The Water Bowl
Breed & Health Resources

What You Should Know About Emotional Support Dogs

By Heather Burdo

woman hugging white dog

Many people think of their dog as part of the family. To some people, a dog is much more than that – a dog can enhance the quality of life for people who need emotional support. While there are phenomenal benefits of having this type of dog, laws and registration are critical when it comes to having an emotional support animal.

Service Dogs vs Emotional Support Dog

You may have heard the term ‘service dog’ more than ‘emotional support dog.’ While emotional support dogs (a subset of assistance animals) bring extraordinary benefits to people suffering from depression, anxiety, and phobias, it’s important to keep in mind that they aren’t considered service dogs. They also don’t have the same rights. For example, a service dog who is being used as a guide dog for someone who is blind can legally be allowed anywhere in public. The true definition of a service dog is a dog that is trained individually to perform tasks or do other work for people with a disability. Animals being used to provide emotional support don’t qualify to meet the requirements of a service dog, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The major difference is that a service dog is trained to do a specific task like alarm and guide someone who is visually impaired. An emotional support dog is known to cuddle their owner on cue, but that’s a normal instinct many dogs already have.

Emotional Support Animal Laws and Registration

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Air Carriers Access Act (ACAA) are in place for modification of policies that don’t allow pets. To qualify for an emotional support animal in situations where pets would otherwise not be allowed, a credible third party (usually a doctor) must write a letter prescribing this type of support. The FHA requires the property manager/landlord to make an accommodation to their policy to allow the tenant to have an emotional support animal. Because of the ACAA, individuals can bring their emotional support dog on a flight with the proper paperwork.

Registration is not required for an emotional support dog. All you need is a letter written by a licensed therapist. This letter is a recommendation letter that is written by a licensed therapist. A letter by a family doctor won’t be enough. Ensure that the therapist you work with is experienced with animal therapy so they are familiar with all the requirements.

How to Get an Emotional Support Animal

Any dog can be an emotional support animal. However, to legally have this title and be able to be considered for “no pet” policies, a therapist will need to write a letter for you. To obtain this letter, you will need to see a therapist so they can deem how necessary it is for you to have this support animal. If you don’t already have a therapist, it’s important to find a local one who is experienced with therapy pets so you can receive a diagnosis for your letter.

Although an emotional support animal isn’t a service dog, they can still increase the well being of individuals. Some people struggle with anxiety and depression significantly and having the support animal as a pet can make a major difference with their condition.

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