The world can be a stressful place, with the worries of everyday life often proving overwhelming. Many people rightfully turn to animals for comfort, but a certified Emotional Support Dog (ESD) is more than just an ordinary pet.

People dealing with mental health conditions often find that the presence of a dog helps them navigate mental and emotional challenges. Certified Emotional Support Dogs are protected by the Fair Housing Act and retain special housing rights. This article will explain how to properly certify your dog as an ESD. Note: special documentation is required.

Disabilities that qualify you for an Emotional Support Dog

Emotional support dogs at home on the couch. - ESA Doctors
Emotional support dogs can live in “no pets” housing and cannot be discriminated against based on breed, age, or weight.

To qualify for an ESD, your therapist or other licensed healthcare professional will determine whether you have a disability and whether an ESD would help alleviate symptoms of your condition. A “disability” for purposes of qualifying for an Emotional Support Dog means a mental health condition like depression or severe anxiety that substantially limits one or more major life activities, like the ability to sleep, work, or learn. 

If you suffer from mental health issues and need the housing rights that an official emotional support dog provides, get an ESA letter. If you would like to see if you qualify for an Emotional Support Dog from the safety and comfort of your home, start the process through the link below.

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How Do I Certify My Emotional Support Dog?

Some people use the phrase “certifying a dog” interchangeably with getting an ESA letter. Here is a spoiler: you do not actually “certify” an Emotional Support Dog! ESA Certifications are meaningless when it comes to qualifying your dog as an ESD. This is a common mistake, and there is a very important distinction between “certifying” a dog and obtaining an ESA letter.

There is no such thing as an ESA certificate or an ESA Certification Program that officially qualifies a dog as an emotional support animal under US law. Unlike service dogs, emotional support animals do not require special training to perform tasks (but they do need to be well-behaved and in your control at all times). The only truly legitimate way to qualify your pet as an emotional support animal is by obtaining a legitimate ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional. If you do not have a therapist or are having trouble finding one, you can connect with a mental health professional through the online platform here.

A landlord or anyone else who asks you for an ESA registration number, ESA Certificate, or ESA identification card proving your dog is an emotional support animal is misinformed. The only proof you need is the ESA letter written by a licensed professional stating your need for an emotional support dog.

To be absolutely clear, if you do obtain an ESA letter, you are also not required to “register” your dog on any website. The Fair Housing Act and related guidance from the U.S. Department of Housing do not recognize certifications or registrations of emotional support animals.

Steps to Certifying your Emotional Support Dog

Certifying your emotional support dog online is easy and secure using ESA Doctors to connect with a therapist via the internet. Follow the steps below to make sure that your emotional support dog is recognized and your rights are protected. Make sure your ESA letter is legitimate by checking your health professional’s licensing information using your state’s licensing board website.

How to Certify your Emotional Support Dog:

  1. Work with a therapist who understands Emotional Support Animal policies

    You can find a therapist or work with an ESA specialist online here.

  2. Connect with your therapist

    Share your situation openly and honestly with your therapist so they can assess if you qualify for an ESA letter.

  3. Request an ESA letter

    An ESA letter is a document with specific language that your therapist provides you on their letterhead. Once you have an ESA letter, you can request reasonable accommodations for you and your dog. This means no extra pet fees and access to “no-pet” apartments.

  4. That’s it! Your Emotional Support Dog is certified.

    Once you have an ESA letter, you have the certification from a professional that you need to make your dog a certified emotional support dog. Submit this document when you request reasonable accommodations from your landlord.

If you need an ESA letter for housing and do not have a therapist or your therapist does not write ESA letters, you can connect with a mental health professional here.

Three easy steps to get an ESA Letter with ESA Doctors - Infographic

Click here to get started on qualifying for your ESA letter.

The ESA letter: requirements and protections

To make your dog an Emotional Support Dog, you must qualify for an ESA letter written by a licensed healthcare professional.

Here are the requirements that an ESA letter from your licensed mental health professional (LMHP) needs to fulfill:

  • Written on your LMHP’s letterhead
  • Establish that you have a disability
  • Recommend an emotional support animal to help alleviate symptoms of that disability
  • Contain the LMHP’s license number
  • Contain the LMHP’s signature and date

A valid ESA letter is necessary to ensure that your Emotional Support Dog is accommodated in housing with “no-pet” policies and not charged additional rent, deposits, or fees. Breed and weight restrictions do not apply to ESAs either.

If you are interested in seeing if you qualify for an ESA letter, you can speak to your existing therapist. If you do not have a therapist or if your therapist does not write ESA letters, you still have options. Consider whether qualifying for an ESA housing letter online is a good choice for you.

Emotional Support Dog rights

Emotional support animals are protected by federal and state laws when it comes to housing. They cannot be charged any pet fees or pet deposits. Emotional Support Dog owners have that right even if their building has a “no-pets” policy. Some airlines also accommodate valid emotional support animals as a courtesy.

Housing rights

In January 2020, the U.S. Department of Housing released new guidance regarding the accommodation of Emotional Support Dogs in housing. HUD’s guidance affirms that landlords must provide reasonable accommodation to tenants with valid ESA letters from a licensed healthcare professional. HUD specifically warns against sites that sell certifications, licenses, and registrations to qualify emotional support animals. In addition, HUD also confirmed that licensed healthcare professionals can provide ESA-related services remotely, including online. That is great news for anyone with a mental health condition who is unable to see a therapist in person for any reason, including due to cost, a busy schedule, or the severity of their symptoms.

Travel rights

The U.S. Department of Transportation issued new rules for ESAs on flights that went into effect on January 11, 2021. As a result of these new rules, airlines are no longer mandated to accommodate emotional support animals by law but can do so on a voluntary basis. All airlines are required to grant access to psychiatric service dogs.

Many airlines have ended their ESA programs as a result of this change. For airlines that no longer accept ESAs, your animal companion may only board the cabin if it meets the airline’s requirements for pets and if you pay a pet fee each way. It’s important to check with your airline before booking to see their latest emotional support dog policy. 

If you want to learn more about qualifying for a psychiatric service dog, you may find this article helpful.

How do I get an Emotional Support Dog?

Emotional Support Dog in courtyard - ESA Doctors
You can find great emotional support dogs in shelters and rescues. You can get your ESA letter before or after getting a dog.

Here are some critical facts about what an Emotional Support Dog (ESD) actually is: 

  • Any type of canine that helps alleviate symptoms of the owner’s mental illness or emotional distress can be an ESD
  • Any breed of dog can make a wonderful Emotional Support Dog
  • Shelter and rescue dogs can make great ESDs
  • You can qualify for an ESA letter before or after adopting a dog 
  • ESDs do not need to be specially trained to perform tasks for their owners

Keep in mind that when searching for the perfect companion, be sure to look for a dog that is manageable for you and suited to your lifestyle. For example, if you live in an apartment, a small dog may be easier to handle than a large dog that may need greater amounts of exercise and room to roam.

One size does not fit all: You will also want to consider how the dog may affect you. For example, if you have severe anxiety, a hyperactive canine may not be the best choice, and you may want a dog that has more of a calming influence. Visit several animal shelters and ask questions about different breeds until you find a dog that is right for you. It is important to find the right type of dog for you and also to be able to provide the right kind of environment for the dog.

Are Emotional Support Dogs the same as Service Dogs?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Emotional Support Dogs are not considered Service Dogs and are therefore not given the same rights and privileges. Service Dogs and Psychiatric Service Dogs have the right to go places Emotional Support Dogs may be disallowed, such as restaurants and grocery stores. Emotional Support Dogs do not need to perform a specific task for a disability and still have the right to accompany their owners in their homes pursuant to the Fair Housing Act.

You & your Emotional Support Dog

Emotional Support Dog on the back of a truck - ESA Doctors
Having an emotional support dog is not a sign of weakness.

There’s no shame in needing an ESA to deal with your mental health issues and emotional distress. Emotional Support Dogs are giving a new lease on life to many suffering individuals, and the effects ESDs have can be profound.

If you think you could benefit from the presence of an Emotional Support Dog, talk to your doctor or mental health professional. If you do not have access to a doctor or mental health professional, ESA Doctors can help connect you to a professional licensed for your state. To begin the process, you can click the link below.

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How to certify an Emotional Support Dog - ESA Doctors