What is an Emotional Support Animal?
An emotional support animal (ESA), can literally be a lifesaver for individuals dealing with a wide range of mental health problems from mild anxiety to severe depression. A recent study demonstrated that individuals with a strong bond to their pets showed a reduced likelihood of suicidal tendencies. Emotional Support Animals not only offer companionship and unconditional love, by they provide stability and invaluable support during difficult times.
Although Emotional Support Animals offer many of the benefits that a traditional pet offers, ESAs are not your typical “pet”, and if properly registered, offer unique legal allowances to their handlers that are specific to their designation as an ESA.
Is an Emotional Support Animal a Service Animal?
Unlike service dogs, ESAs do require specific registration in order to maintain their valid designation. The ADA defines a service dog as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities and no registration is required.
Where Can I Bring my Emotional Support Animal?
ESAs are referenced in two pieces of federal legislation, being the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). The legislation relates to rights to bring ESAs into dwellings and planes. Prior to 2021, emotional support animals were permitted to fly, but as a result of amendments to the ACAA, only service dogs have a statutory right to fly in the cabin. Flying with ESAs is discretionary, and up to individual airlines to monitor. That being said, if your ESA is small, and can fit in a carrier under the seat, there is a good chance your ESA will be permitted to fly with you, despite case law related to the ACAA. However, we always recommend consulting with your airline prior to travel.
The Fair Housing Act and Emotional Support Animals.
The FHA was introduced in the late 1960’s and was designed to protect individuals from discrimination when buying or renting a place to live. The FHA prevents discrimination by race, sex, nationality, religion, family status and disability. In addition, it also specifically protects individuals who require the use of an ESA. Landlords are required to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with ESAs. This includes the right to keep their ESA, even if the condo board or housing complex prohibits pets and provides an exemption from any pet related fees. It is also worth noting that any breed can be an ESA.
How do I Register my Emotional Support Animal in the United States or Canada?
Like service dogs, there is no officer government registry for ESAs. However, unlike service dogs, there are formal steps you need to take to register your service dog, which are set out below:
Step 1: Consult with a mental health professional
ESAs are not “just pets”, and they are intended to assist you with a disability and improve your mental state. Accordingly, it makes sense that the first step is to consult a mental health professional who can help determine that you require the use of an ESA. Similar to a prescription for medication, a mental health professional can write you a note stating that you require the use of an ESA.
Step 2: Register your ESA
As stated above, there is no official registry for ESAs and ESA certificates are not formally required by law. Any registry claiming to be government operated or sanctioned is false and misleading.
While the law is clear and provides that landlords are required to make reasonable accommodations, many landlords insist on physical proof of registration. For added peace of mind and to reduce unnecessary anxiety that can result from conflict, many ESA owners choose to voluntarily register their dogs as service dogs and carry digital ID card and/or certificate with them.