People living with a mental illness, whether it be anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, may find comfort when they have their pet close by. And for many a cute, playful puppy dog may be especially therapeutic. The age of the ESA does not matter as long as the handler is approved to own an Emotional Support Animal.
What does an Emotional Support Animal do?
An Emotional Support Animal (ESA), as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), is an animal that is prescribed by a licensed mental health professional with the sole purpose of providing therapeutic companionship. Similar to Service Animals, ESAs are allowed in no-pet housing complexes, as well as airline travel, without any cost to the owner. Any animal can be used as an ESA, but dogs are most common.
How old should an Emotional Support Dog be?
A dog can be an ESA for its owner at any age. A handler could choose to have an older, trained dog by their side, or opt to have a puppy that they can train from birth. The only requirement for an ESA is that it is prescribed by a licensed mental health professional.
How do you qualify a puppy as an ESA?
There are no requirements that a puppy needs to meet in order to become an ESA. Unlike Service Dogs, there are no specific tasks that they need to complete for their owner in order to qualify. As long as an owner has an ESA letter from a licensed professional, they can designate any animal as an ESA, such as their family puppy or dog.
Can I register a puppy as an ESA?
At this time, there is no specific registry for ESAs. This means that there is no particular documentation that you need to have on hand in order to have your puppy at your apartment or on an airplane. However, oftentimes, you will be asked to provide the ESA letter from your therapist that proves your puppy is indeed your Emotional Support Animal. It is recommended that you always carry a copy of the ESA letter with you, in case you need to show proof of legitimacy.
For simplicity’s sake, some owners choose to have their dog’s identification with them in order to avoid conflict. This can include:
- Having a badge made for their dog that states the dog is an ESA.
- Put a vest on the dog that has “Emotional Service Animal” written on the side.
These items are not required but may make encounters easier. Keep in mind that ESAs don’t have the same rights as Service Animals—they are not allowed in public places, such as grocery stores, banks, or retail stores.
How do I train a puppy to be an ESA?
A puppy doesn’t need to have any specific training in order to become an Emotional Support Animal. Since ESAs provide emotional and therapeutic support, they don’t need to perform any specific tasks for their handler. However, it’s in your best interest to ensure your puppy goes to basic obedience training, in order to avoid potential behavioral issues with landlords or on airplanes. Suggested training commands include:
If your puppy can learn these simple commands, they will not only remain under control but will be easier to manage on a day-to-day basis.
Can a landlord deny an ESA puppy for being too young?
A landlord is not legally allowed to deny a tenant’s ESA, regardless of age or breed, except under certain circumstances. These circumstances that your landlord may deny your ESA include:
- The tenant can’t provide a housing letter. Many landlords will request proof of legitimacy for the ESA. Without a valid ESA letter from a licensed professional, a landlord has grounds to deny the request.
- The animal requires extreme accommodations. By law, landlords are required to allow an ESA, regardless of the species, age, breed, etc. However, if having the ESA requires excessive or unreasonable alterations and costs to the landlord, they may be able to deny your request. For example, a landlord would be able to deny a horse that requires a new stable and pasture to live in.
Your puppy can be your ESA
An Emotional Support Animal can provide truly therapeutic assistance to a person living with a mental illness. It’s the relationship between the owner and their ESA that will form the support. Therefore, even a puppy can offer companionship and give their handlers a sense of routine and purpose that can considerably increase the quality of life.
Steps to making your puppy an ESA
- Determine if you would benefit from an emotional support animal.
- Connect with a licensed healthcare professional.
- Get your ESA letter for your puppy or kitten.
- Submit your ESA letter to your landlord, HOA, or Co-Op board.
If you do not have access to a healthcare professional at this time, you can connect with one online by completing the questionnaire in the link below.