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Anyone who is fortunate enough to have the companionship of a dog knows the kind of emotional support and stability they can provide.
This has long been recognized by the mental health industry, which is why mental health professionals will sometimes “prescribe” an Emotional Support Animal.
Having proof that your medical practitioner has prescribed you the companionship of an Emotional Support Animal can be very useful, as it allows you to take your dog to places that it might otherwise be forbidden, including onto airplanes.
But unlike for Service Dogs, such as those that assist the visually and hearing impaired, the process of receiving a prescription for an Emotional Support Animal is not straightforward.
There is no central registry, so it is not always straightforward to prove that your dog is your official Emotional Support Animal.
In today’s article, we will go through everything you need to know to navigate this process.
We will go through what exactly an Emotional Support Animal is, and the specific benefits of having your dog registered.
We will then look at the documentation needed to prove that your dog is an Emotional Support Animal and how to go about getting it.
Contents & Quick Navigation
What Is An Emotional Support Animal?
Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are animals that have the task of providing emotional support to patients who might need it. This includes people suffering from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and a plethora of other challenges.
Any animal can be an Emotional Support Animals, including dogs, cats, birds, lizards; there are no restrictions. They also do not require specific training, though many will be trained in specific stress-reducing techniques.
You can learn more about training Emotional Support Dogs here.
Many people choose to work with their existing dogs to train them to work as ESAs, or a new dog might be brought into the home to serve that purpose. Some breeds are better suited to the role of emotional support dog than others. They generally need to be intelligent, sociable, and affectionate.
You can find a list of the best dog breeds to work as ESAs here.
While many doctors will advocate owning a pet, especially a dog, for overall health, the justification for Emotional Support Animals is based on a number of specific health factors.
- Canine companionship can reduce stress as spending time with dogs releases endorphins and oxytocin, both of which reduce stress The increase in these chemicals also contribute to reduced blood pressure and cortisol levels. Exercise has a similar effect on the body, and regularly walking an Emotional Support Dog enhances this benefit.
- Many emotional conditions can leave people feeling isolated or anxious in social situations. The companionship and unconditional loyalty of a dog can reduce feelings of isolation generally, and their presence can be of specific benefit in challenging encounters.
- The sense of security and familiarity provided by a relationship with a dog can help reduce anxiety, especially when entering new or unpredictable situations.
- Pets can provide a distraction from negative thoughts, helping alleviate the pressure that overwhelmingly negative internal commentary can place on a person.
- People suffering from certain conditions, such as depression, can suffer from lethargy and lack of motivation. Caring for a dog can provide a structure and routine that encourages the person to be more proactive.
- Some ESAs can be trained to perform specific tasks to reduce stress, such as deep pressure therapy, which reduces stress through the application of a heavy weight.
It is worth noting that Emotional Support Animals are different from Psychiatric Service Animals (PSAs). PSAs require more specialized training to support people with serious mental and emotional conditions to perform everyday tasks.
For example, if their owner has a tendency to get disoriented and wander off, a PSA will have specific training to draw their attention back when they are entering dangerous situations such as crossing the road.
In reality, Emotional Support Animals are just one category within a huge range of animals designed to work with and support people with health challenges.
For example, Diabetic Alert Dogs are trained to monitor the smell of human breath to monitor for a drop in blood sugar, while Seizure Response Dogs are trained to assist a person during and immediately after an epileptic seizure.
And of course guide dogs for the blind are trained to help lead a visually impaired individual.
Why Do You Need An ESA Letter?
Emotional Support Animals DO NOT need to be registered, and it is possible that a medical practitioner might recommend the companionship of a pet without necessarily prescribing it. Many dogs provide this kind of service to their owners in an unofficial capacity.
However, there are many benefits to getting an official letter stating your dogs is an ESA, as it will allow you to take your dog to places that you might not otherwise be able to.
Specifically, according to the Fair Housing Act, landlords must reasonably accommodate tenants with ESAs, so you will be able to take your dog into accommodation where pets are otherwise prohibited.
Similarly, the Air Carrier Access Act says that airlines must allow passengers to fly with their ESA with them in the cabin, at no additional charge.
However, you are required to advise the airline that you will be accompanied by an ESA a minimum of 48 hours before your flight departure, and international flight laws are different.
Unlike Service Dogs, such as those that accompany visually and hearing-impaired individuals, Emotional Support Dogs do not have the right of access to all public areas.
So restaurants, shops, and other establishments can refuse entry to ESAs. They may choose to allow your pup to enter if you present them with your ESA letter, but they are also within their rights to refuse.
Similarly, there are no specific laws that allow you to take your Emotional Support Animal to your place of work. But if you are making the case to your employer, having an ESA letter will help you make the case.
What Is An ESA Letter?
There is no official, central registration system for Emotional Support Animals. Rather, proof that your animal is more than a pet and is working as an ESA comes in the form of a letter from a licensed mental health professional.
This may be a General Practitioner or other doctor if they are managing your mental health treatment. It may also be a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist.
The letter must state that you are suffering from a mental or emotional condition, such as depression or anxiety, but it does not need to state the specific condition.
The letter needs to state that the ESA is essential to alleviate the symptoms of this condition.
The letter must be written on the official letterhead of the mental health professional and be signed and dated.
It should also contain the full contact details of the medical professional, so the veracity of the letter can be verified should the person looking at it choose to do so.
If they do choose to verify the letter, they can only check that the letter is legitimate. They are not allowed to request any information about the specific conditions that justify the letter.
ESA letters only remain valid for one year, and so must be renewed on an annual basis.
The letter will specify both you as the individual who requires the services and support of the ESA, as well as the specific animal.
Therefore, you cannot pass your ESA letter to another person to transport your dog for you, and if you need to replace an ESA dog for some reason, you will need to procure a fresh ESA letter.
ESA letters can specify more than one support animal for an individual if it is deemed necessary and appropriate for their specific mental health condition.
Who Qualifies For An Emotional Support Animal Prescription?
In order to be eligible for an official emotional support animal, you must be diagnosed with a mental or emotional condition, as stated by the American Disabilities Act.
This type of diagnosis can be provided by a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. It cannot usually be provided by a general practitioner.
Conditions generally considered appropriate for an ESA include:
- Attention deficit disorder
- Cognitive disorder
- General anxiety disorder
- Learning disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Severe anxiety
If you are unsure whether you are likely to qualify for a prescription for an ESA, you should contact your mental health professional.
What Animals Make Good ESA?
While any animal can qualify as an ESA, some are better suited to the job than others. For example, while horses can be ESAs, it is not always practical due to their size and very specific housing needs.
Similarly, doctors will not normally recommend snakes or reptiles as ESAs because they cannot provide the same kind of physical closeness (generally speaking).
By far, the most common Emotional Support Animals are dogs. Any dog can be used as an Emotional Support Dog.
Very often, doctors will agree to write an ESA letter for a patient’s existing pet, as the pet and owner already have the deep bond needed from an ESA, so it doesn’t make sense to train another dog.
However, if you are looking for a new Emotional Support Dog, some breeds are better suited to the task than others.
In general, you will want breeds that are intelligent, social and good around strangers and other animals, and highly affectionate so they bond with people quickly. Sensitive animals that are good at reading their owner’s emotional state are also recommended.
I thought of a perfect breed that fits this bill! How about our favorite the Labrador Retriever! It checks all the boxes on this list.
Of course a variety of other breeds would make a great ESA including Golden Retrievers, Poodles, German Shepherds, Chihuahuas, Corgis, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and many more.
Check out our complete list of the best dog breeds to act as emotional support dogs.
Many shelters will train dogs of the appropriate temperament to work as Emotional Support Animals, so it can be worth approaching shelters and asking them about candidates.
When choosing an EMA dog, it is also important to consider lifestyle factors. Big dogs that need lots of exercise won’t thrive in small apartments, and the need to meet their daily exercise needs can be a point of further stress.
Small dogs are easier to manage and generally easier to take into public areas. But if the problem is fear and security issues, smaller pups will not provide the same kind of physical reassurance as larger dogs.
Your doctor or mental health provider should discuss all of these matters with you when discussing the possibility of prescribing you an Emotional Support Animal.
How Do You Qualify For An Emotional Support Animal?
To qualify for an emotional support animal, you must have a diagnosis from a mental health professional stating that you suffer from a mental health condition that would benefit from the support of an ESA. Likely conditions include depression, anxiety, bipolar, ADHD, PTSD, and many more.
Your doctor will then “prescribe” the use of an Emotional Support Animal and provide you with an official letter stating the pet is an ESA and is vital to your mental health and well-being.
Can Any Doctor Prescribe An Emotional Support Animal?
In theory, any medical professional can suggest the use of an Emotional Support Animal and provide a letter confirming that your dog, or another animal, is working in this capacity.
However, ESAs are only usually prescribed for serious mental health conditions; therefore, your General Practitioner is very likely to refer to you to a mental health specialist, such as a therapist, psychologist, or psychologist.
Can You Get ESA For Anxiety?
Yes, anxiety is a condition for which ESAs are generally considered a positive form of therapy. The majority of Emotional Support Animal prescriptions are for stress, anxiety, and depression.
How Do I Get A Free ESA Letter?
Your mental health provider should provide you with an ESA letter as part of the treatment that you are receiving and should not carry an additional cost.
Be wary of online services offering ESA letters, as they are often not legitimate.
If your landlord decides to follow up and cannot contact a mental health provider on the basis of your letter, they are within their rights to evict your animal.
Do Airlines Verify ESA Letters?
While airlines are within their rights to verify ESA letters, many do not.
Often, if they are approached by a passenger wishing to travel with an ESA, they will ask them to sign a form confirming the animal is well-trained and is unlikely to cause any significant problems on the plane.
Nevertheless, if you intend to travel with an ESA, you should ensure you have a valid ESA letter just in case it is required.
Can I Have Multiple Emotional Support Animals?
Yes, you can have more than one Emotional Support Animal, as there are no restrictions on the type or number of animals. However, you will need to demonstrate to your mental health provider the need for multiple ESAs.
Do You Need A New ESA Letter Every Year?
It is good practice to renew your ESA letter each year. Airlines are within their rights to refuse an animal if the ESA letter is more than one year old. While the regulations are less clear with housing, landlords main challenge you if your ESA is more than a year old.
Do Emotional Support Dogs Need A Vest?
Emotional Support Animals do not need to use anything to make them out as an ESA. Your ESA letter is the only requirement to claim your legal ESA rights.
However, many ESA owners who want to take their dog into public spaces such as shopping centers will place some kind of indicator on their dog in the hope that this encourages others to accept the presence of the animal.
However, ESAs do not have the right of access to public spaces, so may still be asked to leave, regardless of anything they might be wearing confirming their status.
You do not need to visit a doctor to decide to get a dog to provide you with emotional support. The simple presence of a dog can do a lot to reduce stress and anxiety, even if they don’t have special training.
However, if you have a serious mental health condition, you can ask your mental health practitioner to officially prescribe you an Emotional Support Animal, providing you with a letter stating that the animal is vital to your mental health.
The benefit of this is that it will allow you to take your dog places that it is otherwise prohibited. There are specific laws in place to enable you to take your ESA dog into accommodation where pets are restricted and on flights.
If you think you would benefit from the support of an Emotional Support Animal, start the process by speaking to your mental health professional.
Do you have experience of working with an Emotional Support Animal?
Share your experience with the community in the comments section below.
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How To Get An Emotional Support Animal Prescription was last modified: November 2nd, 2020 by