Dogs have the well-earned reputation of being man’s – and woman’s – best friend. Dogs are loyal, affectionate and supportive. Playing with a dog can be a fun way to relieve stress. Studies also show that petting a dog can boost an owner’s mood and reduce anxiety. Dogs are also valuable as service animals, assisting blind, deaf and mobility impaired owners in many ways. They can also assist owners with less visible disabilities, including diabetes, autism and epilepsy. Individuals with some mental and psychiatric disabilities may not be eligible to have their pet certified as a service animal, but they may register their dog as an emotional support dog, gaining important rights that protect them and their pet from discrimination.
Emotional Support Animals
An Emotional Support Dog (ESA) is more than just a pet. It provides a mental health benefit to an owner who suffers from a psychiatric or mental disability. This includes, but is not limited to, those who suffer from:
- Anxiety disorders
- Panic attacks
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Social phobias
Emotional support animals can enable a person to manage the symptoms of their disorder and live independently. Unlike a service animal, an ESA does not need to be trained to fulfill a specific duty for its owner. Its primary benefit is in the calming effect that its companionship affords.
Requirements for ESAs
While emotional support animals do not require special training, they should meet certain criteria, and if they fail to do so they may be evicted. Emotional support animals:
- Should not pose a danger to others
- Should not show aggression to others
- Should be fully housebroken
- Should not bark excessively
- Should be reasonably well behaved, by normal pet standards
Emotional support animals that have difficulty meeting any of these criteria may benefit from additional training by their owner or a professional.
Access for ESAs
Pets are not welcome in many housing units and public venues. However, an emotional support animal plays an integral role in its owner’s mental health, and as such has more rights than a mere pet. While ESAs do not enjoy the same freedoms as service animals, the law requires that they be welcomed in some circumstances where pets are not allowed.
Many housing units prohibit pets. However, the HUD Fair Housing Act (FHA) mandates that, in most types of housing, owners who require an emotional support animal be allowed to keep their animal regardless of “no pets” policies. As long as the dog poses no direct threat to public safety, landlords may not exclude ESA’s regardless of breed or size, even if city ordinances forbid the breed. They also may not charge a pet deposit, although the owner may be required to pay for any damage the dog may cause.
Airlines also have strict rules regarding pets. Again, emotional support animals are exempt from these policies. Many individuals experience anxiety when flying, and an emotional support animal can alleviate their stress.
Landlords and airlines may request that you submit documentation of your disability and need for an emotional support animal before they agree to waive a “no pets” policy. It is not necessary that you disclose the nature of your disability when providing emotional support dog certification. Instead, you simply need a letter from your physician stating that you do have a disability, and that your animal is a necessary part of your care. Once you have provided this certification, you are not required to answer any additional queries regarding your disability or the therapeutic function of your dog.
An emotional support dog can be an essential companion for someone suffering from a mental or psychiatric disability. It can alleviate the symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety, and allow veterans with PTSD to assimilate into civilian life. By certifying your ESA, you ensure that it will not be prohibited from providing you with the companionship and emotional support you need.