Not everyone really understands what an emotional support dog is. Many are aware that emotional support dogs exist, but they can’t really differentiate between a service dog, a therapy dog and an emotional support animal (ESA). There are big differences between these three types of working dogs, as we’ll now go over them.
Service Dog vs Therapy Dog vs Emotional Support Animal (ESA)
Therapy dogs and service dogs are more closely related whereas emotional support dog is in its own category. The biggest difference is that service animals (therapy and service dogs) go through some amount of of training, whereas emotional support dogs require no training whatsoever. Therapy dogs are somewhere in between the ESAs and service dogs in terms of what they do. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) website is a great resource for people looking to learn more about these animals. Here's the brief:
Service dogs are trained to help individuals with disabilities. They're considered a “medical equipment” and are the protected right by the Americans with Disabilities Act. They're often used by people with visual or physical impairment, diabetes, seizures, intellectual, psychiatric and other mental disabilities. Out of the three categories, these animals are most well-trained and recognized in ADA's Type II and Type III categories (read more here).
Therapy dogs are trained to serve as companions to people in clinical settings who need some affection and comfort; they're also called Comfort Animals. ADA does not recognize them as service animals. They're often used by people in hospitals or retirement homes and help deal with with depression, loneliness, anxiety or phobias (read more here).
Emotional support dogs require no training, are not recognized by ADA as service animals and have no federal law protection. Essentially any dog can be classified as an emotional support animal. People may use an ESA for therapeutic reasons and the need for companionship (read more here).
In this article we'll focus specifically on emotional support dog adoption and everything you need to know if you're thinking of getting an ESA. Due to the fact many people aren’t familiar with the process of obtaining an emotional support dog, they don’t really know how to get one once they consider they might need one.
You could adopt an emotional support dog directly from your therapist, but the internet has made an entire market for this. There are unrecognized fake certifications for ESAs but they're not required, and don't carry any weight. Basically, you don't need them. These “certifications” cost between 100-200 dollars and if you search for “emotional support dog certification” you'll find many websites and facilities offering them. Skip it.
Researching and understanding everything that there is to know about emotional support dogs and their adoption is the best way to make sure you are getting yours in the safest and most morally righteous way. It will also save you money and stress.
What Is An Emotional Support Dog?
Let's cover this in mode depth. An emotional support animal (ESA) is a dog that provides comfort and support to an individual suffering from various mental and emotional conditions. They provide this support through affection and attention. Emotional support dogs are not supposed to perform any specific tasks or duties; they are simply there for unconditional love and stability.
Most common conditions people adopt an emotional support dog include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Panic attacks
- Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Essentially, emotional support dogs are to help an individual to cope with any mental, psychological illnesses. Sometimes the comfort of a dog alone is enough to help someone work through their mental problems, such as PTSD. This is why more veterans are adopting these emotional support animals and find great comfort in them. Other sick people have also adopted dogs for similar reasons and found great comfort in them.
Emotional Support Dog Laws
As mentioned above, there is no official accreditation for ESAs, therefore the law doesn't protect them or the individual owners the same way it does official service animals. However, according to the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA; PDF here), any individual who meets the criteria is entitled to an emotional support dog. As long as you have the recommendation from your doctor, you are eligible for an emotional support animal.
Because there is no official emotional support dog certification, training or accreditation, any dog can be made an ESA. If you have an emotional support animal, by law (FHAct Section 504; PDF) your landlord has to allow you to live with your animal, regardless of any pet policies set in the residence.
Moreover, no additional pet deposits can be required for an emotional support animal. Your landlord may ask to see the recommendation from your doctor, but after that, there is nothing they can legally do to prevent you from having the animal. And because any animal can be an emotional support dog, as long as you have the doctor's note, you're in the clear.
Unlike official service dogs recognized by ADA, emotional support animals will not be allowed everywhere and can often be refused into businesses that do not allow pets. The only place emotional support dogs can be where regular dogs may not be welcome is in housing with a no-pet policy, and on the cabin of an airplane.
RELATED: 25 Best Therapy Dog Breeds List
How Emotional Support Dogs Qualify
Let’s say you already have a dog, and you want to make him into an emotional support animal. The process for this is the same as obtaining a doctor’s recommendation before obtaining the dog. If you've ever tried to get a medical marijuana card, or know people that have, and are familiar with that very loose process – it's very similar to that.
The first step is to go to the doctor and explain your need for an emotional support animal. If you are suffering from any mental illnesses that would benefit from having an emotional support animal, bring them up. It is best to seek out a recommendation from a mental health professional, such as a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist.
It's unlikely you'll have to do any real check-ups to confirm mentioned disabilities. Your doctor will then write out a recommendation saying that you need an emotional support animal to live with those said disabilities. From there, either the animal you already have will be considered your emotional support animal, or you could go out and adopt an emotional support dog from a shelter. Again, any dog will qualify.
Obviously, this creates an opportunity for people who unfairly want to exploit this loophole, and they often do as we've seen this more and more in the news. Several states have now started paying attention to this and cracking down on fake ESAs.
Flying With an Emotional Support Dog
You can fly with your emotional support dog. The Air Carrier Access Act (Title 14 CFR Part 382) allows emotional support animals to accompany their handler in the cabin of an aircraft and the airline cannot refuse because it would be considered discrimination on the basis of disability in air travel.
However, the airlines may require documentation that your dog is an emotional support animal (your doctor’s recommendation). If provided, they have to allow your dog to fly with you and they cannot charge you any additional pet related fees.
This year, Delta and other airlines started making their rules more strict with regards to emotional support dog owners because of too many people exploiting the loophole and flying their pets for free. This fight against fake ESAs was particularly fueled as airlines have seen an increase in number of animals on the plans, as well as biting incidents.
Abusing the ESA Loophole
It is important that we don’t abuse the system because it will only make the situation worse for us and particularly for people with real disabilities who actually need emotional support dog assistance. Sadly, there's more dog owners who'd rather take the advantage of the system.
It's been shown many times how a large number of people seek out recommendations for emotional support animals when they don’t have a disability, simply because they want their dog to be able to fly with them and live with them in pet-free housing. The system is so broken that apparently some people managed to register a stuffed animal as ESA.
Emotional Support Dog Certification Online
A quick Google search of emotional support dog certifications will bring up a plethora of websites claiming that you can purchase certification for your emotional support animal online. Do not do this. These are fake certifications, and essentially a scam.
You must question the legitimacy of any of these websites. They charge anywhere from $200 up to $400 for a certification which literally does not mean anything since it's not required for an ESA to be trained, nor are there any specific tasks for an emotional support dog to perform. There is no reason to get that certificate.
As noted above, you could simply go to your therapist and request a recommendation there, which will be much cheaper and also the legitimate way to do this.
These emotional support dog fake certificate websites are most likely responsible for the recent surge of people who don’t need an emotional support animal obtaining a recommendation for. This gives all ESAs a bad name, making airlines and landlords create stricter rules, affecting people with actual disabilities.
Sounds like an official website? It's NOT
While ESAs do not need any certification whatsoever, service dogs must be trained and you need to have a documentation for them. Therefore, you will also find a lot of websites that claim to provide service dog certification online for a fee. Do not do this.
It is important to note that official sounding websites, such as the National Service Animal Registry, offer you to certify an animal as a service animal. These websites are a SCAM. You can’t certify a dog as a service dog this way. Service dog gear doesn't mean anything. No service dog vest, certification, or ID badge will make your dog an official service animal recognized by the law. These websites charge a lot of money, and that spent money is literally for nothing.
Only ADA and your local government can qualify an animal to be a service dog. These dogs are considered working animals, and are protected by the law. Getting a service dog is a much more complicated and difficult process than acquiring a doctor's recommendation for an emotional support dog, and no online certification will qualify.
All three types of working animals (therapy, service and ESA) have their place among us, and help in their own way. Samantha has recently interviewed Marty Harris on her most recent podcast about a service dog and how that animal literally saves Marty's life every single day.
An emotional support dog is extremely helpful for those suffering from mental illness that interferes with their quality of life. Many people see their pet as their backbone, and emotional support dogs are there to do just that. Everything from depression to schizophrenia can be qualifying for an emotional support animal.
But remember, an emotional support animal is not a service dog. You cannot take your ESA anywhere a regular dog could not be. However, having an emotional support dog gives you two legal rights. The first is the right to have your dog live with you anywhere, even somewhere that has a strict no pets rule. The second is the right for your dog to travel with you in the cabin of an airplane. You can not be charged more and asked for an extra pet deposit due to an emotional support dog.
For the sake of emotional support dog’s reputation, train your ESA. There have been cases of emotional support animals destroying apartments, attacking people on planes, and cause other problems because they're not trained properly. If you have an emotional support dog, it is your responsibility to keep the dog well-mannered, socialized and trained.
The best and safest way to get a recommendation for an emotional support animal is through your therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Online therapists are sketchy and way overpriced. Many people who use these services are people falsely claiming that they need an emotional support dog. I recommend always trusting your own mental health professionals rather than a sketchy website online.