There is a lot of confusion in the general public surrounding what constitutes an emotional support animal (ESA) and the regulations governing their owners’ rights. ESAs are companions that provide therapeutic benefits to individuals with disabling mental illnesses. The position of an emotional support animal is not reserved to dogs only, although we see them most commonly in this category.
Unlike service dogs, ESAs are not trained to perform specific tasks for their owners. Licensed mental health professionals may prescribe ESAs to patients if they determine they could benefit from the companionship of an animal. For many, the comforting presence of a dog, as well as the tactile touch, physical stimulation, and routine of care helps relieve some of the debilitating symptoms of mental illness. This includes, but is not limited to individuals with anxiety, depression, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety disorder.
ESAs are not considered medical aids like Psychiatric Service Dogs, but there are laws that allow them to be with their owners. Under the Air Carrier Access Act, ESAs can fly in the cabin with their owners at no extra charge. Most airline companies require a letter provided by a mental health clinician, while they cannot ask the same for a service dog. Under the Fair Housing Act, ESAs also qualify for “no pet” housing at no extra charge. Of course, these rights are contingent upon the good behavior of the dog, the ability of the owner to care for the dog, and the continued need of the individual for an ESA. Unlike service dogs, ESAs have no special rights when it comes to publicly accessible places.
A Little Tip: Neither service, nor emotional support dogs have to to wear distinguishing vests. Just because a dog does not have a vest, does not mean they are not an ESA or a PSD, and vice-versa.
ESAs are companions that help individuals with mental disabilities by providing unconditional love and comfort. Like PSDs, mental health professionals may prescribe ESAs to their patients, but unlike them, ESAs do not have the same extensive training and universal public access and task training. In the next post, we will be talking about the companion category that frequents hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, and schools and more – therapy dogs!
For more information, refer to:
Service Dog Central, Emotional Support Animals:
American Bar Association, Assistance Animals – What You Need to Know:
US Dept. of Transportation, Travelling by Air with Service Animals (including ESA)
US Dept. of Justice, Service Animals Overview:
US Dept. of Housing, Fair Housing Act: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/fair_housing_act_overview