Welcome to Emotional Support Animals – The Ultimate Guide
Emotional support animals (ESAs) are not service dogs, but they aren’t considered pets, either. ESAs are prescribed (just like a prescription) under the law to people with disabilities who need them. ESAs have potential rights in housing and employment situations (a request for a reasonable accommodation is necessary), but not for public access.
In other words, ESAs can be denied access to public places. In addition, airlines no longer recognize ESAs and no longer accommodate them for in-cabin flying, although they can still travel as a pet.
Table of Contents
What is an emotional support animal?
An emotional support animal (ESA) is a type of assistance animal. ESAs provide comfort and support to people who are living with certain mental or emotional disabilities.
An ESA is recognized as a valid form of treatment for these types of disabilities, and is not trained to perform specific tasks (like service dogs are).
People who have ESAs may be eligible for certain accommodations, one example being the right to live with the animal in a rental or another housing situation that may have a no-pets or other animal-restrictive policies.
ESAs are not pets, but they aren’t recognized as service dogs for public access rights, and do not have the same exact legal protections as service animals.
Where are emotional support animals allowed?
Emotional support animals are allowed:
- In rental and other housing situations with their handler, as long as a request for reasonable accommodation has been granted via the Fair Housing Act (FHA)
- In an employment situation (a workplace) with their handler, as long as a request for reasonable accommodation has been granted through the ADA/EEOC and/or another authority
- Any pet- or animal-friendly locations
Emotional support animals do not have public access rights under the ADA or Americans with Disabilities Act. This means they can be denied access to public places, unlike service dogs.
Q3. Are emotional support, therapy, comfort, or companion animals considered service animals under the ADA?
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.Americans with Disabilities Act Frequently Asked Questions (ADA FAQ)
Benefits of having an emotional support animal
Many people find that ESAs provide them with various benefits. Here are just a few examples of the kinds of benefits that having an ESA can provide people with:
- Reduction in anxiety and stress
- Improved mood
- Improved sense of overall well-being
- Increased feelings of comfort and security
- Improved social interaction
- Improved communication
- Increased motivation
- Decreased feelings of loneliness
- Improved physical health through increased exercise and outdoor activity
- Better sleep quality
- Reduced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Improved ability to manage panic attacks and phobias
- Increased self-esteem and confidence
- Increased sense of purpose and meaning
- Improved ability to cope with loss and grief
- Improved mental and emotional stability
- Improved overall quality of life
- Better management of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety
- Improved ability to regulate emotions and stress levels
- Better management of physical disabilities and chronic illnesses
Qualifying for an emotional support animal
To qualify for an emotional support animal, someone must have a mental or emotional disability. This needs to be backed up by a licensed mental health professional, like a psychologist or psychiatrist.
The professional needs to create and sign a letter stating that the person has a disability, and that the animal provides emotional support or other related benefits that alleviates one or more symptoms or characteristics of the disability.
This letter must be presented when it’s needed, such as when seeking housing arrangements, or when requesting a reasonable accommodation for an employment situation.
Registering an emotional support animal
Emotional support animals do not need to be registered for any reason. No legitimate ESA registration system exists. Websites selling ESA papers online are not recognized by the Department of Justice nor the ADA, and purchasing one of those pieces of paper from the internet does not give someone any special rights.
What is needed for housing and/or employment is a letter from a doctor or other medical professional merely stating the animal is required. Check out our blog Which Service Dog Registry is Legimitate to learn more about why registration is not required.
Documentation from the Internet
Some websites sell certificates, registrations, and licensing documents for assistance animals to anyone who answers certain questions or participates in a short interview and pays a fee. Under the Fair Housing Act, a housing provider may request reliable documentation when an individual requesting a reasonable accommodation has a disability and disability-related need for an accommodation that are not obvious or otherwise known.
In HUD’s experience, such documentation from the internet is not, by itself, sufficient to reliably establish that an individual has a non-observable disability or disability-related need for an assistance animal.
By contrast, many legitimate, licensed health care professionals deliver services remotely, including over the internet. One reliable form of documentation is a note from a person’s health care professional that confirms a person’s disability and/or need for an animal when the provider has personal knowledge of the individual.U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) Fair Housing Act (FHA)
ESA (Emotional Support Animal) Certifications could be one of the greatest scams of this century. ESAs do not need to be registered or certified. No legitimate registration or certification entity exists. There are websites online selling pieces of paper to people who don’t know any better.
But in reality, ESA certifications aren’t really a real thing. Doctor’s letters may be required for housing or employment purposes under the Fair Housing Act or Americans with Disabilities Act, but neither mentions an ESA certification anywhere.
Do ESA Letters Expire?
No one can really answer this question about whether ESA letters expire because ESA letters are potentially scam. ESA letters are not officially required by the Fair Housing Act for housing, or by the ADA for employment purposes. For reasonable accommodation requests, some documentation can be required if the disability is not apparent, but ESA letter is not one of the Fair Housing Act’s requirements. Jump to Fair Housing Act/HUD documentation.
Difference between service animals and emotional support animals
The differences between emotional support animals and service dogs are as follows:
- Service dogs are individually trained for a specific person’s disability, ESAs are not task-trained for a specific person’s disability; ESAs provide benefits just by being there without necessarily performing any task or “work”
- Service dogs have rights to air travel in the cabin with their handler through the ACAA or Air Carrier Access Act, ESAs do not, but they may still be able to travel as a pet
- Service dogs have public access rights – the right to go almost anywhere and everywhere that the general public may go – ESAs do not have these rights, and are restricted to pet-friendly or animal-friendly locations
Air travel with emotional support animals
Emotional support animals used to be permitted in the cabin of aircraft with their handler. But, the Air Carrier Access Act has been recently updated and only includes rights for fully trained service dogs. ESAs may still be able to travel as a pet through the air with their handler – just not in the aircraft cabin. Individual airlines may vary. JetBlue is one airline that accepts pets up to 20 pounds (including carrier) in the cabin.
Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) a service animal means a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is 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. Animal species other than dogs, emotional support animals, comfort animals, companionship animals, and service animals in training are not service animals.U.S. Department of Transportation
Housing with Emotional Support Animals
ESAs are not automatically permitted into housing situations, but ESA handlers may make a request for a reasonable accommodation for their disability. This is a bit of a process, and you can read more about it on our blog about the Fair Housing Act & ESAs. Basically, someone with an ESA will need to make a request to keep the animal in the rental unit or another housing situation.
The request must be granted unless there is a valid reason, such as allowing the animal would bring about some kind of undue hardship to the landlord or housing provider. Requests to adjust “no-pets” policies and to waive “pet fees” are common. ESAs are not pets, and can not be charged pet fees under the FHA.
ESA owners can be charged fees and held responsible if their emotional support animal causes damage to the property. Landlords and other housing providers are permitted to request documentation to support the reasonable accommodation request.
Under HUD, Documentation About Disability May Include
- A determination of disability from a government agency (federal, state, or local)
- Receipt of disability benefits or services (Social Security Disability Income (SSDI)
- Medicare or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for a person under age 65, veterans’ disability benefits, services from a vocational rehabilitation agency, or disability benefits or services from another federal, state, or local agency
- Eligibility for housing assistance
- A housing voucher received due to a disability
- Information confirming disability from a health care professional – such as physician, optometrist, psychiatrist, psychologist, physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner, or nurse
Employment with ESAs
Asking to bring an emotional support animal into the workplace environment as a type of accommodation falls under the general category of modifying a workplace policy, (such as a no-animals policy).
Employers can ask for medical documentation in cases where the disability and possible need for accommodation are not obvious (or might be already verified).
Under the ADA, employers only need to consider accommodation requests that are needed due to a disability.
Employers and the employee will need to have a discussion about whether the ESA is trained to behave properly in a work environment. There needs to be a certain level of confidence that the ESA will remain under the employee’s control at all times.
Under the ADA laws, employers don’t need to provide any accommodations that may lead to an undue hardship (such as the ESA being unduly disruptive to other employees or to the ability to basically do business).
Maybe the best way to see if the arrangement will work is to allow it on a trial basis. Employers who do this often will make a written agreement with the employee about the trial period, how long it will be, and what might end the trial period early.
Emotional Support Animal vs Psychiatric Service Dog
The difference between psychiatric service dogs and emotional support dogs is simple: Psychiatric service dogs are trained to do at least one task for a specific person’s disability, and the task is related to the disability.
Emotional support animals are not task-trained like this and provide comfort and other benefits by their presence alone. Emotional support animals are not service dogs. ESAs do have some potential rights when it comes to housing and employment situations.
A few examples of psychiatric service dog tasks
- Providing deep pressure therapy
- Interrupting repetitive or harmful behaviors associated
- Reminding handler to take medication
- Providing grounding during flashbacks or dissociative episodes
- Retrieving items such as a phone
- Alerting the handler to an oncoming anxiety or panic attack
- Providing distraction during high-stress situations or environments
Emotional support animal certification and training
Certification and training for ESAs is not really a thing, since they do not need to be specially trained. Be aware that any place attempting to sell ESA registrations, certifications, etc., might be a scam; if registrations aren’t required for any reason, then why are they being sold?
What types of animals can be emotional support animals?
While service dogs under the Americans with Disabilities Act must be either a dog or a miniature horse, emotional support animals don’t necessarily need to be a dog. ESAs can technically be any type of animal, since emotional support animals are not narrowly defined in the Fair Housing Act, or anywhere else. While most people may have a dog, some people might use a cat, monkey, another animal, or even an alligator.
WallyGator the Emotional Support Alligator
There is a man named Joseph Henney who lives in Pennsylvania. He has an emotional support animal known as “WallyGator,” an alligator ESA. WallyGator goes with Joseph almost everywhere. They go for walks in the park. They hug. They watch TV together. And, they sleep in the same bed.
Joe says that his WallyGator is super sweet-natured, but doesn’t generally recommend a large reptile as an ESA.
An Assistance Monkey
Example: A Unique Type of Support Animal
An individually trained capuchin monkey performs tasks for a person with paralysis caused by a spinal cord injury. The monkey has been trained to retrieve a bottle of water from the refrigerator, unscrew the cap, insert a straw, and place the bottle in a holder so the individual can get a drink of water.
The monkey is also trained to switch lights on and off and retrieveU.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD)
requested items from inside cabinets. The individual has a disability-related need for this specific type of animal because the monkey can use its hands to perform manual tasks that a service dog cannot perform.