As implied by its term, an emotional support animal or ESA, offers emotional comfort for its owner/handler. They provide companionship to those with psychiatric and physical disabilities, but in doing so, emotional support animals are not required to undergo specialized training. However, their owners/handlers can benefit from having them around.

Emotional Support Animals For Anxiety

The primary reason for individuals needing an emotional support animal is for managing anxiety attacks or fighting depression. When faced with a challenging situation that could affect how a person functions, the person can turn to the animal to alleviate his or her discomfort.

However, given this scenario, emotional service animals are not considered by law as service animals. As stated in the California’s Disability Rights, “An animal is not a service animal if its mere presence benefits the individual with a disability.”

Emotional Support Animals vs. Psychiatric Service Animals

There is confusion arising from the functions of an emotional support animal versus a psychiatric service animal, who also deal with people with mental and emotional disorders. It might help to define what psychiatric service animals actually do. Psychiatric service animals are also regarded as therapy dogs, and like service animals for the physically disabled, they have been trained to perform specialized tasks for their owners beyond regular dog obedience training.

“Tasks performed by psychiatric service animals may include reminding individuals to take medicine, providing service checks or room searches for people with PTSD, interrupting self-mutilation, and removing disoriented individuals from dangerous situations,” as stated in the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Federal Register. Emotional support animals are not expected to perform these kinds of work.

In addition, due to their specialized training, therapy dogs know how to respond and recognize to their owner’s predicament, sometimes before it even happens. On the other hand, emotional support animals will only give its owners a sense of calm and safety just by being next to them. It’s the person with disability who derives the response from the emotional support animals. In other words, they’re sort of like a safety net that may be comparable to a child’s security blanket.

How Can I Get an ESA Letter from ESA Doctors?


Where Are Emotional Support Animals Allowed? 

Unlike service animals, emotional support animals are not protected by the ADA. Emotional support animals are only allowed in airplanes and “no pets” housing and are protected by the Air Carrier Access Act and the Federal Fair Housing Amendment Act. This allows you to travel with your pet and live with your pet if you suffer from one of the many mental or physical disabilities that may affect your daily life.

There have been studies that support the fact that pets (dogs, cats, etc.) can lower stress levels and alleviate symptoms of depression. Next time you see someone with an emotional support animal, remember that everyone struggles with something and it is not up to you to judge the person’s need for an emotional support animal.

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To see if you qualify for an ESA letter, get started by clicking the link below to access the ESA Questionnaire.