Archive for the ‘Emotional Support Animal’ Category

For those wondering what disabilities qualify for individual assistance animals, it can be hard to determine which kind would offer the best in terms of service and companionship. Service animals and emotional support animals can get confusing from time to time. Here is a basic outline of what the similarities and differences are between service dogs and emotional support animals to help you determine what kind of animal you qualify for:

Service Animals: Service animals can be dogs or miniature horses and must be trained to provide a task for their disabled owners. Dogs (and miniature horses) only – Under the American Disabilities Act, only dogs can be eligible as service animals. These animals are legally recognized under government policies as having specific rights and qualifications in comparison to other animals due to their ability to be trained in particular tasks and handle a person’s disability. Miniature horses also have recognition under the ADA but have other provisions regarding them. Have advanced levels of training specific to a person’s disability – Service dogs are trained in tasks related to a person’s disability, as well as house training and other jobs. For instance, guide dogs, a type of service dog, must be trained to help assist a disabled person who is blind or visually impaired. Have nationally recognized certification programs – Organizations such as Assistance Dogs International have certification and training programs for service animals. The ADA requires that service animals be trained to help serve their disabled owners. Have access to public spaces – The ADA allows service animals to have access to public spaces. Business owners, managers, and staff have limited access to the questions they can ask in regards to service animals and their disabled owners. Emotional Support Animals: Can range in a wide variety of animals – Animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits, and guinea pigs can all qualify as emotional support animals. ESAs are considered to be “owned pets,” unlike service animals. While there are no limits to what an ESA can be, it’s essential to take into account the state legislature and their definitions of what ESAs are. ESAs are not specially trained to perform tasks – As of current, there is no national legislation regulating the training that qualifies ESAs. Although numerous organizations can help train ESAs, ESAs are not federally recognized as a kind of service animal. Although coined under the terms assistance animals or companion animals, training ESAs are considered optional, but recommended. Do not have access to public spaces – ESAs operate under different legislation and are protected under the Fair Housing Act. Hence, ESAs have limited access to public spaces. Require a licensed professional to be considered an ESA – Pets/animals can only be considered ESAs if they have an ESA letter written and approved by a mental health licensed professional, including therapists, counselors, psychiatrists, and psychologists. By having an ESA letter, ESAs can gain access to housing despite no-pets policies and at no extra cost.

Both provide assistance related to a person’s disability, but how they perform those services differ from another. They both are not required to be trained professionally, as each owner can self-train their animals to serve specific tasks.

Is an emotional support animal for you? See if you qualify. Get your ESA in three easy steps. Legal protections for a service dog Service dogs are protected under the ADA and can go wherever their owners go.

The Department of Justice published the Americans with Disabilities Act to show the requirements related to service dogs. By providing regulations about service dogs, the ADA can help clarify issues related to service dogs. The ADA has legal protections outlined for public awareness, aiming at educating people the regulations involved with service animals, which include:

Staff may ask only two specific questions in regards to service dogs: Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? And what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Staff is thus not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require demonstrations of the dog’s abilities, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability. For businesses that serve the public goods and services, the ADA does not require those entities to modify policies if it would “fundamentally alter” the nature of those services provided to the public. This would be considered an exception for staff to prohibit a service animal if the animal alters those services. Service dogs may be excluded if the handler cannot control the animal. Controlling the animal refers to the service dog being under the handler’s control at all times. The animal must be leashed, harnessed or tethered while in public places unless it interferes with the service animal’s ability to perform its tasks. If those methods of control interfere, the handler must use voice, signal or other means to control the animal.

These are a few examples of the protections that service dogs have for the public. These service animals have legal protections as long as the handler has control and adequate training in place for the animal so it can perform its duties for the disabled owner.

Legal protections for Emotional Support Animals Emotional support animals are protected by the Fair Housing Act.

While ESAs don’t have specific protections under the ADA, there are other federal legislations that help clarify the definitions of ESAs and their rights within those limited spaces.

Emotional support animals have specifical protections and protocols, according to the Department of Housing’s Fair Housing Act of 1988. Under the Fair Housing Act, ESAs are categorized under the term assistance animals, which the FHA defines them as animals that work, provide assistance and perform tasks for a person with a disability, or provides emotional support alleviating one or more symptoms of a person’s disability. Landlords must modify their policies to permit a person with a disability to live with a service animal or emotional support animal. For those with ESAs, the applicant for housing may need to submit medical documentation, such as an ESA letter, showing the animal provides support and mitigates one symptom of that person’s disability.  

Which disabilities qualify for a service dog?

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a person with a disability as individuals with a physical or mental impairment that significantly limits one or more major life activities. These disabilities can range from physical to psychological, but the person must be regarded as an impairment and have a record of that impairment. Physical or mental disabilities can include diseases, visual, speech, and hearing impairments, psychological conditions such as cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy, mental retardation, and health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, drug addiction, and alcoholism. If the impairment limits activities central to everyday life, such as eating, speaking, walking, and performing manual tasks, then the person can qualify as disabled under the ADA and thus qualify for a service dog.

Which disabilities qualify for an ESA?

Emotional support animals perform disability-related functions focusing on providing emotional support, aiding in mental disabilities such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and bipolar disorder. ESA’s focus more on mental and emotional disabilities than physical. While the Fair Housing Act combines emotional support animals under the term assistance animals, a person with a disability who has an ESA must be able to show a tenant that they have a mental impairment, show a record of that mental impairment, and be regarded as disabled due to this impairment. (HUD).

Depending on the type of disability you have, both service dogs and emotional support animals offer benefits and different areas of specialties. If you desire a service animal or emotional support animal, speak with your health professional about your options and discuss with them what opportunities will serve you best.

Emotional support animals are allowed on college campuses, but the rules vary from school to school. Emotional support animals provide therapeutic benefits to individuals diagnosed with psychological disorders including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression,  depression, eating disorders, and insomnia to name a few. 

The mental health community has found that animals can offer unconditional love and support that can help to alleviate the symptoms of psychological disorders. Psychological disorders can leave individuals feeling isolated, and they may have a harder time coping with stressful situations like attending college, by having an emotional support animal these individuals have the support they need to function and thrive in these stressful environments. 

It is important not to confuse emotional support animals with service animals there are different rules and laws that they fall under so make sure you know what they are before taking your emotional support dog with you to college.  

Listed below are some helpful tips to follow when bringing an emotional support animal with you to college.

Americans With Disabilities Act

Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, emotional support animals and service animals are not the same and do not share the same protections.  Service animals are dogs, or miniature horses that have been trained to perform specific tasks for disabled individuals and must be allowed to accompany an individual anywhere the general public is allowed to go.  Emotional support animals are not specially trained and do not have the same rights as service animals and may not be allowed to accompany an individual wherever they go. 

The one exception is housing. Under the Fair Housing Act, emotional support animals must be allowed to live with an individual regardless of community rules regarding no pets or breed restrictions. If you plan on taking your emotional support animal with you to college, they must be allowed to live with you under the law, but they may not be able to accompany you to other places on campus or in the community. 

Documentation for an Emotional Support Animal

To avoid any confusion when traveling or living with your emotional support animal it is important to make sure you have your documentation with you at all times.  To qualify a pet as an emotional support animal an individual must have a letter from a licensed mental health provider that includes the following:

A prescription or ESA letter on the letterhead of the current mental health provider that is less than one year old and is signed and includes their licensing information. The individual with the emotional support animal has been evaluated by the mental health provider that has signed the letter. The individual requires the emotional support animal for a disorder that can be found in the DSM IV or V.

This documentation is easy to carry and will avoid any doubt as to whether you have an emotional support animal with you or if you are trying to bring your pet with you.

University Forms for Emotional Support Animals

Some Colleges and Universities are now requesting more documentation in addition to your ESA letter. The University forms and documents can sometimes request too much private information that a student is not legally required to provide.

For example, some University forms will request private medical information or the length of time a student has seen the licensed mental health provider. This information is private and can go against HIPAA privacy rules. Make sure that you are aware of your rights and don’t let your school force you into completing every part of an ESA University form.

Emotional Support Animal-Friendly Colleges

Since emotional support animals do not have the same rights as service animals, you may have to jump through some hoops to get your emotional support animal with you on campus.  To avoid unnecessary stress and aggravation, it may be better to find a college that is more animal-friendly some examples include:

Eckerd College Lees-McRae College Stephens College Stetson University Washington and Jefferson College University of Northern Colorado University of Idaho University of Washington University of Illinois MIT Caltech

The above is a list of just a few animal-friendly colleges; if you require an emotional support animal, it is important to do some research to find out what college is not only best for your area of study but is also best for your emotional support animal.

Living with an Emotional Support Animal on a College Campus

Once you have been accepted to a college and approved for housing where you can have your emotional support animal with you, it is important to prepare yourself for living with your ESA on campus.  Below are some tips that will better prepare you for college life with an emotional support animal:

Dorm Room

It is important to make sure your emotional support animal will be comfortable living in a small space.  Small spaces are generally not a problem for cats, birds, or small animals that live in cages, but dogs especially large dogs may have an issue living in a space as small as a dorm room.  It is recommended to do a test with your emotional support animal and keep them in a small space to make sure they can adapt to dorm life.


If you will be living with a roommate or roommates, it is important to communicate with them about your emotional support animal.  Under the law, you cannot be denied housing, but your roommate may have an allergy or fear of the type of emotional support animal you have so it is important to contact them and make sure they understand and can live with you and your ESA. It is important to understand that your ESA is your responsibility and if you have room or dorm mates that offer to help that is great but do not count on them taking care of your ESA.


Regardless of the type of emotional support animal you have, it is important that you have the time and ability to care for your support animal while living on campus properly.  Properly cleaning up after your pet is essential as dorms are small and animal smells can travel.  If you have a dog make sure you have time to walk them and take them to do their business and clean up after.  If you have a cat or other small animal make sure you keep up on cleaning their litter box or cage.  You will also need to be prepared to clean and vacuum if your pet has fur that can accumulate in your dorm room.

What is an emotional support dog?

Dogs are versatile animals: they provide love and support and can also be trained to do highly specific tasks. Because of this versatility, dogs play a big role in mental healthcare as emotional support for individuals with mental and emotional disabilities. Emotional support dogs have been shown to help individuals suffering from the following:

Agoraphobia (the fear of public places) Depression PTSD Generalized Anxiety Disorder Social Anxiety Disorder Panic attacks

With the help of emotional support dogs, those suffering from the above disorders have been able to manage their condition, start recovery, and regain confidence.

How can I make my dog an emotional support dog? Get an ESA letter from a licensed healthcare provider Provide your ESA letter to your landlord For added comfort: Get your ESA identification card and register your Emotional Support Dog

The big picture: An ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional is the only legally acceptable way to have a recognized emotional support dog. To get one, you must have a qualifying mental health condition that is alleviated by the presence of a support dog.

What goes in an ESA letter: The letter must be signed, dated, and include the mental health professional’s license number and the date and place where their license was issued. It is important to note that the letter written by your mental health professional is typically only valid for one year for practical purposes. 

Once you get the ESA letter: You start to benefit from Federal Housing laws that protect all emotional support animals, including dogs.

Benefits of certification and registration: For added convenience, many ESA owners choose to register their support dogs and carry an identification card or certificate. Other accessories like vests that visibly identify the animal as an ESA also make it easier for ESA owners to inform other tenants in their building that they have a legal assistance animal.

What rights do emotional support dogs have?

ESA legal rights: Emotional support animals are protected by both federal and state laws. Housing providers are prohibited from discriminating against tenants who need ESAs and must make reasonable accommodations.

Reasonable accommodation: It means that landlords must make an exception to a no-pets policy or a policy restricting certain dog breeds. Landlords also cannot impose size or weight restrictions on emotional support dogs. In addition, your housing provider can never charge any pet rent, fee, or deposit because you own an emotional support dog. 

ESAs and the ADA: Emotional support animals do not have the same rights as service dogs (including psychiatric service dogs). ESAs are protected by the Fair Housing Act (FHA), while service dogs are under the protection of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Service dogs have been specifically trained to help perform tasks for individuals with disabilities and have the right to accompany their handlers to any place the general public can access.

Psychiatric service dogs versus emotional support dogs: Psychiatric service dogs are trained to detect and recognize the beginning of a psychiatric episode, apply deep pressure therapy, fetch medication, guard their handler, and seek or warn members of the public if necessary.

When out in public establishments, including restaurants, theaters, and stores, staff members have the right to ask two questions to verify a psychiatric service dog:

Do you need the dog because of a disability? What work or tasks has the dog been trained to perform?

If an individual is unable to answer these two questions, then they do not have a service dog that meets the criteria of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the establishment has the right to refuse to allow the animal onto their premises.


Emotional support dogs provide an essential service to many individuals suffering from mental health issues. 

ESA owners are protected against discrimination under federal and state housing laws and enjoy other benefits like exemption from pet fees and pet breed/size restrictions.

Qualifying your pet as an emotional support animal is as simple as being assessed by a licensed healthcare professional and getting a letter that meets the requirements of the Fair Housing Act. Take the steps today to protect your animal under federal housing laws.