How to Register an Emotional Support Animal

Behavior & training
Emotional Support Animal - Dog

Does your cat purr away your anxiety? Does your dog greet you with a tail wag that melts your stress? For many, pets are more than companions – they're emotional lifesavers. As pet owners, we all love our pets and treat them like a member of our family. But the relationship we have with our pets can go much deeper than this. Studies actually show that pets have a notable positive impact on the mental health of their owners.

If your pet benefits you mentally and emotionally, you may consider registering them as an emotional support animal. There is a lot of conflicting information online, and navigating this process can be challenging. In fact, some businesses even encourage you to buy unnecessary and illegitimate items. We’ll cut through all the noise and give you all the information you need to register an emotional support animal.

Emotional Support Animal Registration Process

Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions and myths about the emotional support animal registration process, how to register an emotional support animal, and what an emotional support animal even is.

However, there's an important detail to clear up first: unlike service animals, there's no official registration process for ESAs. While you may find websites offering ESA registration, it's important to understand these are not required or recognized by law.

Let’s start with the basics - what is an emotional support animal (ESA)? An ESA is a pet that provides emotional support and comfort and can help you deal with challenges that might otherwise impact your quality of life. Emotional support animals can provide companionship and help ease anxiety, depression, and even some phobias. To qualify as an emotional support animal, the animal must be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional with a formal prescription letter. Any domesticated animal may be considered an emotional support animal (e.g., dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, birds, etc.). There is no specific emotional support animal training; rather, they simply provide comfort for you by being near you.

An emotional support animal is not the same as a service animal. Service animals, which are almost exclusively dogs, must be specifically trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Because of this, service dogs are generally allowed to go with their handler anywhere the public is allowed, but emotional support animals do not have this same right.

Misconceptions about Certifying and Registering Emotional Support Animals

Two of the biggest misconceptions about emotional support animals surround certification and registration. While many online companies claim they’ll certify your animal as an emotional support animal in exchange for payment, this is essentially fraud. The only certification you need is an ESA letter.

Similar to the certification misconception mentioned above, many online databases claim they’ll register an emotional support animal, but no law or regulation mandates this.

Importance of ESA Letter

The only requirement to legally have an emotional support animal is to get an emotional support animal letter from a licensed mental health professional. A legitimate ESA letter is recognized under federal law and may allow an individual certain rights to reasonable accommodations from housing providers and may permit them to travel with their animal on a plane.

Unfortunately, just like with fraudulent online certification and registration, there are many scams and fraudulent ESA letters that can be found online. If an online company is advertising emotional support animal letters but the letter seems generic, has unexpected costs, and doesn’t contain identifying information for the licensed mental health professional, that should raise some red flags to question the letter's validity.

Types of Assistance Animals

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines an assistance animal as an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or that provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified effects of a person’s disability. The nature of an assistance animal is that they’re more involved in your daily life and may even travel with you, more than a regular pet companion.

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals are animals that provide support and comfort to their owners and help them deal with challenges that otherwise might impact their lives. Emotional support animals are not service animals.

Service Animals

A service animal is a working animal that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. Service animals are generally permitted in any area where members of the public are allowed to go.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

A psychiatric service dog is a sub-category of service animals trained to assist their handler with a psychiatric or mental disability.

Therapy Animals

Therapy dogs are pet dogs that have been certified through an organization and visit certain places, like hospitals and nursing homes, to provide comfort and joy to the people who need it.

Emotional Support Animal - Cat

Rights and Privileges of ESAs and Service Animals

While both ESAs and service animals provide incredible support, their legal rights and privileges differ under federal regulations. Understanding these distinctions is key to navigating the world with your furry companion by your side.

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

The Americans with Disabilities Act was a law founded in 1990 to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities. This Act extends to all areas of life in the public, including employment, education, transportation, and more.

For service animals, the ADA is one of the most important pieces of legislation, as it provides specific regulations and rules for service animals. Under the ADA, service animals generally must be allowed in public places to accompany people with disabilities in all areas the public is allowed. However, the ADA only covers service animals who have been specifically trained to help with a task for a disabled person, so emotional support animals have little to no protection.

What is the Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is the piece of legislation that prevents discrimination against tenants in their homes, and this is typically the legislation that will be most applicable to those with emotional support animals. Under the FHA, a landlord is required to make a reasonable accommodation to allow pets (even if the lease restricts pets) who serve as assistance animals, which includes emotional support animals.

What is the Air Carrier Access Act?

The Air Carrier Access Act is a law that makes it illegal for airlines to discriminate against passengers because of their disability. This law also requires airlines to allow service animals and emotional support animals to accompany their handlers.

However, on January 11, 2021, the United States Department of Transportation allowed each airline to determine its policies and regulations when it comes to emotional support animals, and unfortunately, several airlines like United, Delta, and Air Canada have chosen to no longer recognize emotional support animals as assistance animals. This means that emotional support animals don’t receive special rights and would have to follow the same rules as any other pet.

How Do You Obtain an Emotional Support Animal Letter?

Since there are, unfortunately, so many scams for obtaining an emotional support animal letter, you’ll want to know the proper way to do it.

Start with a consultation with a licensed mental health professional. Emotional support animals are prescribed to help a person with mental disabilities, such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, etc. The licensed mental health professional must determine whether you qualify for an emotional support animal.

Since not everyone has direct in-person access to a licensed mental health professional, somelegitimate online options do exist that can provide this consultation via telehealth. Typically, the telehealth process begins with an online questionnaire, and once it’s confirmed the individual qualifies for an ESA, they are then connected with a licensed mental health professional for a consultation to discuss their need further.

A legitimate ESA letter should be written on official letterhead and should include:

  • The license type and number of the prescribing licensed mental health professional

  • The state in which they’re licensed to practice in

  • The date their license was issued

  • The licensed mental health professional’s contact information

  • The date the letter was issued

Selecting the Right Emotional Support Animal

While dogs are the most common emotional support animals, the world of ESAs extends far beyond the leash! Cats, rabbits, and even some other domesticated animals can qualify as ESAs depending on your needs and a licensed mental health professional's recommendation.

While you might dream of a service cat, cats cannot qualify as service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but they can still be a wonderful ESA! If your furry friend provides comfort and emotional support that helps manage your mental health challenges, they could be the purrfect ESA partner for you.

Even though an exotic animal could also be an ESA, exotic animals come with some unique challenges. For instance, it can be difficult to find a veterinarian to treat exotic animals. If you intend to travel with your ESA, it’s important to note that many airlines only allow dogs or cats onboard.

It is possible to have multiple emotional support animals if your licensed mental health professional agrees that more than one animal would improve your well-being, but each animal would need their own ESA letter.

Keeping Your Emotional Support Animal Healthy

Unlike a typical pet who may spend most of their time indoors, your ESA ventures out with you more frequently. This exposes them to new environments, potential allergens, and unforeseen risks. Imagine navigating a crowded airport or unfamiliar park – even the most well-behaved animal can have an unexpected reaction. If you decide to get an assistance animal, it’s a good idea to consider pet health insurance ensuring that you will be able to medically provide for your pet without so much financial stress.

Many pet insurance providers offer optional wellness plans as an add-on to your core coverage. These plans can be a fantastic way to budget for the routine care that keeps your ESA healthy and happy. Regular checkups, vaccinations, and parasite prevention are all essential, but they can add up over time. A wellness plan spreads these costs out into smaller, predictable monthly payments, making budgeting for your ESA's health a breeze.

Embrace’s wellness plan goes beyond physical health, offering training benefits to help ensure your furry companion behaves appropriately in public settings. Since a well-behaved ESA is crucial for maintaining access rights, these training benefits can provide valuable support in navigating the world with your emotional support by your side.

The bond you share with your ESA is truly unique. They're not just a pet; they're a source of comfort, emotional support, and a key part of your well-being. Keeping them healthy with regular veterinary care and training allows them to continue to be the rock you depend on, ensuring a happy and fulfilling life together.

So, Should You Register an Emotional Support Animal?

Even though there’s no doubt that pets increase our mental well-being, emotional support animals take those benefits deeper. Choosing to get an emotional support animal comes with some added benefits under legislation when it comes to housing and airplane travel.

Unlike service animals, there's no official registry for emotional support animals. The key to navigating the world with your furry friend lies in a single document: a legitimate ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional. With that in hand, you and your loyal companion can embark on a lifetime of shared adventures and unwavering emotional support.