What Exactly IS an Emotional Support Animal?

Emotional Support Animal conceptService dogs are a great asset to people with certain disabilities. They help those who are blind, or who have physical disabilities or even certain medical conditions. But did you know that there is another type of service animal? It’s called an emotional support animal (ESA), and it provides another type of crucial service to those who need it.

Definition

An emotional support animal, often a dog but can also be a cat or even a bird, is one that helps those with certain mental disorders. People who suffer from depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, panic attacks or certain phobias are sometimes unable to function in daily life because their condition is so debilitating. Emotional support animals provide love, comfort and stability when episodes occur.

How are ESAs and Service Dogs Different?

Unlike service dogs, who receive hundreds of hours of specialized training to handle specific situations, emotional support animals don’t require any training. ESAs don’t need to perform any specific function other than simply being there when their companion needs them. The animal should, however, have some basic training so that it can behave properly in public.

Can and ESA Go Everywhere with You?

An emotional support animal is covered under some of the same laws as a service dog, but not all of them. They are not covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but they are covered under the Fair Housing Act, which requires that housing with a “no pets” policy provide you with reasonable accommodations.

An ESA may also travel with you. The Air Carrier Access Act states that both service dogs and ESAs be allowed in the cabin with their companion. They can also stay with you in a hotel that would otherwise prohibit pets, as an ESA is not viewed as a pet.

These are the only places an ESA may accompany you. It is not allowed in stores, restaurants, or any other place that prohibits animals.

You May Need to Provide Documentation

In many cases, you may be required to provide documentation that your ESA is indeed just that. You may need to get a note from a doctor, psychiatrist or any other mental health professional that states you do have a disability that your ESA alleviates the symptoms of that disability. The note does not have to disclose the exact disability and anyone asking for a note cannot ask for details. If you are planning on flying, you should call the airline to find out exactly what you need to have and so that they can make the proper accommodations.

Just like service dogs, emotional support animals provide a crucial service to those who most need it. Even though they aren’t covered under the ADA, you and your ESA have certain rights, and those rights should be respected.

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