What is an Emotional Support Dog?
An Emotional Support Dog is a dog that a licensed mental health professional has determined provides some benefit to an individual with a mental or emotional disability. They do not require specific training and provide emotional or mental stability to their owner through their love and companionship. Emotional Support Dogs are also commonly called Companion Dogs and are a specific type of Emotional Support Animal (ESA). They are not service dogs.
What Disabilities Qualify for an Emotional Support Dog?
1. Social Anxiety Disorder
Your emotional support dog could help you overcome social anxiety fear and boost your self-confidence.
2. General Anxiety Disorder
Whether you’re constantly worried or have trouble concentrating, your ESA or emotional support dog can be there to relieve some of the daily anxiety.
Your emotional support animal or dog is there to comfort you if you struggle with depression and will be there to get you out of bed each morning.
4. Panic Disorder
Your emotional support dog could be there to calm you (sometimes this just means having them by your side) when you face a panic attack.
5. Postpartum Depression
Having postpartum depression can be extremely tough, but your ESA or emotional support dog could help ease the pain you are going through.
6. Bipolar Disorder
No matter your alter in moods, energy or activity levels, your emotional support animal or dog could be your constant in the midst of irregular change if you suffer from bipolar disorder.
7. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Having OCD is a real disorder and affects your day-to-day life. By being a pet owner to your emotional support animal or dog, you could have a furry friend to help you relax.
8. Impulse-Control Disorder
Your emotional support dog can help you with your urges and impulses not only with their sweet faces but also their ability to comfort you in need.
9. Phobias and Fears
It could be a fear of heights or fear of social situations; your emotional support animal or dog is there to reduce some of the stress.
10. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD can be anything from nightmares to extreme worry/anxiety of past experiences, but your ESA or emotional support dog can be by your side during hard times and help you with your mental health.
11. Seasonal Affective Disorder
It’s difficult when dealing with depression at the same time every year so having your ESA or emotional support dog at your feet, hip, or head (it’s not just the small pets that do it either), you can start to feel a little bit better.
Emotional Support Animal Prescription
An Emotional Support Animal Prescription is actually a letter from a Licensed Mental Health Professional or Physician. This is the ONLY requirement for your dog or cat to be an Emotional Support Animal, nothing else (this includes certifications, registrations, emotional support dog registry, etc.).
Common Myths about Emotional Support Dogs, Service Dogs, And More
When searching on the Internet about ESAs, psychiatric service dog, emotional support animal prescriptions, emotional support dog letter, and emotional support dog registration, there is sometimes a blurred line.
So to help you understand more about the full definition of an emotional support dog, let’s debunk some myths.
“The only thing different about emotional support animals and service dogs is one is for mental health disabilities and one is for physical disabilities.”
While it’s true to some extent, it’s not the only that separates the two assistance animals apart.
Like other emotional support animals, emotional support dogs do not require any specific training and there aren’t any qualifications or requirements for an emotional support dog.
It’s true! It’s a great way to distinguish a service dog and therapy dog, which are both trained in their own separate ways.
Also, service dogs are dogs who have public accommodation and permission to enter a lot of public establishments. Emotional support animals or dogs do not.
“An emotional support animal prescription is your ESA letter AND a certification of your emotional support animal registration.”
An emotional support animal prescription is ONLY the ESA letter.
Emotional support animal registration? Not a real thing.
There are a number of websites and companies that offer to “register” your animal or dog – this is not required and does not legally allow you to live or travel with your animal.
Emotional Support Dog Registration: Is it Necessary?
Many pet owners think they can register their pets as ESAs. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s no such thing as an “emotional support dog registry” or “certification.” Companies selling these are fraudulent and out to get your money—and offer nothing worthwhile in return.
Only people with emotional or mental disorders can get an ESA. No vest, “certificate,” or “registration” will ever replace a legitimate emotional support dog letter.
Steer Clear From Emotional Support Dog Certification Sites!
The fraudulent selling of fake ESA letters is a booming industry. You will NEVER get a legitimate ESA letter from an online company offering ESA documentation in exchange for money. Luckily legislation changes across the US are making it more difficult to get (and use) fake ESA letters. There is also an increasing number of states making misrepresenting an ESA a felony.
There is no such thing as ESA certification or registration. Steer clear from anyone trying to sell you an ESA letter, no matter how convincing and “legit” they sound. They will draw you in with their ESA swag like vests and ID cards, but none of that is official or legally binding!
Emotional Support Dog Requirements: Any Doggo Can Be an ESA Dog!
No, you cannot get an emotional support dog for sale. However, you CAN buy a dog. Or rescue one. Or adopt one. Literally any dog can become an emotional support dog, all a dog needs to achieve ESA status is that ESA letter!
The only requirement for an emotional support dog is that you share a connection with them and that their companionship has a calming and supportive effect on you. Whether you love poodles, french bulldogs, labrador retrievers or mutts: any dog, regardless of breed (or lack thereof) can be an ESA!
Legal Protections for Emotional Support Dogs: The 2 Laws You MUST Know!
Two Federal Laws primarily protect the rights of people with Emotional Support Animals.
Although the rights are not as expansive as those granted to Service Animals, there are still two very important points to be aware of.
Living With Your Dog:
The Fair Housing Act ensures that an individual requiring an Emotional Support Dog will be allowed to live with their animal.
Furthermore, it prevents landlords and rental companies from being able to charge pet fees or deposits.
Disclaimer: If the landlord/owner witnesses neglect of the emotional support dog or significant damage done, they may be able to charge fees later on.
Traveling With Your Dog:
The Air Carrier Access Act ensures that people are able to fly with their Emotional Support Dog without having to pay additional fees.
The airlines do require that they are informed in advance and that a recent (less than one-year-old) medical letter is provided as well.
Federal Laws and ESAs
There are two main federal laws applicable to ESAs and their owners, these include the Air Carrier Access Act, and The Fair Housing Act.
It is important that anyone considering obtaining an Emotional Support Dog letter be aware of the laws that apply to owners and what they should expect from airlines and landlords.
A brief summary of federal laws and ESAs can be found by reading on:
The Air Carrier Access Act
The Air Carrier Access Act was passed in 1990 and works alongside Department of Transportation rules prohibiting discrimination of disabled individuals traveling by air. According to the Air Carrier Act provisions, airlines are not allowed to refuse transportation, limit, or require advanced notice before offering service to individuals who are disabled.
Airlines may require advanced notice for certain accommodations, such as medical equipment or electric wheelchairs, and may require notice for ESAs, depending on the individual airline guidelines.
The Air Carrier Act requires that airlines accommodate ESA owners who have verified identification, which is your ESA letter and possibly additional forms based on the specific airline.
Before you fly, make sure you are aware of the materials you need to board the plane with your Emotional Support Animal.
ESA owners are not required to sit in any particular location unless the animal is large enough to obstruct an aisle that must remain unobstructed.
The Air Carrier Act also restricts airlines from charging fees for accommodating disabled persons with an ESA.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA)
The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, commonly known as FHA, requires apartments and housing communities that ordinarily restrict pets to make “reasonable accommodation” for ESAs.
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines “reasonable accommodation” and obligates all housing providers covered under the FHA to allow ‘assistance animals’, including ‘Emotional Support Animals’, as a reasonable accommodation. You can download the exact notice issued by HUD regarding assistance animals here (it’s only a few pages long and defines the laws very clearly – all ESA owners or applicants should go through it).
In short, that means that verified ESA owners (i.e. owners who have an ESA letter written by a Licensed Mental Health Professional) cannot be denied housing, just as individuals in a wheelchair or with a disability cannot be denied housing based on their condition.
In order to be protected by FHA laws, the ESA owner must have a diagnosed disability and provide documentation to the property owner or housing representative.
The benefits of FHA laws include the fact that property owners cannot charge an advance deposit or fees for ESAs. ESA owners should note, however, that if significant damage is done, or if it becomes apparent that the animal is being neglected, the property owner might be able to recoup fees later.
Property owners also cannot question the disability, require the animal to wear identification as an Emotional Support Animal, or refuse housing.
In short, FHA laws protect verified ESA owners who properly care for the animal but may not protect owners who are negligent or destructive.
Updated: Emotional Support Animal Registration is NOT REAL!
Is Emotional Support Animal registration a “real” thing?
No, and unfortunately many sites take advantage of unknowing consumers.
These sites claim that to make your pet an Emotional Support Dog or other ESA all you need is to be “registered” in their database and put an emotional support dog vest on fido. This neglects the key point of Emotional Support Animals: they are for people with diagnosed disabilities. Furthermore, wearing an emotional support animal vest is not required for your animal.
This also goes the same to Emotional Support Animal certification or getting your ESA “certified.” It’s a false statement that does not hold up in a court of law and tricks consumers into paying for something that isn’t real.
Both the ACAA and FHA mentioned above only apply to people and their pets with an ESA letter from a Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP). The registration part is completely unnecessary and just a way to exploit consumers.
Most airlines and landlords will ask for verified proof of a disability in the form of an Emotional Support Animal letter. Make sure you are prepared with a correctly-written letter (aka only done by an LMHP!) from My Social Circle Therapy inc.
I Already Have an ESA Letter, Should I Use an Emotional Support Dog Registration Site Too?
As stated above, registration sites offer no value. There is no such thing as an “Official Emotional Support Animal Registry or Emotional Support Dog Registry.” This also goes for sites with names similar to “United States Dog Registry,” “US Animal Registry,” and “Service Dog Registry of America.”
Can a Landlord Deny an Emotional Support Animal?
Most of the time no.
But let’s be clear.
There are two questions a housing provider must consider when a request for reasonable accommodation is made:
- Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability — i.e., a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?
- Does the person making the request have a disability-related need for an assistance animal? In other words, does the animal work, provide assistance, perform tasks or services for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person’s existing disability?
If answers to both questions are “yes” then a landlord must provide reasonable accommodation for an Emotional Support Animal. My Social Circle Therapy ESA letters are written by REAL Licensed Mental Health Professionals and in such a way that more than 99% of landlords accept the letters without incident.
The case where an Emotional Support Animal may not be accepted are:
- If the building has four or less unit and the landlord occupies one of the units
- Private Clubs
- Single-family housing sold or rented without a real estate broker
ESAs are More Than “Man’s Best Friend”
Emotional Support Animals are not restricted to Emotional Support Dogs or Emotional Support Cats, but could even be a BUNNY! What is important is that the ESA and the owner have a special relationship that genuinely offers emotional support and wellbeing.
Obtaining an ESA Letter requires more than just a psychological diagnosis; it also requires compliance with standards, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s standards, which includes demonstrating that the animal provides a service that supports the diagnosis.
The journey to a happy, healthy ESA owner relationship may already have begun, but disabled individuals may not realize it. Individuals who already have a pet that brings them comfort and emotional support can apply for an Emotional Support Dog letter, which will provide them with the protections discussed in this article and benefits that are immeasurable.
Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA
Many people with disabilities use a service animal in order to fully participate in everyday life. Dogs can be trained to perform many important tasks to assist people with disabilities, such as providing stability for a person who has difficulty walking, picking up items for a person who uses a wheelchair, preventing a child with autism from wandering away, or alerting a person who has hearing loss when someone is approaching from behind.
The Department of Justice continues to receive many questions about how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to service animals. The ADA requires State and local government agencies, businesses, and non-profit organizations (covered entities) that provide goods or services to the public to make “reasonable modifications” in their policies, practices, or procedures when necessary to accommodate people with disabilities. The service animal rules fall under this general principle. Accordingly, entities that have a “no pets” policy generally must modify the policy to allow service animals into their facilities. This publication provides guidance on the ADA’s service animal provisions and should be read in conjunction with the publication ADA Revised Requirements: Service Animals.
A. Under the ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.
A. The dog must be trained to take a specific action when needed to assist the person with a disability. For example, a person with diabetes may have a dog that is trained to alert him when his blood sugar reaches high or low levels. A person with depression may have a dog that is trained to remind her to take her medication. Or, a person who has epilepsy may have a dog that is trained to detect the onset of a seizure and then help the person remain safe during the seizure.
A. No. These terms are used to describe animals that provide comfort just by being with a person. Because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. However, some State or local governments have laws that allow people to take emotional support animals into public places. You may check with your State and local government agencies to find out about these laws.
A. It depends. The ADA makes a distinction between psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals. If the dog has been trained to sense that an anxiety attack is about to happen and take a specific action to help avoid the attack or lessen its impact, that would qualify as a service animal. However, if the dog’s mere presence provides comfort, that would not be considered a service animal under the ADA.
A. No. People with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program.
A. No. Under the ADA, the dog must already be trained before it can be taken into public places. However, some State or local laws cover animals that are still in training.
A. In situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, staff may ask only two specific questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability.
A. No. The ADA does not require service animals to wear a vest, ID tag, or specific harness.
A. The handler is responsible for caring for and supervising the service animal, which includes toileting, feeding, and grooming and veterinary care. Covered entities are not obligated to supervise or otherwise care for a service animal.
A. Yes. Service animals must be allowed to accompany their handlers to and through self-service food lines. Similarly, service animals may not be prohibited from communal food preparation areas, such as are commonly found in shelters or dormitories.
A. No. A guest with a disability who uses a service animal must be provided the same opportunity to reserve any available room at the hotel as other guests without disabilities. They may not be restricted to “pet-friendly” rooms.
No. Hotels are not permitted to charge guests for cleaning the hair or dander shed by a service animal. However, if a guest’s service animal causes damages to a guest room, a hotel is permitted to charge the same fee for damages as charged to other guests.
A. Generally, yes. Some people with disabilities may use more than one service animal to perform different tasks. For example, a person who has a visual disability and a seizure disorder may use one service animal to assist with way-finding and another that is trained as a seizure alert dog. Other people may need two service animals for the same task, such as a person who needs two dogs to assist him or her with stability when walking. Staff may ask the two permissible questions (See Question 7) about each of the dogs. If both dogs can be accommodated, both should be allowed in. In some circumstances, however, it may not be possible to accommodate more than one service animal. For example, in a crowded small restaurant, only one dog may be able to fit under the table. The only other place for the second dog would be in the aisle, which would block the space between tables. In this case, staff may request that one of the dogs be left outside.
A. Generally, yes. Service animals must be allowed in patient rooms and anywhere else in the hospital the public and patients are allowed to go. They cannot be excluded on the grounds that staff can provide the same services.
A. If the patient is not able to care for the service animal, the patient can make arrangements for a family member or friend to come to the hospital to provide these services, as it is always preferable that the service animal and its handler not be separated, or to keep the dog during the hospitalization. If the patient is unable to care for the dog and is unable to arrange for someone else to care for the dog, the hospital may place the dog in a boarding facility until the patient is released, or make other appropriate arrangements. However, the hospital must give the patient the opportunity to make arrangements for the dog’s care before taking such steps.
A. Generally, yes. However, if the space in the ambulance is crowded and the dog’s presence would interfere with the emergency medical staff’s ability to treat the patient, staff should make other arrangements to have the dog transported to the hospital.
A. No. Covered entities may not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal, as a condition for entry.
A. Yes. Individuals who have service animals are not exempt from local animal control or public health requirements.
A. Yes. Service animals are subject to local dog licensing and registration requirements.
A. No. Mandatory registration of service animals is not permissible under the ADA. However, as stated above, service animals are subject to the same licensing and vaccination rules that are applied to all dogs.
A. Yes. Colleges and other entities, such as local governments, may offer voluntary registries. Many communities maintain a voluntary registry that serves a public purpose, for example, to ensure that emergency staff know to look for service animals during an emergency evacuation process. Some offer a benefit, such as a reduced dog license fee, for individuals who register their service animals. Registries for purposes like this are permitted under the ADA. An entity may not, however, require that a dog be registered as a service animal as a condition of being permitted in public places. This would be a violation of the ADA.
A. Yes. The ADA does not restrict the type of dog breeds that can be service animals.
A. No. A service animal may not be excluded based on assumptions or stereotypes about the animal’s breed or how the animal might behave. However, if a particular service animal behaves in a way that poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, has a history of such behavior, or is not under the control of the handler, that animal may be excluded. If an animal is excluded for such reasons, staff must still offer their goods or services to the person without the animal present.
A. No. Municipalities that prohibit specific breeds of dogs must make an exception for a service animal of a prohibited breed, unless the dog poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. Under the “direct threat” provisions of the ADA, local jurisdictions need to determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether a particular service animal can be excluded based on that particular animal’s actual behavior or history, but they may not exclude a service animal because of fears or generalizations about how an animal or breed might behave. It is important to note that breed restrictions differ significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In fact, some jurisdictions have no breed restrictions.
A. The ADA does not require covered entities to modify policies, practices, or procedures if it would “fundamentally alter” the nature of the goods, services, programs, or activities provided to the public. Nor does it overrule legitimate safety requirements. If admitting service animals would fundamentally alter the nature of a service or program, service animals may be prohibited. In addition, if a particular service animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it, or if it is not housebroken, that animal may be excluded.
A. In most settings, the presence of a service animal will not result in a fundamental alteration. However, there are some exceptions. For example, at a boarding school, service animals could be restricted from a specific area of a dormitory reserved specifically for students with allergies to dog dander. At a zoo, service animals can be restricted from areas where the animals on display are the natural prey or natural predators of dogs, where the presence of a dog would be disruptive, causing the displayed animals to behave aggressively or become agitated. They cannot be restricted from other areas of the zoo.
A. The ADA requires that service animals be under the control of the handler at all times. In most instances, the handler will be the individual with a disability or a third party who accompanies the individual with a disability. In the school (K-12) context and in similar settings, the school or similar entity may need to provide some assistance to enable a particular student to handle his or her service animal. The service animal must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered while in public places unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the person’s disability prevents use of these devices. In that case, the person must use voice, signal, or other effective means to maintain control of the animal. For example, a person who uses a wheelchair may use a long, retractable leash to allow her service animal to pick up or retrieve items. She may not allow the dog to wander away from her and must maintain control of the dog, even if it is retrieving an item at a distance from her. Or, a returning veteran who has PTSD and has great difficulty entering unfamiliar spaces may have a dog that is trained to enter a space, check to see that no threats are there, and come back and signal that it is safe to enter. The dog must be off leash to do its job, but may be leashed at other times. Under control also means that a service animal should not be allowed to bark repeatedly in a lecture hall, theater, library, or other quiet place. However, if a dog barks just once, or barks because someone has provoked it, this would not mean that the dog is out of control.
A. If a service animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it, staff may request that the animal be removed from the premises.
A. No, the dog must be under the handler’s control at all times.
A. Individuals who believe that they have been illegally denied access or service because they use service animals may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice. Individuals also have the right to file a private lawsuit in Federal court charging the entity with discrimination under the ADA.
A. Generally, the dog must stay on the floor, or the person must carry the dog. For example, if a person with diabetes has a glucose alert dog, he may carry the dog in a chest pack so it can be close to his face to allow the dog to smell his breath to alert him of a change in glucose levels.
A. No. Seating, food, and drink are provided for customer use only. The ADA gives a person with a disability the right to be accompanied by his or her service animal, but covered entities are not required to allow an animal to sit or be fed at the table.
A. No. The ADA does not override public health rules that prohibit dogs in swimming pools. However, service animals must be allowed on the pool deck and in other areas where the public is allowed to go.
A. No. Religious institutions and organizations are specifically exempt from the ADA. However, there may be State laws that apply to religious organizations.
A. The ADA applies to housing programs administered by state and local governments, such as public housing authorities, and by places of public accommodation, such as public and private universities. In addition, the Fair Housing Act applies to virtually all types of housing, both public and privately-owned, including housing covered by the ADA. Under the Fair Housing Act, housing providers are obligated to permit, as a reasonable accommodation, the use of animals that work, provide assistance, or perform tasks that benefit persons with a disabilities, or provide emotional support to alleviate a symptom or effect of a disability. For information about these Fair Housing Act requirements see HUD’s Notice on Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUD-funded Programs.
A. No. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is the Federal law that protects the rights of people with disabilities to participate in Federal programs and services. For information or to file a complaint, contact the agency’s equal opportunity office.
A. No. The Air Carrier Access Act is the Federal law that protects the rights of people with disabilities in air travel. For information or to file a complaint, contact the U.S. Department of Transportation, Aviation Consumer Protection Division, at 202-366-2220.
For more information about the ADA, please visit our website or call our toll-free number.
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The Americans with Disabilities Act authorizes the Department of Justice (the Department) to provide technical assistance to individuals and entities that have rights or responsibilities under the Act. This document provides informal guidance to assist you in understanding the ADA and the Department’s regulations.
This guidance document is not intended to be a final agency action, has no legally binding effect, and may be rescinded or modified in the Department’s complete discretion, in accordance with applicable laws. The Department’s guidance documents, including this guidance, do not establish legally enforceable responsibilities beyond what is required by the terms of the applicable statutes, regulations, or binding judicial precedent.
Duplication of this document is encouraged.