Emotional support animals are huge assets to their owners. While not the same as therapy or service dogs, they support their owners every day in tangible ways for those suffering from mental health conditions.
Before getting into details, it’s important to note that there is no official registration database, and it is not required to register your emotional support animal, or ESA, with any company or website. Rather, a letter from a licensed mental healthcare professional counts as certification and is the only registration needed.
We’ll discuss more of that below, but first let’s take a closer look at a few of the basics.
What is an Emotional Support Animal?
Emotional support animals, often referred to as ESAs, are used in a therapeutic way to help their owners suffering from any number of mental health conditions. For example, an owner with crippling anxiety may use the love and companionship of an ESA to accomplish tasks that otherwise would be incredibly challenging or impossible, such as flying on an airplane.
Unlike therapy or service dogs, ESAs are not required to go through any additional training or become certified. Simply their presence provides the therapeutic element necessary to assist their owners.
What Privileges are ESAs Afforded?
Emotional support animals are afforded two main legal privileges: housing and travel, predominantly by airplane.
Under the federal Fair Housing Act, an emotional support animal can live with you anywhere regardless of the housing site’s rules on particular animals, breeds, sizes or pet policy.
Secondly, most airlines recognize ESAs as legitimate therapeutic tools, and participating airlines allow emotional support animals to ride with their owners for no additional fee.
While these are the two main, legally recognized privileges given to ESAs, it does not mean smaller businesses or medical offices, for example, won’t allow an ESA inside, but these policies vary from business to business.
How Do I Register an Emotional Support Animal?
As stated above, there is no official registration database, company or website with which you must register your ESA. All that is needed to “register” an emotional support animal is a letter written by a qualified mental health professional stating the owner’s need for the ESA.
A qualified mental health professional could include a physician such as a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a therapist, social worker, licensed counselor, a mental health nurse, etc. If you currently don’t have an available healthcare professional, websites such as CertaPet or ESA Doctors provide online assessments with mental health professionals who can assess your need and write a letter based on their recommendation for you. Keep in mind though that such websites often charge a fee for an assessment and letter.
Typically, the letter should include a few key elements such as:
- Your name
- Should be written on your practitioner’s professional letterhead
- Explanation of your need for an ESA
- Your practitioner’s license number, the date, and his or her signature
Legally, this letter represents the only registration needed. It’s important to keep a copy of the letter with you so you may present it whenever needed.
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