Emotional Support Animal

emotional support animal

Emotional Support Animal

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What is an Emotional Support Animal?

Emotional Support Animal Definition

An emotional support animal, or ESA, is a companion animal which provides therapeutic benefit to its owner/handler, by alleviating or mitigating symptoms of mental or emotional disability.

An ESA is typically a dog or cat, but most kinds of animals may also qualify.

Emotional support animals come in all shapes, sizes and breeds and they differ from service dogs and therapy dogs in many regards.

NOTE: It is extremely important to mention that under Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), that an ESA is not classified as a service animal, and it is a Federal offense to misrepresent one as a service dog.

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Emotional Support Animal Laws

emotional support animal registration

In the United States, emotional support animal laws can be separated into three areas:

  • Case Law – decisions made by courts
  • Federal Law – (both statutory and regulatory laws) and
  • State Law

The primary federal laws governing emotional support animals in the United States are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).

Many cases that appear before judges are tried under both federal and state laws at the same time, and in the event that an individual is qualified for protection under both a Federal and a State law, whichever law affords greater rights to the disabled individual shall apply.

Read more about Emotional Support Animal Laws.

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Emotional Support Animal Requirements

emotional support animal letter

There are very few legal requirements which apply to an animal serving as an ESA directly.

However, in order to qualify for the legal protections and rights afforded to an ESA, the animal’s owner/handler must have the following:

  • A diagnosed mental or emotional disability
  • A written recommendation from a licensed mental health professional, which states the patient’s need for the ESA as part of his or her treatment.

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Emotional Support Animal Training

emotional support dog

An ESA is not required to have any formal training, aside from standard house-breaking and obedience training.

However, in order to qualify for the travel and housing rights afforded to an ESA, the animal:

  • Must not pose a danger to other people or animals, or exude threatening behavior, such as growling, lunging, etc…
  • Must be housebroken
  • Must not be a nuisance (e.g. excessive barking, damaging or destroying property, etc…)

Any animal serving as an ESA that cannot meet these basic requirements may be denied the housing and air travel rights which are afforded to emotional support animals.

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Emotional Support Animal Certification and Registration

emotional support animal laws

Although it is often helpful to clearly distinguish the animal as an ESA there is absolutely no legal requirement to register or certify an emotional support animal.

Many airlines recommend adorning an ESA with a special vest and/or identification card, to help delineate the animal as more than a pet, but again, there is no legal requirement to do so.

NOTE: Mislabeling or misrepresenting any animal as a service animal is a Federal offense.

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Emotional Support Animal Resources

Check out our free guides and resources for owner/handlers of emotional support animals, which include:

  • Handler Rights & Responsibilities
  • Flying with an ESA
  • ESA Housing Rights
  • Emotional Support Animal FAQ

See the complete collection of ESA Resources.

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Image credits: Wikipedia Commons