Emotional Support Animal (ESA)

animal that is good for one person might not be a good fit for someone else. When choosing your emotional support animal, consider your personality, your mental or emotional disability, and which animal can best help you deal with your specific challenges.

Owning an emotional support animal is not something to be taken lightly. You are making a big commitment, so it is important that you choose an ESA with the right temperament and the ability to assist with your personal challenges. An ESA for a depressed or anxious person, for example, should help instill a sense of comfort and security.

To get an emotional support animal, you only need a few things. First, you’ll need to be officially diagnosed with an emotional disability. Then, you’ll need to receive a prescription for an Emotional support animals from a licensed mental health professional like a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or a therapist. You might need to provide this information in writing to take your animal with you everywhere, but other than that, all you need to do is pick the right animal for you. Just keep in mind that the difference between emotional support animals and service animals relates to their accessibility. Emotional support animals are not allowed to enter restaurants and malls like service dogs are, however they are given some additional rights under the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act.

Fair Housing Act (FHA)

 it is considered to be a “reasonable accommodation” for a person with an emotional disability. This legislation allows individuals with emotional support animals to live in housing with a “no pets” policy, and landlords cannot charge for additional costs like pet deposits. Also, the housing provider cannot restrict the breed, size, or weight of the ESA.

When you make a request for an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation to a housing provider, there are only two criteria required for the request:

  1. You must have a physical or mental impairment
  2. You must have a disability-related need for an assistance animal (Does the animal work, perform tasks, provide assistance, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability?)

When both of these criteria are met, then the Fair Housing Act requires an exception to the housing provider’s “no pets” policy.

If you need to use an assistance animal, you must make the request to your housing provider or housing board, and you must provide them with proof of your disability and your need for the disability-related service animal. To verify the need for a support animal, you will need a letter or other documentation from a medical doctor or psychological professional (the letter should be written on their letterhead). Under the law, the housing provider is not permitted to ask to see your medical records. The law also states that the housing provider cannot delay your housing request to an “unreasonable” degree. In addition, the landlord may not charge additional rent for the pet or require a pet security deposit for any service animals or ESA.

The Fair Housing Act pertains to colleges as well, and over the past few years, there has been a growing demand for emotional support animals on college campuses. Universities have been hesitant to set firm guidelines regarding ESA because they are concerned about potential legal action.

Denying housing because of an emotional support animal has resulted in lawsuits against universities and landlords. In general, landlords must accept emotional support animals, though it is not always a black or white situation. While “reasonable accommodation” must be made, there are some exceptions to the legislation. The law states that a private club does not have to accept emotional support animals. Likewise, a single-family home that is rented without a real estate broker is also given an exception under the Fair Housing Act. If a building has four or less rental units and it is landlord occupied, it does not have to accept ESA. Also, if the animal is too large for the premises (like a llama in a small apartment), the landlord may reject the ESA.

Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)

Emotional support animal, documentation may be required.) According to the ACAA, whether or not the animal can fly in the cabin depends in large part on their size and whether or not they pose a threat to other passengers.

The Air Carrier Access Act protects the rights of service animals and emotional support animals by allowing them to accompany their owners in the cabin of the aircraft during a flight, and there can be no additional fees charged for the animal. Although most service animals tend to be dogs and cats, many different types of service animals are permitted to accompany their owner in the cabin of an aircraft. Airlines are never required to accept snakes, reptiles, ferrets, rodents, or spiders, and airlines also have the right to exclude the following animals from flying in the cabin of the aircraft:

  1. Animals that are too large or heavy
  2. Those that pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others
  3. Animals that cause a disruption of cabin service
  4. Specific animals that are prohibited from entering a foreign country

When flying with emotional support animals, airlines can request specific documentation and 48 hours advanced notice. The documentation must be dated within one year from the date of your scheduled flight. It must also state that you have a mental or emotional disability that is recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders .

Conditions that qualify include:

  1. Learning Disabilities
  2. Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
  3. Phobias
  4. Anxiety Disorders
  5. Depression
  6. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

The documentation must state that your emotional support animal is needed as an accommodation for air travel or for activity at your destination. A licensed mental health professional must provide the documentation, and the patient must be under their professional care. Finally, the documentation must include the licensed healthcare professional’s date and type of license and the jurisdiction or state in which the license was issued.

Airlines cannot refuse to allow your emotional support animal onboard because it makes other people uncomfortable. Your emotional support animal can accompany you in the cabin of an airplane during a flight, but airline regulations may vary based on the type of ESA you are traveling with. If the animal is small enough, you may be permitted to keep the animal in your lap. The animal may also occupy the space beneath the seat in front of you. Under no conditions may the animal obstruct the aisle or the emergency exit.

While onboard, your emotional support animal must behave properly. If the animal barks, snarls, is unruly, snaps, is vicious, runs around, jumps on other passengers, or causes them undue stress, it will not be accepted onboard. If your flight will last for eight hours or more, the airline may also require you to provide documentation concerning your animal’s need to relieve itself.


ESAs do not technically require special training, but it is important that your emotional support animal be given basic behavioral training to ensure that the animal behaves properly in all situations. You can train your ESA by yourself, or you can attend group training classes to help socialize your animal. You may also want to consider contacting a local trainer for assistance.

Training is important with an emotional support animal. As the owner of an ESA, you do not have to pay fees or damage deposits in connection with your emotional support animal, but you are still responsible for any damages an ESA causes to a property. Your landlord may refuse to let you keep an ESA if it is shown to cause significant destruction or present a safety hazard. Airlines can reject passengers and their ESA for the same reasons.

Some conditions that may qualify for an emotional support animal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Eating Disorders
  • Fears and phobias
  • Insomnia
  • Mood disorders
  • Panic disorder
  • Personality Disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Separation anxiety
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Stress

Flying is a perfect example of an activity where emotional support animals are most needed. This can be an anxiety-ridden time for those afraid of flight, and having a calm, furry friend by their side can help them cope. However, there’s a difference between having your dog with you on a plane because you need help to stay calm and just wanting to take your dog with you everywhere you go. Sometimes, people will register their animal as an emotional support dog in order to avoid costs or dangers associated with putting their pup in the plane’s cargo hold, which can distract from the actual purpose of having an emotional support animal.

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