What is an Emotional Support Animal
People who need animal companionship to have better functioning, may qualify for an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). It should be noted that a health professional must prescribe an ESA to a person who has an emotional or mental disability. Examples of licensed health professionals are doctors, therapists, psychologists, or psychiatrists.
First, the health professional must decide that an ESA is crucial to the health of the person with the disability. Next, if the health professional feels an Emotional Support Animal is a good treatment option, they will write an ESA prescription (letter).
An ESA prescription letter will typically include:
- The patient’s name
- Patient’s birth date
- That the patient is currently being treated by the doctor or mental health expert
- That the patient has a disability that currently restricts them from carrying out, or participating in one or more major areas in their life
- That an ESA is part of a treatment plan to help the patient cope with their disability symptoms
Examples of conditions which may qualify for an Emotional Support Animal:
- Anxiety disorders
- Separation anxiety
- Panic attacks
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Multiple personality disorder
- Motor skills disorders
- Psychotic disorders
- Neurodevelopment disorders
- Sleep disorders
- Eating disorders
- Dissociative disorders
Finally, it’s important to also know that ESAs can be any common domestic animal including dogs, cats, or ferrets, and more. However, the animal must be well behaved, such as being toilet trained, and can’t be a nuisance or danger to others.
Can’t I just register my dog online?
There are many websites that claim themselves to be Emotional Support Registries (and Service Dog Registries). They tell you that if you pay a fee, you will get a certificate and your dog will be a legal Emotional Support Animal or Service Dog.
There is NO Emotional Support Registry in the United States. Similarly, there is NO Service Dog Registry in the United States. These websites are abusing the ESA system, and taking advantage of people.
The most legal way to obtain an Emotional Support Animal is to talk to your own health professional. This way you can work together in deciding if an ESA is the right step in your treatment. Remember, not everyone qualifies for an ESA (even though public perception would say otherwise).
To qualify you and your healthcare professional must decide that you:
- have a disability that currently restricts you from carrying out, or participating in one or more major areas in your life
- that an ESA is part of a treatment plan to help you cope with your disability symptoms
Next, if you qualify, your health professional will write an ESA prescription (letter).
Places you can legally take your Emotional Support Animal
After you receive an ESA prescription from a mental health professional, it’s important to know where you can legally take your ESA.
Many people are under the impressions that you can take an ESA with you everywhere. This is not actually true.
ESA’s can legally go to these 3 places:
- Places normal pets are allowed to go. These would be pet friendly restaurants, stores, and parks. Pet friendly areas are usually labeled and you will often see other dogs in the area.
- Housing. The Fair Housing Act includes ESAs as assistance animals. Landlords cannot discriminate against you because of your disabilities (Or ESA). In addition, rules like no pets, species bans or pet size limitations don’t apply with your prescription for an ESA.
- Airline travel. The Air Carrier Access Act allows service animals and ESAs to be with their owner in the cabin of an aircraft. The airline might require documentation stating that the person has a disability and the reason why the animal must travel with them. If you intend to travel with an ESA, contact the airline ahead of time to ensure you can provide the appropriate paperwork.
Emotional Support Animals (ESA) are NOT Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSD).
ESA and PSD are both important roles to those suffering with mental and psychiatric disabilities. However, psychiatric service dogs perform specific work or tasks to detect psychiatric episodes, interrupt habits and ease the affects of mental illness.
For example, a task that a psychiatric service dog may be trained to perform would be alerting to rapid breathing that may indicate the onset of a panic attack.
If a dog has not been trained to do any tasks, and the dog’s presence is the only thing that helps the person cope, then the dog does not qualify as a psychiatric service dog, and instead of be considered an ESA.
Finally, a psychiatric service dog has rights to be in public place, but an ESA doesn’t have these same rights.