Dogs are a great source of emotional comfort and support in times of mental breakdowns and other mental health-related issues. However, having a dog does not immediately qualify a patient for an emotional support animal (ESA). Nevertheless, you can get a certification and an ESA letter to have an emotional support dog legally.
How To Certify An Emotional Support Dog
Certifying an emotional support dog (ESD) does not really have a program or training that qualifies a dog for a certain position. Under the law, the only way to consider a dog as an emotional support animal is through a legitimate ESA letter.
One can get a legitimate ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional. Once the patient or owner has been diagnosed with a mental health problem, therapists may sometimes suggest having an ESA.
Although your dog does not need any membership or registration, as the owner or the person who needs an emotional support dog, you need to present the necessary documents that will qualify you to have one.
Steps to Register for an Emotional Support Dog
In order to have an emotional support dog, you need to follow the steps listed below.
- Recognize that you need an ESA or ESD.
- Get in touch with a licensed doctor or therapist.
- Explain thoroughly why you need an ESD.
- Prepare some documents. It may depend on what the therapist needs.
- Wait for the signed ESA Letter.
Even though there is no need to register your dog, some airlines and landlords may look for certifications and other documents about your need for an animal companion. If this happens, present your signed ESA letter.
You may also ask for an official emotional support animal certification through various legitimate websites and online doctors.
What Is an ESA Letter?
As mentioned above, an ESA letter is a signed document from a licensed mental health professional. An ESA letter can also be prescribed by a general practitioner or a psychiatrist as long as they have enough information about the patient’s disability or need.
An ESA letter works as a prescription to have an emotional support animal. As part of the patient’s treatment, the health care professional may suggest they have a companion. They believe having an emotional support pet can provide comfort and a therapeutic relationship with their patients.
Furthermore, an ESA letter must contain the patient’s disability, the licensed mental health professional’s signature, the license number, and the approval date. For air travel, an ESA letter is only valid for a year and needs an annual renewal.
Difference Between a Service Dog and an Emotional Support Dog
Dogs are very trainable and sympathetic beings. If guided properly, they can either be a service dog or an emotional support dog. Here are the differences between service dogs and emotional support dogs:
Services animals, such as dogs, receive specialized, extensive training from their owners and other professionals. These dogs undergo training to master a specific task or set of tasks. For example, K9 police dogs have the training to assist in police operations such as search and rescue, apprehension, and explosive detection.
Diabetic alert dogs, seeing-eye dogs, mobility assistance dogs, and hearing dogs are some other types of service dogs. Based on their names, you can easily identify what services they offer to their owners.
Moreover, these dogs also have a more comprehensive range of rights and privileges under federal law. That is because they provide more assistance for significant and fundamental life activities.
Emotional Support Dog
On the other hand, emotional support dogs give support and comfort to people with emotional and mental disabilities. It includes depression, social phobias, anxiety, and other mental health problems.
Since dogs are popular human companions, they are also one of the most common emotional support animals. Furthermore, no federal regulations say that only dogs can provide emotional support. Cats, rabbits, birds, and other animals can also offer emotional support, and the choice is between the owner and their therapist.
However, these animals will not receive any training in the process. As a result, they have limited privileges and rights, especially regarding public access. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), sometimes, they are not even permitted to stay beside their owners in air travel, restaurants, and grocery stores.
What Disabilities Qualify for an Emotional Support Dog?
Several mental disabilities, from mild to severe, can have an emotional support dog. These mental disabilities include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, phobias, panic attacks, and PTSD. An emotional support companion can be utilized by patients whose medications can have adverse side effects or fail to treat them.
Emotional support animals do not only help adults. A study finds that they can help even elementary students with emotional needs.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual published by the American Psychiatric Association lists down all types of mental disorders that doctors can use to provide a reliable diagnosis for a patient.
How to Get an Emotional Support Dog
Any breed and type of dog can be an emotional support dog as long as they can help lessen the symptoms of a person’s mental illness. A person with a mental disability that also has a dog or a cat can ask their therapist to certify their need for an emotional support animal.
Dogs from rescues and shelters also have the potential to be emotional support dogs. However, before processing an adoption paper, the patient should still get an ESA letter from a licensed doctor first before proceeding.
Consider your place of residency, daily schedule, activities, work, and other factors before one. If you are not ready for a dog to take care of, then it may just add to your anxiety.
Furthermore, considering the dog’s temperament and traits can help you choose the best one. Some dogs are calm, some can be hyperactive; some are shy, and some are clingy. So, it is essential to look after several rescues, visit different shelters, and ask questions about the dogs to ensure you will get the right fit.
Rights of an Emotional Support Dog
Although there are no clear and definite laws and regulations about emotional support dogs, here are some approved acts to protect them and the patients from discrimination and unnecessary stress.
The Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act applies to both service animals and emotional support animals. Signed in 1968, it aims to protect people from discrimination during house-related activities which include renting. It avoids race, disability, and religious discrimination.
Moreover, this act also ensures that people with mental disabilities or illnesses will not experience any housing discrimination because of their need for an emotional support dog or service dog. Consequently, the landlords should provide reasonable accommodations even to those with disabilities without any additional fees or pet deposits.
Furthermore, the person with disabilities should only present their ESA housing letter to their landlord to prove their need for it. An ESA letter should have a signature by a licensed health professional for it to be legitimate.
Aside from the ADA, The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is another federal department that ensures that everyone has comprehensive resources on tenant laws, protections, rights, and fair housing opportunities.
The Air Carrier Access Act
In 1986, the law made the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) effective. It prevents discrimination in air travel based on a patient’s disability. This law requires air carriers to attend to the needs of and accommodate passengers with disabilities. It includes accommodations for service animals and emotional support animals.
Additionally, this act allows service animals to be with their handler, owner, or a person with a disability as long as the animal is not too heavy or too large. The airlines should not ask for additional pet fees as well. It applies to all flights to and from the United States and foreign airlines.
Airlines may ask for specific documentation and/or an advanced notice (48-hour). A signed ESA letter should also be presented to the cabin crew to demonstrate their need for a companion animal.
Different airlines have different rules and regulations regarding emotional support dogs. Therefore, patients may need to contact the airline first before proceeding with the flight. Travellers with mental illnesses may choose a hassle-free and ESA-friendly airline to make their travel smoother and stress-free.
However, in 2021, there are some significant changes regarding ESA rights regarding air travel. The DOT amended the Air Carrier Access Act which no longer protects ESAs. Only service animals are receiving protection under the law right now.
Some domestic and international flights will not allow ESAs to ride with their handler. Some airlines still allow dogs but only small ones.
Emotional Support Dog: FAQ
Here are the answers to some of the most common questions about how to certify an emotional support dog:
ESAs are only allowed to go inside pet-friendly restaurants and stores. Unlike service dogs, ESAs are not allowed in all public areas since they are not trained to help with any specific task to attend to those people with physical and mental disabilities.
Yes, you can have one or more emotional support animals. You are allowed to have more than one emotional support animal as long as you can care for them, they don’t break any local or state regulations, and your therapist approves.
There is no specific size limit for an emotional support animal. However, if you wish to travel with your ESA, you must have a smaller pet.
Since ADA no longer protects ESAs’ rights, most cruise ships will not allow an emotional support animal on board.
Not all hotels will accommodate emotional support dogs. Again, not all laws protecting service dogs apply to ESAs. If you want to bring your ESA to trips and hotels, you should look for one that allows it.
An emotional support dog does not need any certification or registration; it’s an optional online service for the convenience of confirming the special status of your pet. However, a person with any mental illness should get an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) letter with a signature of a healthcare professional or an online conversation with a licensed physician. They can use it when travelling, going to public places, and even looking for accommodations.