An emotional support animal (ESA) can be a faithful companion for someone dealing with anxiety, depression, or other forms of mental health conditions. ESAs, incredibly emotional support dogs, offer many therapeutic benefits to their caregivers. These furry counselors help alleviate mental health condition symptoms with deep love and loyal companionship.

Let’s learn more about ESA dogs, ESA’s registration process, legal rights, and everything in between.

What is an Emotional Support Dog?

Emotional support animals (ESA) are animals meant to provide healing benefits to a person with mental illness or emotional disability. Though your pet dog may share a great emotional connection with you, the pet needs to be prescribed ESA by a mental health professional to be called an emotional support dog. 

Getting emotional support from an ESA dog can be a priceless gift for someone suffering from depression, anxiety, or other kinds of mental or emotional disability. The comfort, support, and companionship an ESA dog provides can positively change a person’s mental health and well-being. 

Emotional Support Pets vs. Service Pets: What’s the Difference? 

When considering registering an ESA dog, it helps to understand what makes an emotional support animal different from service pets or other specialty animals. 

Service dogs are officially trained to support people with disabilities and are covered under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). They’re particular breeds selected as service dogs for their adaptability and ability to learn complex tasks, such as pulling for a wheelchair for a disabled person, guiding blind people, or alerting individuals who are deaf. They undergo rigorous training, and only dogs who pass the final tests qualify as service dogs. 

On the other hand, emotional support dogs don’t go through any official training, and they’re not able to do activities that service dogs do. They are also not covered under ADA. They are housetrained pets who provide emotional support to their owner through love and companionship. For example, a psychiatric service dog may remind a person with an anxiety disorder to take medications on time. An ESA doesn’t do such jobs; they comfort their caregivers by sharing a deep emotional connection. 

How Do I Register My Dog as an Emotional Support Dog? 

You don’t need any legal or official certification for emotional support animals. To register your dog as an ESA, all you need to have is an official ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional. 

An ESA letter is a letter of recommendation provided by a licensed mental health professional that demonstrates your dog is an ESA. You need this ESA letter when living or flying with your emotional support animal. 

Here’s How to Register Your Emotional Support Dog:

  • Connect with licensed mental health professionals such as therapists, psychologists, or clinical social workers. 
  • Tell the professional why you need an emotional support animal
  • Get the ESA letter, and your pet is now officially qualified as an ESA dog. 

Here’s What an ESA Letter Should Contain: 

  • Letter on a licensed mental health professional’s letterhead 
  • Must be dated, signed by the licensed healthcare professional, and include their license number
  • Should mention your full name and the type of animal prescribed as an emotional support animal 
  • A statement that you have a condition that’s limiting your participation in a significant life activity and you are currently under mental health professional’s care
  • A statement that an ESA is recommended by the mental health professional to help ease symptoms of your condition

Where Can You Bring Your Emotional Support Animal? 

Emotional support animals enjoy special rights under federal laws, such as you can live and fly freely with your ESA dog. 

Many airlines allow you to fly with ESAs, including LATMA, WestJet, Volaris, Aeromexico. We recommend calling your airline before flying to ensure they allow ESAs. Emotional support animals were allowed to fly freely before March 2021, but a recent change by the Department of Transportation requires you to pay a fee for ESAs. 

Fair Housing guidelines allow ESAs to stay in housing where pets are strictly prohibited. Housing providers can’t charge an extra fee if your emotional support dog lives with you. Fair Housing guidelines also allow student residents to live with their ESA dogs in college dorms and campus housing. However, you don’t have any legal rights to take your ESA to classrooms. 

In addition to flying and living, HUD’s guidelines allow you to take your ESA in public and common use places such as stairways, lobbies, and elevators. Other places like hotels, Airbnb, restaurants, and stores are not required to allow emotional support animals. However, you can always reach out to a business and ask about their policies about emotional support animals. Certain businesses are pet-friendly and will welcome ESAs. 

How Do Emotional Support Dogs Improve Your Mental Health?

Various studies indicate that dogs can offer therapeutic benefits to human mental health, wellbeing, and longevity. 74% of pet owners report improvements in mental health resulting from interactions with their pets. 

Studies also show that emotional support animals can help lower depression, anxiety, and loneliness. The University of Toledo reported that ESAs positively impact severe and chronic mental health issues. They help people with mental or emotional disabilities calm and relax and offer many other benefits like calming their blood pressure, enhancing interaction, normalizing heart rate, and increasing pleasure. 

Other Things to Keep in Mind with Your Emotional Support Dog 

While your furry therapist accompanies you during hard times, you should also take care of a few things to have healthy experiences with your emotional support dog, i.e., 

Train your dog- It’s easy to train your emotional support dog with basic commands. So, make sure to train them to behave well in public. 

Don’t fake it- Since emotional support dogs don’t need any training to be registered as ESA, many people try to register an emotional support dog when they don’t need it. You don’t do that! Make sure to get an ESA only when you have a legitimate mental health condition or emotional disability. 

Be responsible- Your furry friend provides you emotional support in your odd times, so it's your job to take care of your pet. Be responsible for training and managing your ESA and taking care of their food and hygiene.