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Emotional Support Animal Federal Laws

Assistance Animals and Their Types

Assistance animals work, assist or perform different tasks to help people with disabilities, both physical and emotional. These animals assist people in a number of ways and under the federal law, there are two major types of assistance animals.

Service Animals

Individuals who suffer from physical disabilities such as people restricted to a wheelchair, blind, deaf, seizure disorder, or other medical conditions benefit from having service animals assist them.

Service animals also referred to as assistance animals, helper animals, assist animals are trained to perform different tasks to provide physical or medical assistance to these individuals. Service animals can be dogs, miniature horses or capuchin monkeys who assist people with tasks such as

Pulling a wheelchair, alerting the deaf to sound, guiding the blind, reminding an individual to take medication, etc.

Emotional Support Animal (ESA)

An emotional support animal commonly referred to as support animal, or assistance animal is a companion chosen by individuals suffering from different emotional or psychological disorders. Unlike service animals, an emotional support animal isn’t trained to perform specific tasks or recognize signs, but help alleviate symptoms by providing unconditional love and comfort just by being there.

Animals provide companionship and help individuals relax when dealing with difficult situations. Having a support animal also proves beneficial for combating loneliness in people who either live alone or struggle with depression.

Reciprocating the love and care one gets from their pets helps give them a sense of purpose. Research has also shown that these animals can help improve physical health, such as lower blood pressure and increase the ability to tolerate pain.

The most commonly seen emotional support animal is a dog, but not everyone is a dog person. Following is a list of different animals that can serve as your emotional support animal.

  • Cats
  • Rabbits
  • Birds
  • Hamsters
  • Miniature horses
  • Guinea pig

Except for a few cases, the majority of emotional support animals aren’t rare and exotic.

Who Can Qualify for an ESA Letter?

The only legal requirement needed to keep an emotional support animal is an Emotional Support Animal Letter (ESA Letter).

An ESA letter is a prescription letter written by a Licensed Mental Health Professional. Your family doctor or any other medical doctor isn’t eligible to prescribe an ESA letter; it has to be a psychiatrist, psychologist, psychiatrist nurse, licensed professional counsellor, or other licensed therapists.

An individual suffering from the following psychological or emotional disabilities can qualify for an ESA after careful evaluation from a licensed mental health professional.

  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Postpartum Depression
  • Depression
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder
  • Phobias and Fears
  • General Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Autism

Emotional support animals shouldn’t be confused with a traditional pet since they have a specific purpose and service to provide.

Although an emotional support animal can become a part of its owner’s family, but there are specific laws concerning the usage of emotional support animals.

Emotional Support Animal Laws

There are quite a few laws that govern the use of ESAs, but the two major federal laws are:

  • The Fair Housing Act
  • Air Carrier Access Act

Any individual who possess an ESA letter is protected by these laws. If you are considering getting an ESA letter, then these laws will help you understand what you should expect from landlords and airlines when having your ESA accompany you.

Following is a brief summary on these federal laws:

Emotional Support Animal Housing Laws

People with pets often have difficulty searching for accommodation as most landlords have the “no-pet” policy. However, under the fair housing act of 1988, commonly known as FHA, no landlord can deny housing to an individual with an ESA, the “no-pet” policy doesn’t apply to ESA owners provided they have a valid ESA letter.

Landlords are legally required by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to make reasonable accommodations for ESAs. This means that a landlord cannot discriminate against an individual suffering from an emotional disability and deny them housing, just as an individual restricted to a wheelchair cannot be denied housing due to his condition.

In addition to that, landlords cannot demand for an ESA to go through special training, or put restrictions on the size, breed and type of animal.

The FHA law prohibits property owners to ask for advance deposit, or charge extra pet fee for ESAs. However, in the case of significant damage done to the property by the ESA, its owner is liable to pay the price. Moreover, ESA owners cannot ask for unreasonable changes putting financial burden on the landlord.

The Air Carrier Access Act

The Air Carrier Access Act was passed in 1990 to prohibit discrimination against individuals struggling with emotional and psychological disabilities, allowing them to travel with their support animal by air.

Under this act, airlines cannot refuse transportation to individuals travelling with their ESA, or ask them for a prior notice, except for when they need specific arrangements to be made such as medical equipment.

Legally airlines can’t ask for additional charges from people travelling with the support animals or have them sit in specific spots away from the public unless the animal can cause hindrance due to its size.

Prior to travelling with their ESA, it is the owner’s responsibility to make sure that they have the necessary material required to board the plane with their ESA. It is also essential to ensure that the ESA is well-behaved and won’t cause any disturbance for the rest of the passengers.

Emotional Support Registration: Real or Not?

Many people fall into the trap of ESA registration, thinking it is a legal requirement to keep their ESA.

To clear this misconception once and for all, know that ESA registration is NOT real.

There are several fraudulent websites present on the internet with the claim that you need to get your pet or other animal registered in their database to make it an Emotional Support Animal.

This is a false claim, as mentioned earlier, the only legal requirement for an ESA is an ESA letter that you can obtain from a licensed mental health professional after getting your symptoms assessed.

These are nothing more than tricky ways to get people to pay for something that isn’t real.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), The Air Carrier Access Act and The Fair Housing Act, all prohibit discrimination against people with emotional disabilities in different walks of life. And if you want to have, your ESA accompany you wherever you go – in public places and your home the only piece of document you’ll require is an ESA letter.

However, it is your responsibility to acquire your ESA letter from a legitimate place – getting caught with a fake letter has severe consequences.

If you feel can identify to the emotional disabilities mentioned in this article, or feel that having an Emotional Support Animal can benefit you then get in contact with our mental health professionals and find out if you qualify for an ESA letter.