Every dog owner is able to vouch for the benefits of having a dog. Dogs are loyal companions that also motivate their owners to exercise even when they don’t feel like it. However, people with mental and emotional conditions can benefit even more from having a trusted four-legged companion by their side. For these people, owning a dog can make a big difference in their ability to live a normal life and overcoming any challenges that their mental or emotional condition may bring their way.

What is an emotional support animal?

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs), are pets that provide emotional support and comfort to humans allowing them to face any challenges that their mental and emotional conditions may bring and would otherwise compromise their quality of life. Different animals can become ESAs such as cats and even miniature horses, but dogs are the most popular type of ESA.  However, in order for a dog to be legally considered an ESA, there needs to be a prescription by a licensed mental health professional.

It’s been long known that owning a dog can have a significant impact on mental health. But although dogs have been known to reduce anxiety levels, help fight loneliness and improve physical health in humans, the research still remains inconclusive whether or not there are any differences between an ESA or a beloved pet.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), emotional support dogs are not service dogs and therefore, don’t have the same privileges that service dogs have. Emotional support dogs are protected by the Fair Housing Act but a landlord can always ask for documentation that proves the disability-related need to have an emotional support dog.

For many years, emotional support dogs were also protected by the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) by treating them as service dogs. However, the rules have changed for 2021 and ESAs will no longer be considered services animals. This means that every ESA will be treated as a normal pet and subject to the airlines’ fees and restrictions based on size and breed.

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When should you consider having an emotional support dog?

Dogs are a great pet to motivate humans into keeping a consistent routine as they need to be walked and fed every day at roughly the same time. This alone can have a big impact on dog owners that might suffer from mental trauma or another disorder which leads them to feel tired and unmotivated.

Emotional support dogs play a big role especially when it comes to people that have been diagnosed with crippling mental health conditions such as:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety
  • Autism
  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
  • Bipolar or Manic disorders
  • Depression
  • Phobias
  • Stress

If you have any of the conditions mentioned above and feel that an emotional support dog can help relieve your symptoms, talk this through with your doctor or therapist. Your doctor will help you decide whether or not having an emotional support dog is the best option for you.

Can you register your dog as an ESA?

The short answer is yes!

Any dog can become an ESA, no matter its age, size or breed. There is also no formal emotional support dog training. But, to get your dog certified, you’ll need to prove that you need an ESA in order to live a normal day-to-day life.

If you’ve been diagnosed with one of the conditions mentioned In the previous section, ask your doctor or therapist for a letter that certifies your dog as an ESA. This letter will need to:

  • Be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional;
  • Written on official letterhead;
  • Include your doctor’s contact info, signature and license number.

The ESA services can be provided remotely which helps simplify the process of getting approval.

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Making sense of it all

Emotional support dogs can be a big help for people with a crippling mental and emotional condition by helping them go about their day-to-day life. Having your dog certified as an emotional support dog is a simple process that can be taken care of with your licensed mental health professional.

However, due to some of the perks that having an ESA can bring, some people end up obtaining an ESA letter without genuine need. This only ends up hurting the legitimacy of the ESA certification and the patients that have a real need for an ESA. The proof of this is the change in the ACAA that stopped treating emotional support dogs as service dogs and are now also subject to airlines’ fees and restrictions.

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