet the ESA letter requirements.

Your landlord must allow your animal to accompany you in all areas of the property where you would normally have access. This includes tenant common areas such as recreation parks and in your own home. However, since your emotional support animal does not undergo specific training, there may be some public areas he cannot go that service dogs may be allowed. As a general rule, your landlord is not allowed to restrict or discriminate against your emotional support dog based only on its breed. Your dog should be evaluated based on his own conduct and demeanor in public. However, an exception may be made if your landlord’s insurance policy places restrictions on certain breeds of dogs.

There are a few exceptions where landlords are allowed to refuse ESA’s. Buildings with less than 4 units are exempt if the landlord resides in one of the units. Owners of motels and hotels are also allowed to refuse ESA’s because these properties are considered to be public accommodation areas and not homes. Single-family homes rented or sold without a real estate broker are also exempt from the laws regarding ESA animals. Private clubs are also not required to accommodate your ESA needs.

Landlords must abide by the law regarding emotional support animals. Your landlord cannot ask you to:

Pay a fine or fee for your ESA
Ask you about the severity or extent of your disability
Require your ESA to wear special collars or vests to identify him as an ESA
Refuse to allow your ESA based on his insurance policy

As the owner of an emotional support dog, you are required to:

Keep your dog under control in public at all times
Ensure your ESA is not destructive
Keep your ESA from disturbing the peace
Remove him from public if he shows signs of aggressive behavior

If your home or apartment is damaged by your emotional support animal, you can be held liable for the repairs. This includes forfeiting your security deposit as well as damages that exceed that amount. Your landlord also has the right to evict you from your home or apartment if your animal is a danger to others who live there. If your dog is aggressive, unruly, threatening or destructive your landlord can legally force you to leave. This requires a legal eviction process, where you are entitled to a court hearing if requested.

Landlords who refuse to comply with the law regarding emotional support animals can be used for violating the law protecting disabled people. As a tenant with an ESA you should:

Inform your landlord of the law regarding emotional support animals
Encourage them to comply to avoid prosecution
Report the landlord or property manager to the United States Department of Justice
File a lawsuit against the landlord for discrimination of a disabled person
Sue the landlord or manager for discrimination

It is important to note that many landlords simply do not understand the law regarding emotional support animals. They may not understand the difference between emotional support animals and service animals. In many instances, they are willing to comply once they are aware of your disability and the law that protects you. When dealing with your landlord, be prepared to show him the documents that allow you to have an emotional support pet. If your ESA is registered, show your landlord or property manager the documentation they provided you upon registration. Your landlord is required by law to make reasonable accommodations so that your emotional support dog can reside with you because you are legally disabled. Knowing your rights and being prepared with the proper documentation is key to helping your landlord or property manager understand the importance of your support pet. He is not just a companion, but a coping mechanism that makes your life much easier.

To make things a lot easier I thought I would give a list of the FAQ answers.

What is an ESA?

These dogs are dogs that provide comfort and support in forms of affection and companionship for an individual suffering from various mental and emotional conditions. They are not required to perform any specific tasks for a disability like service dogs are, they are there for your mental wellness, very often they are mistaken for guide dogs or home help dogs but they aren’t at all.

What kind of animals can be service animals?

In most cases, an ESA has to be a dog but there are no restrictions on the type of bread or the age of the animal its all about what makes you feel comfortable.

Do they need a vest?

I’m asked this question more than anything else the answer is No you really don’t need to worry. There are no laws or regulations which state that you must clearly identify your ESA as an assistance animal, and although it is not required for your animal to wear a vest, it is highly recommended.

What Does a therapy animal do?

They are used to help social anxiety mostly but can also be used for other reasons some common ones are to help cognitive functioning. These animals are very important for a lot of people’s wellbeing and really do help them feel more comfortable when it comes to their socialising and anything that involves being in public.

Can I get a service monkey?

Yes technically you can and sure monkeys do server purposes but mainly they are useful for helping with day to day tasks rather than emotion problems. We would suggest a support dog if you are able bodied and don’t require the help around the house.

Can I enter anywhere with my animal?

Unfortunately not you don’t have the right to take your animals in any animal restricted areas the same rules do apply so worth checking that the place you will visit is animal-friendly before you enter.

To be eligible for a service dog, an individual must:

  • Be at least 12 years of age unless service dog is needed for a child with autism if the child suffers from autism you can be eligible for support at the age of 6.
  • Have a diagnosed physical disability, anxiety disorder such as PTSD, debilitating chronic illness, or neurological disorder affecting at least one limb.

Do you have to pay a deposit for a service dog?

This is one of those rules that some people will try and flaunt be aware of your rights. Due to the federal fair housing laws, landlords have to allow reasonable accommodation for people suffering with a disability so that means ramps for wheelchairs lifts etc Please check with the landlord first when it comes to your support pets the landlord still has the final say on if you allowed any kind of support pet in the property.

Can hotels charge for a service dog?

This is really down to the hotel’s discretion I suggest you contact them beforehand to confirm if they are happy to do. More often than not we find they do without an issue but they will charge you if your animal destroys any property within the hotel itself.

Can landlords say no based on breed?

This is something that does come up from time to time, as some landlords have problems with insurance for certain breeds of dog. This means that the insurance premium can go up dramatically, this may cause an undue financial burden on the landlord, which can give them the right to say no to that particular emotional support dog.



Emotional Support Dog

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