An emotional support animal (ESA) is a different from a service dog. Unlike a service dog, an emotional support animal does not need specialized training to handle a task. Instead, Emotional Support Animals provide healing to their owner through affection and companionship.
However, they still have special rights. Read on to understand the basics of registering your dog as an Emotional Support Animal.
An Emotional Support Animal is a pet or animal prescribed by a licensed therapist to provide a health benefit for those that suffer from an emotional or mental disability such as Attention Deficit Disorder, Autism, General Anxiety Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, a Learning Disorder, Depression or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There are no animal type, breed, or size restrictions for emotional support animals.
In order to have an Emotional Support Animal, the law requires you obtain a letter written by a mental health professional stating that the ESA provides therapeutic value. This ESA Letter can be obtained via an evaluation from one of our licensed therapists or through a local physician or therapist that you regularly see.
You may do so at any time, however we do recommend obtaining a valid ESA letter first. Remember ESA letters are legally valid for one year from the time of issue.
Many people benefit from their emotional support dogs in a way that is not immediately obvious to the public. For example, people may not realize that someone with a severe anxiety disorder is benefiting from their emotional support animal. That is why many emotional support animal handlers choose to purchase identifying accessories like ID cards, tags, and vests, even though they are not required for your dog to legally be considered an emotional support animal. Having identifying ID cards, tags, vests, and other accessories that show that your dog is an emotional support animal allows others to recognize from a distance that your dog is an emotional support animal and not just a pet. This is especially important in the time of COVID-19, when having face-to-face conversations are discouraged.
To have your dog qualify as an Emotional Support Dog, a licensed mental health professional must determine the animal provides therapeutic value. If you do not have a therapist, you can be evaluated by one of our licensed therapists in your area. Click here for more information.
Emotional Support Animals do not have access rights to all public areas, but they are granted specific rights.
Under The Fair Housing Act, they have access to all types of housing, even if a landlord has a no-pet policy in place. The Air Carrier Access Act allows them to fly in the cabin of any airplane (there are size limitations, however). It is illegal for anyone to charge you an additional fee for housing or airline access for your ESA Dog. As of January 2021, airlines are no longer required to make special accommodations for emotional support animals and consider them pets subject to pet fees. You can view more about Emotional Support Dog airline policies here.
Misrepresenting a pet as an emotional support dog or service dog is a crime in many states, including California. Identifying vests, leashes, and ID cards are like the "uniform" for your working service dog or emotional support animal, but they do not magically turn a pet into an ESA or service dog - they are still expected to be well-behaved and trained.