What You Need to Know About Owning an Emotional Support Animal

a woman with her pet dog

Therapy animals, whether they are service dogs or emotional support animals (ESA), have been in use for a long time. There is no doubt animals can reach and help people in distress where therapy cannot, and without the need for drugs. In most cases, therapy animals are dogs and cats. Animals like llamas, horses, and even rabbits have played their part in supporting people with issues.

Even though the American Disabilities Act makes accommodations for therapy animals, an emotional support animal letter from a physician may be necessary to let an ESA into public spaces, such as university and school classrooms, apartments, planes, and even the workplace.

How to get an emotional support animal (ESA)

Pet owners with conditions, such as anxiety, agoraphobia, claustrophobia, PTSD, depression, and others, can be comforted and function well in the presence of an emotional support animal. Such people can qualify for ESAs by getting a letter or certificate from a psychologist or therapist. A letter written on professional letterhead with the license number, type, date, and state it was issued at can help expedite the process. These could include the following information:

  • Current therapy for which the patient has signed up
  • A brief description of the condition as listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
  • How it affects a person’s ability to perform tasks or take part in normal life activities
  • Why an ESA is an important part of the treatment process

What conditions count as a disqualification for an ESA?

Some disorders or health conditions that will hinder the ability to get a support animal could include learning disorders, being mentally retarded, bipolar disorder, ADD, those with motor skills problems, drug addiction, or cognitive disorders.

Places where ESAs are allowed

Except for service dogs, all other therapies, comfort, and emotional support dogs are not included under Titles II and III of the ADA. Handlers need to care for and supervise their service animals. If the animals’ behavior is considered unacceptable and is not controlled, they can be denied entry into any public spaces. Otherwise, any therapy animal can go into public facilities and apartments, even if the facility has a “No Pets” policy. Only two questions can be asked of a person accompanied by an animal:

  1. Is it here with you because of a disability?
  2. What tasks has it been trained to do?

a happy dog

Public facilities cannot ask for documents proving that an animal is certified or trained. Even though each state has laws prohibiting particular breeds, these laws do not apply to service animals. People with service animals cannot be asked to pay entry fees. Employers cannot discriminate based on disabilities and need to accommodate service animals unless a person’s condition is not obvious. Then, they can request a physician letter on the need for an ESA.

The same reasons apply for housing as well. Landlords need to accommodate a person’s need to have a support animal. Pet-related deposits could be waived, as a support animal would be considered as such. If a person with a disability wants to travel, they have to be accommodated. Owners don’t need to provide advance notice, but they should take precautions to ensure that their animals are comfortable and not in distress. For air travel, animals can travel in the cabin with written documentation.

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