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ESAs and ESDs

Emotional support animals (ESAs) are companions, whose main role is to provide therapeutic support for people with mental and/or psychiatric disabilities. Generally, ESAs are cats or dogs (often referred to as emotional support dogs, or ESDs), but can be other species of animals too. What’s most noteworthy is that they are not required to be trained for specific tasks.


What are the benefits of having an animal companion for emotional support?

Potential Benefits of Pet Ownership in Health Promotion, published in the Journal of Holistic Nursing found that owners of pets:

  • get more exercise
  • have less anxiety


  • have lower incidences of loneliness and depression

In addition, more and more studies are being conducted, uncovering what appears to be an unending list of health and psychological benefits of pet ownership, including:


How do you get an emotional support animal?

To qualify for an ESA, or make your own dog an emotional support dog, you need to have a legitimate, verifiable disability, as determined by a doctor or other medical professional. These professionals can write letters supporting your need for an assistance animal which allows you to keep ESAs in “no pet” accommodation (although some exceptions can apply) and keep your companion in the plane’s cabin while you fly.


Emotional support dog registration

In a similar post relating to service dog registration, we shared how there is actually no official registration for service dogs or emotional support animals. Yet, you’ve probably noticed a few websites that claim they can send you documentation proving that your pet is an ESA. Here is what the Department of Justice has to say about these registration sites:

“There are individuals and organizations that sell service animal certification or registration documents online. These documents do not convey any rights under the ADA and the Department of Justice does not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service animal.” 

Some of these websites charge up to $200 for a completely unofficial and unnecessary document!


Emotional support dog certification

Like ESA registration, there is no official certification process for emotional support animalsA note from your doctor or therapist is enough to establish your pet’s role as an emotional support animal.


Where can ESAs go that normal pets can’t?


Owners of emotional support animals can request that “no pets” policies in almost any accommodation be waived if you:

  • Have a disability
  • Are qualified to receive the waiver
  • And would be denied accommodation purely because of your disability

Furthermore, you have to be able to show that the animal helps relieve the symptoms of your disability, and is not just a pet that you wish to take with you to “no pet” housing.


The Air Carriers Access Act allows for people with disabilities to travel with their emotional support or service animal in the cabin, as long as you can show the proper documentation (a recent letter from your doctor) and your assistance animal will not trouble crew or other passengers. There is also no extra fee, as is usually associated with flying with pets.

Apart from these two exceptions, emotional support dogs and other emotional support animals are not allowed anywhere else that pets are not usually allowed.


Responsibilities of an ESA owner

While there is no training required for emotional support animals, business staff, landlords and plane crew can request that your animal be removed if they are misbehaving or posing a threat to others. Therefore, it is in your best interest to train and socialise your ESA well enough that they can don’t interfere with or upset other people.


What are the differences between an emotional support animal, a service dog and a therapy dog?

We covered service dogs in more depth in another post, however, the main differences between service dogs, emotional support dogs and therapy dogs are below –

Emotional support animals, generally:

  • Are companions, and not limited to dogs.
  • Provide emotional support which may relieve disabilities, but they are not trained to do so.
  • Can be allowed in “no pet” accommodation and flights if a request is put in, provided there is documentation from a physician, psychiatrist or social worker verifying the need for an emotional support animal.
  • Unlike service dogs, ESAs are not allowed in all areas the public has access to.

Service dogs, generally are:

  • Classified as working animals, not pets.
  • Rigorously trained to perform tasks specific to their partner’s needs.
  • Permitted entry to any area that the general public can access, including hospitals, businesses, hotels, restaurants and public transport.
  • Trained to ignore and be neutral towards others around them, including people and dogs.
  • Allowed to live in “no pet” housing at no extra cost (excluding damages they may cause).

Therapy dogs, generally are:

  • Pets
  • Trained to interact with people other than their owners/handlers (in contrast to service dogs).
  • Trained to behave safely around all sorts of people and situations.
  • Not given access to areas and accommodation usually prohibited to dogs.
  • Able to be given access to areas such as nursing homes, hospitals and libraries if it is agreed to and arranged beforehand.


If you have any further questions


  • What exactly an ESA or ESD is.
  • Whether an ESA is for you.
  • How to get an emotional support animal, or make your own dog an emotional support dog.
  • The ESA registration and certification process.
  • And your rights and responsibilities as an ESA owner.

Please contact your physician or mental health professional, as they will be able to judge your situation best and recommend what steps you should take next.



References and recommended reading:

  • Jennings, L. B. Potential Benefits of Pet Ownership in Health Promotion. Journal of Holistic Nursing. (1997); 15(4), 358-372.
  • Levine, G. N et al. Pet Ownership and Cardiovascular Risk. Circulation. (2013); 127(23). On behalf of the American Heat Association Council on Clinical Cardiology and Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing
  • Coren, S., PhD, F.R.S.C. (2009, June 7). Health and Psychological Benefits of Bonding with a Pet Dog. Psychology Today. Retrieved from
  • Fair Housing – It’s Your Right. U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development. Retrieved from
  • Revised ADA Requirements: Service Animals. U.S Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. Retrieved from
  • Accessible Journeys. Air Carrier Access Act. Accessible Journeys. Retrieved from


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