Emotional Support Animals
What is an Emotional Support Animal?
An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is a companion animal that provides therapeutic benefit to anyone that has a diagnosable psychiatric condition such as anxiety or depression. ESA’s are typically dogs or cats. They do not require special training like service dogs, but are expected to be trained and well behaved like any ordinary house pet.
To have your dog or cat designated as an ESA, you need a letter from a mental health professional stating that an ESA is needed to help with your psychiatric disability. ESA letters give people with psychiatric diagnoses specific legal rights protected by federal laws. This includes the right to bring your ESA on domestic airplane travel and the right to have your ESA in your home even when there is “a no pet” policy in place.
Many people choose to exercise their federal right to have an ESA serve as their companion - particularly when they need support flying on a plane or moving into a building that restricts animals.
Benefits of Emotional Support Animals
- An ESA can reduce anxiety, panic attacks, depression, agoraphobia, and other emotional challenges.
- An ESA can provide companionship to combat complicated grief and loneliness caused by the loss of a loved one.
- An ESA offers emotional security for its owner.
If you feel you could benefit from an emotional support animal contact me using the form below or call 347-607-6312 for more information.
How to Have Your Pet Designated as an Emotional Support Animal
If you have a psychiatric condition that substantially impacts at least one area of your life, you can be evaluated by a licensed psychotherapist to have your animal designated as an ESA. If the therapist deems it appropriate, you can receive a letter stating that you need an ESA to help you with your psychiatric needs. The letter will not indicate a specific diagnosis.
Guidelines for Airline Travel With an Emotional Support Animal
The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 (ACAA) is a federal law that allows certain travelers to bring their ESA onto the cabin of a commercial aircraft. These individuals are required to carry a copy of a current ESA prescription letter (written within the last 12 months).
Airlines do not charge an extra fee to bring an ESA on domestic flights, however they generally require 48-hours notice that an ESA will be coming on board. Animal tags or vests are not required, but they are helpful in identifying the ESA. Most people bring their animal in a travel crate that can fit under the seat in front of them, but this is also not required.
Owners are solely responsible for the ESA’s behavior as airlines have no obligation to care for the animal. The ESA must be well-behaved during the flight. The airline may deny boarding rights to an ESA if it is misbehaving or out of control.
Housing Protection For Individuals with Emotional Support Animals
The federal laws that grant housing rights to people with psychiatric disabilities to have ESAs are Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHAA). These federal statutes along with corresponding case law require that landlords do not discriminate against people with disabilities.
Disabled individuals may ask for a reasonable accommodation, like foregoing a no-pet policy for their ESA. Even when buildings have a “no pet” policy, if the tenant has an ESA letter, the landlord is required to allow that tenant to have an ESA. Landlords must waive security deposits for an ESA, but the tenant can be charged for damage caused by the ESA.
California law provides similar housing protection as the federal statutes in the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). FEHA is enforced by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
Public University Housing Protection for People with Emotional Support Animals
In April 2014, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) established that public universities must comply with the Fair Housing Act (including its 1988 amendments) and allow students with psychiatric disabilities to have ESAs in their college residence halls and dormitories.
San Francisco Animal Care & Control
California registers service animals through each county’s animal control department or related agency. Service animals get an “assistance animal” tag. All counties use a narrow definition of “service animal”, except for San Francisco, where an assistance animal can include an ESA. In San Francisco, the assistance tag is available for both service animals and ESAs.
To obtain a California Assistance Dog Tag from San Francisco Animal Care and Control (ACC), city residents can provide a letter from a psychotherapist recommending an emotional support animal. ACC is located at 1200 15th Street in San Francisco. The phone number for ACC is 415-554-6364. Assistance animal tags or vests are not required by law, but they are an easy and noticeable way for officials and landlords to identify a service animal.