ESAs: What Are They and Who Do They Help

ESA stands for emotional support animals, but what exactly is an ESA and who do they help? There have many many articles and news topics about emotional support animals flying on airlines, but do you know exactly what it means to have an ESA? How do you identify an ESA? ESAs are for those with a mental disability. These animals help support them and help improve their mental health. Any animal can technical become an emotional support animal, but dogs and cats are the most commonly accepted by psychologists. 

Emotional Support Animals by Law

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a civil right’s law that protects aiming to protect those with disabilities from discrimination in employment, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunications. Under this law, the Fair Housing Act and Air Carrier Access Act addresses the need of emotional support animals and allows those with an ESA to live in housing that prohibits pets and fly in the aircraft cabin with their owner. 

What is An ESA? How Do You Get One? 

An emotional support animal is one that provides a therapeutic benefit to those with a diagnosed mental disability. ESAs can help their owners with a wide variety of conditions ranging from anxiety to PTSD. If a mental health professional believes their patient’s pet provides them with comfort, support, and helps them cope with their disability, they can write them a certified letter explaining their need to have their ESA living with them and traveling with them on an airplane. 

How Do You Tell if an Animal Is an ESA?

There is no registry for emotional support animals, though there are sites online that offer badges, vests, and fake paperwork. To legally be an ESA, only a certified letter from a licensed mental health professional is needed. Some airlines do require additional paperwork and ask that you have identification for your dog. It can be helpful if you do have a badge, ribbon, or vest that says emotional support animal when traveling. ESAs do not require any specific training other than basic obedience, unlike a service dog, so any pet like a rescue dog can become a great emotional support animal. Airport employees and landlords can ask to see the ESA letter, but can not ask about the nature of the owner’s disability.
Emotional support animals improve the mental well being of those with a diagnosed mental disability. ESAs can be any type of animal, but many therapists will only write letters for dogs and cats (learn more here), as psychologists and scientists studied their therapeutic benefit thoroughly. An ESA is allowed to live with their own in housing that does not allow pets and travel in the cabin of an aircraft with their owner. ESAs are not service animals and do not need any additional training or identification by law, but some airlines do ask that ESAs have a badge or vest.

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