Emotional Support Animals (What You Need To Know)

All our pets provide comfort to us, but some do more than just give cuddles. Emotional support animals alleviate anxieties and are the medicine that makes life bearable for those who need emotional support.

If you feel that you need your dog or cat to just get through the day, maybe having an emotional support animal is the right choice for you.

Emotional support animals

What’s an ESA?

Emotional support animals, also known as ESAs, are medically prescribed as part of a person’s mental health treatment.

Since they act as a medical treatment, these animals have protection under legislation from discrimination and certain fees.

Service animals can be individually trained dogs that can perform tasks to help people with disabilities. However, ESAs can range from dogs and cats to lizards and birds and beyond.

How Do You Acquire an Emotional Support Animal?

You can get an emotional support animal after receiving a prescription letter from a mental health professional. For further documentation of the ESA, many owners of emotional support animals also choose to participate in Emotional Support Animal Registration as well.

A certified mental health professional might be able to write a letter of prescription for an ESA online without additional visits. You should consult an expert regarding this matter.

However, if you need to establish a connection with a mental health professional, you can receive your letter of prescription in-person or online in a HIPAA compliant video session with a psychiatrist.

What Protections Do Emotional Support Animals Have?

ESAs have some basic protections that pets do not. The two significant protections afforded to emotional support animals deal with housing and travel:

Housing: If you have a letter of prescription, a landlord or lease agent cannot discriminate against you and your emotional support animal when it comes time to rent or buy a property. You have the right, under law, to have your ESA to live with you. You also have protection from discrimination, and additional fees by the Department of Housing under the Fair Housing Act, often referred to as the FHA.

Travel: If you have a current letter of prescription for your animal when you travel, airlines must allow you to travel with your ESA present without charging you any pet fees.

Individual airlines may have slightly more restrictive requirements, such as requiring a letter of prescription dated within a year as well as advance notice of an ESA. However, provided that you follow their rules, you have the right to fly with your ESA at your side whenever you take to the air.

This right is thanks to the Department of Transportation’s Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). All airlines flying into the USA must respect this act.

Are Emotional Support Animals and Service Dogs the Same?

One massive misconception about emotional support animals is that they are the same as service animals. However, these two classifications are very different. While ESAs provide valuable aid, the work they do is significantly different from that of service dogs and miniature horses:

Purpose:

  • Service animals are animals that have undergone training to perform tasks that their owners may not be able to do. Service animals complete training before their owners receive them. They often cost upwards of twelve thousand dollars.
  • In contrast, emotional support animals improve their owners’ mental health through their presence, not by performing tasks. Additionally, owners train their emotional support animals.

Protections:

  • Service animals have protections under the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA). The protection of the ADA gives service dogs and miniature horses complete access to wherever their owners travel, including housing, public spaces, and restaurants.
  • Emotional support animals can accompany their owners during any air travel and live with them regardless of a residential building’s pet guidelines. Their rights have protection under the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Are ESAs and Therapy Animals the Same?

While ESAs and therapy animals may seem similar, they perform different jobs.

Purpose: Both are groups of animals focused on mental health improvement rather than task-based (as a service dog is).

  • Therapy animals help a large group of people for shorter periods. Therapy animals frequently appear at places like senior centers, hospitals, disaster sites, and even colleges to provide temporary comfort to a population.
  • On the other hand, ESAs are animals dedicated to a single person for an extended period. Emotional support animals provide relief at all hours of the day and live with the person they are treating.

Protections:

  • Therapy animals currently do not have coverage under the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) or any other federal organization.
  • Emotional support animals are a protected class of animals through the ACAA and FHA.

What Do I Do if My Landlord or Airline Denies Access to Me and My ESA?

If your landlord or airline carrier attempts to discriminate against you and your ESA, you have legal recourse.

First, gather all evidence of the prejudicial act. Then contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or the Department of Transportation.

Both agencies have online forms that you can fill out detailing the acts of discrimination you experienced. Alternately, you may contact the HUD by phone at 1-800-669-9777, or the DOT at 202-366-2220.

What Are the Costs Associated with an Emotional Support Animal?

The costs associated with an emotional support animal are:

  • The cost of adoption
  • The letter of prescription
  • Food
  • Vet bills associated with owning any animal

Note that an ESA is a part of a medical treatment plan and not a pet. Therefore, any costs associated with the purchase and upkeep of an emotional support animal are tax-deductible. Contact your accountant if you want to claim such a deduction benefit. Also, you might need a letter of prescription from a certified professional.

These deductions include the costs of any materials that you may purchase to signal your animal is a working animal. For example, some materials include:

  • A vest
  • Carrier
  • Tag

These items are tax-deductible as a medical expense.

Purchasing these items to prove you have an emotional support animal might not be mandatory, please confirm with an expert. However, consult your accountant because you might be able to qualify these as a tax write off because the things help the animals do their job.

Are There Breed or Size Restrictions for Emotional Support Animals?

There are no size or breed restrictions placed on emotional support animals. Animals that can qualify as ESAs include:

The most common animals chosen as emotional support animals are traditionally cats and dogs. At the same time, all emotional support animals have equal protections by the United States’ Department of Housing’s Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Department of Transportation’s Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).

One thing to note is that the size may become an issue when traveling. If you wish to avoid any frustrations when traveling, note that some airlines may request an approximation of the size of your emotional support animal. This request is typical to ensure that the appropriate cabin space is available for the animal per the airline’s policies.

Regardless of species, no airline traveling through the United States can charge fees due to the presence of an emotional support animal. Nor are airlines may discriminate boarding because of the species of any nontraditional emotional support animals.

What Conditions Can an Emotional Support Animal Assist?

ESAs are known to benefit people suffering from a myriad of conditions, including:

  • Anxiety
  • PTSD
  • Agoraphobia
  • Depression
  • And more

Emotional support animals have shown to be a valid alternative or supplement to pharmaceutical treatments in these and many other cases.

Being in the presence of an ESA may result in decreased blood pressure, lower heart rates, and the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin, often known as a “feel-good” chemical, and a lack of oxytocin have direct links to some forms of depression.

Are Emotional Support Animals Allowed in Restaurants?

Service dogs have protections by the ADA to enter public establish. However, at this time, emotional support animals do not have access rights to public places. Private businesses, like restaurants, can bar ESAs from entering.

What Makes a Good ESA?

What makes an ideal ESA varies from person to person, and disorder to disorder.

For some dealing with anxiety, having a relaxed or calmer animal is perfect. A chilled-out animal can be a respite from an otherwise hectic day.

For others suffering from disorders like agoraphobia, having a more active animal may be the right solution. A friendly creature can help encourage activity that someone may otherwise be avoiding.

When selecting an animal for emotional support, talk to your mental health specialist. Discuss your goals and what is right for you.

Like any other mental health treatment, there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Is an ESA Right for You?

Are you eager to know if an emotional support animal is the best treatment plan for you? Your first step is to have an open discussion with a mental health professional.

Emotional support animals definitely provide a valuable service to their owners. Most emotional support animals can help their owners if you think you can benefit, talk to a therapist. Then get registered and start a less stressful life with your animal at your side.

Disclaimer: None of the above information can be used as legal advice, please consult an certified attorney for legal counseling.  Also, none of the information above should be used as tax advice, consult with your accountant if you need tax information.