If you and your Licensed Mental Health Provider (LMHP) have determined that an emotional support animal (ESA) can help with the symptoms of your mental illness (such as anxiety or depression), you may be wondering about what rights you have.

Having an ESA provides major perks, such as the ability to live in no-pets buildings, pet fee waivers, and exemption from pet breed or size restrictions. However, there are many common misconceptions regarding ESA letters.

For example, you may have encountered some difficulty bringing your emotional support animal with you into stressful or triggering situations, such as air travel. In 2021, the permissions for service animals and ESAs were changed. Traveling with an ESA is no longer recognized by most airlines, even for passengers with ESA letters.

There are other common misconceptions about Emotional Support Animals. Today, we’re addressing five of the most prevalent ESA myths.

Myth 1: Emotional Support Animals Need Special Training

One of the most common misconceptions for animal owners and non-owners alike is that an ESA is the same as a service animal

Service animals — which unlike ESAs are always dogs — have been trained to perform specific tasks, such as guiding a visually impaired owner, detecting an imminent seizure for someone with epilepsy, fetching medication, or detecting low blood sugar to warn a diabetic.

Emotional support animals, while a valuable part of the owner’s emotional and mental well-being plan, have not undergone the same rigorous training and specific tests that a service animal has. Nor are ESAs protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Many public spaces, from an airplane to a restaurant or a grocery store, are required by law to allow a service animal inside but are not required to allow any other types of animals, including ESAs. 

Emotional Support Animals do not need any special training and have rights for housing only.

ESA Doctors, est. 2015
5 Myths and Misconceptions About Emotional Support Animals - ESA Doctors

Myth 2: You May Bring an Emotional Support Animal with You Anywhere and Anytime

Another common misconception is that ESAs are always allowed to accompany their owner. This is untrue. In public venues, ESAs will just be treated as normal pets. Some places, like restaurants, may not allow pets because of health codes. Other establishments, including government buildings, may have rules that prohibit a pet.

Under the Fair Housing Act, tenants who have an ESA and were issued a legitimate ESA letter from their LMHP are allowed to have their animal in a non-pet building and to have their pet deposit and other pet fees waived. But the FHA applies only to your primary residence and not to other places where you may stay, like a hotel.

You might not be able to take them everywhere, but an ESA letter can help you keep your emotional support animal at home, regardless of the building’s pet policy.

ESA Doctors, est. 2015

Myth 3: Anyone Can Get an ESA

The true value of an emotional support animal — which helps an individual deal with mental illness through companionship and support — isn’t fully known to all physicians and mental health providers, let alone the general public. 

Many people think that simply stating that their pet provides emotional support is enough to qualify the animal as a true ESA.

However, this isn’t the case. Not everyone with depression, anxiety, or another mental illness qualifies for an ESA. As with all approaches to mental health, ESAs are an option you and your licensed health care provider explore together. Some people may actually see their symptoms worsen when faced with the responsibility of caring for an animal, so this decision must be made with care.

A licensed healthcare professional must believe that your condition would benefit from an ESA before they will issue a legitimate ESA letter for your housing needs.

ESA Doctors, est. 2015

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Myth 4: ESAs Fly Free in the Cabin

Most major airlines allowed emotional support animals in their cabins until recently. In 2021, the law was changed so that ESAs no longer qualify. Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs), however, are still allowed in the cabin free of charge. If you’re interested in owning a PSD or currently own one, you may be interested in obtaining a PSD letter. Click here to learn more about getting your own PSD letter.

Before booking a flight, always confirm the airline’s animal policy directly from the source.

ESA Doctors, est. 2015

 Click here to see if you qualify for a Psychiatric Service Dog

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Myth 5: Only Certain Types of Dogs or Cats can be ESAs

The guidelines set forth by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) state that landlords cannot disqualify an ESA due to breed or weight. The pet you already have may qualify as your ESA, as long as it is a small, domesticated animal typically kept in the home. 

Furthermore, the animal does not need to be a dog or a cat. There are many other domesticated animals such as fish, gerbils, birds or turtles that can live with you in a home with a “no pets” policy, as long as you have a legitimate ESA letter.

Though small dogs and cats are most common, emotional support animals come in a wide range of shapes and sizes.

ESA Doctors, est. 2015

Could an Emotional Support Animal Benefit You?

If you are interested in getting an emotional support animal as part of your mental well-being plan, we can help. ESA Doctors can help connect you to an LMHP who is able to write ESA letters and is licensed for your state. 

You and your mental health provider can evaluate the pros and cons of having an emotional support animal to provide comfort, alleviate depressive symptoms, or give you a sense of purpose. 

For more information on how to get started, our Emotional Support Animal Beginner’s Guide is here for you! 

Start your assessment today and live a better life with your emotional support animal.

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