What is an Emotional Support Animal?
An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is a companion animal, typically a dog or a cat, which provides therapeutic benefits to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. Therapy animals provide people with therapeutic contact to improve their physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning. They provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias. For example, people with social phobia might only feel safe enough to leave their home for food or medication if their dog accompanies them. Such a dog would be considered an emotional support animal.
How do I qualify?
In order to be prescribed an emotional support animal by a medical professional, the person must have a verifiable disability. To be afforded protection under United States federal law, a person must meet the federal definition of disability and must have a note from a medical professional stating that the person has that disability and that an ESA would provide a benefit. While Emotional Support Animals are often used as part of a medical treatment plan as therapy animals, they are not considered service animals under the ADA. ESAs do not have any special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities.
SVASC wants to stress that you DO NOT have to pay additional money to websites to register your ESA, get an emotional support animal approval, or a prescription service. These sites are scams and it is NOT necessary or required to have these. Usually, a letter from your doctor or therapist is accepted.
An E.S.A. is defined by the government as an untrained companion of any species that provides solace to someone with a disability, such as anxiety or depression. The rights of anyone who has such an animal are laid out in two laws. The Fair Housing Act says that you and your E.S.A. can live in housing that prohibits pets. The Air Carrier Access Act entitles you to fly with your E.S.A. at no extra charge, although airlines typically require the animal to stay on your lap or under the seat—this rules out emotional-support camels. Both acts stipulate that you must have a corroborating letter from a health professional.
Based on statements by HUD, it appears that a housing provider may not charge a "pet fee" for an assistance animal/emotional support animal. These animals are not pets and cannot be subject to pet fees. Landlords must make reasonable accommodations for tenants or prospective tenants with ESAs, even if the apartment or house does not allow pets. A Therapy Animal is not considered a pet under HUD guidelines, although, you may be asked to provide the proper prescription and written consent from a therapist or medical professional.
Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), a commercial airline must permit emotional support dogs and other animals to accompany qualified passengers with a disability on a flight.
In both the housing and airline context, an individual with a disability will likely need to acquire a special letter from a licensed mental health professional documenting the individual’s need for an emotional support animal.
There are many “certification” websites, where you can buy a certificate and have a “professional” approve your case. These sites are scams. You do not need to purchase a certification or pay additional money to have an emotional support animal. According to HUD, a physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional can provide documentation that the animal provides emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of an existing disability. The documentation is typically a note from his or her doctor.