Emotional Support Animals
An Emotional Support Animal is a pet which is considered to be a service animal by providing therapeutic benefit to its owner through companionship and affection.
Basically, service animals are not considered to be "pets." Rather, they are considered to be more like assistive aids such as a wheelchair.
Traditional service animals need specific training. However, there are no specific training or certification requirements for a pet to be an emotional support animal. The only requirement is that the pet provides emotional support while not disturbing neighbors or presenting a danger to other people.
Emotional support animals are permitted to be in places that other animals are not permitted to be thanks to a variety of federal laws as noted below. The federal laws override state laws and private restrictions such as a "no pets" policy in a lease, a hotel's policy, or an airline's policy. However, they do not override health codes such as prohibiting animals in restaurants, stores, taxies,or trains unless specifically permitted. (Basically, restrictions do not apply if the animal is a service dog.)
The rest of this article describes:
- The letter from a mental health professional required to certify an emotional support animal:
- Movie theaters
NOTE: Service dog costs are deductible as a medical expense.
Letter From A Mental Health Professional
If you are considering getting an emotional support animal or registering your pet as one, you must get a letter from a licensed mental health professional which confirms that you need an emotional support animal.
For a sample letter from a mental health professional, click here. (Note that these letters are generally only valid for a particular period, such as one year. They can be renewed.)
If your therapist is unwilling to supply such a prescription, or if you are not currently seeing a mental health therapist, there are online services that will provide certification. Prior to providing certification, reputable therapists ask an extensive amount of questions and require at least one counseling session. If you use an online service, please be sure to check the professionals' qualifications, results and fees. To find such a service, search on "emotional support animals certification."
In most housing complexes, you are allowed to keep an Emotional Support Animal or a service animal thanks to the Federal Fair Housing Act as long as you have a letter or prescription from your doctor or a mental therapist prescribing a pet for your emotional health, and you are "disabled" as defined by the law. The definition of "disability" is similar to that in the Americans With Disabilities Act.
To learn which landlords are subject to The Fair Housing Act, click here. If your landlord is not subject to the federal Fair Housing Act, check the law of your state to find out if there is a similar right under state law.
If your housing is subject to The Fair Housing Act:
- You can live or stay in the housing with your Emotional Support Animal, even in those places that specifically prohibit dogs or other pets or permit "only pets of a certain size."
- There cannot be any pet fees.
- You cannot be charged supplemental rent or deposits or other security for the animal. However, you can be charged for actual damage done by the animal.
- The landlord does not have to permit a pet if the landlord can show that the accommodation would cause an undue hardship.
If you are not protected under the Federal Fair Housing Act, you may be entitled to keep an emotional support animal as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act.
If you need an Emotional Support Animal to ease the symptoms of a disability, request permission in writing from the appropriate authority (landlord or managing agent.) In the letter, explain that you have a disability, that the accommodation you are requesting would be helpful, and include a note from your mental health professional. It is not likely to hurt to include a reference to both The Fair Housing Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act. You do not need to disclose the details of your disability or health condition. It would also help your case to explain how the presence of the pet would be helpful to you.
You can stay in any hotel with your Emotional Support Animal. You cannot be charged additional fees. You can be charged for any damage caused by the animal.
In addition to rights under the Fair Housing Act, you may also be entitled to keep a pet with you in a hotel (a "place of public accommodation") as an accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act. To learn more, click here.
You can travel on any airline with your Emotional Support Animal in the cabin without paying any pet fees because of the federal Air Carrier Access Act.
Each airlines gets to set its own restrictions about an animal's size and species. It is advisable to check ahead of time with the airline to find out about its requirements. For instance, you may be required to:
- Give the airline prior notice such as at least 48 hours before the flight,
- Prove that you have a "disability" within the law,
- Provide proof from a mental or physical doctor that you are "disabled,"and that the certification be within a certain amount of time, such as within the past year.
- The date and type of the health professional's license and the state or other jurisdiction in which it was issued.
You must have a letter from a health professional in order to be covered under the federal Air Carrier Access Act.
Under federal law, there is no right to take an Emotional Support Animal into a movie theater.
NOTE: There are various products available which indicate that your animal is an emotional support animal.The products are unofficial, but can be helpful when moving around with an emotional support animal that you want to take into places that would not normally allow a pet. One commercial business that sells certificates, vests, and badges for helper animals is National Service Animal Registry . In addition, search for "emotional support animal products" or see such compilation sites as Nexttag.com