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 (which is one type of assistance animal) bring extraordinary benefits to people suffering from depression, anxiety, and phobias, it’s important to keep in mind that they aren’t considered service animals. 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 animal is a dog or miniature horse that is trained individually to perform tasks or do other work for people with a disability. Animals that aren’t trained to provide their support or are animals other than a dog or miniature horse 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 animal 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 under the FHA, an individual should provide reliable documentation (usually from a doctor, but it doesn’t need to be) verifying that the individual is living with a disability and has a related need for an emotional support or any other type of assistance animal. The FHA requires the property manager/landlord to make an accommodation to their policy to allow the tenant to have an emotional support animal. Under the ACAA, individuals can bring their service animals and emotional support animals on a flight if they need the animal during the flight or at the destination. For emotional support animals, the individual must provide a letter that is less than one year old written by a licensed health professional on official letterhead.

Although an emotional support animal isn’t a service animal, 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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