What are Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)?
Emotional support animals (ESAs) are household pets that provide therapeutic and emotional comfort to owners suffering from mental illnesses such as chronic depression or anxiety. ESAs help mitigate the negative symptoms of their owners’ disabilities through companionship and unconditional affection.
Any domesticated animal allowed within a specific state can be an ESA, including cats, dogs, mice, rabbits, birds, and mini pigs.
ESAs don’t require special task-training because their presence alone provides mental health support.
A licensed mental health professional (i.e. therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist) must determine whether the companionship of an ESA is necessary for the treatment of a patient’s mental disability. An official letter prescribing the ESA to the patient must be provided by the mental health professional to document this necessity.
The letter must state that:
The patient is under the mental health professional’s care for a mental or emotional disability,
The patient’s disability significantly limits a major life activity, and
An ESA is necessary for the patient’s treatment.
In addition, the letter must be written on the mental health professional’s letterhead.
ESAs are protected under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), which permit owners to live in “no-pet” housing and fly with ESAs in the cabin of an aircraft without having to pay pet-related fees.
Housing facilities cannot apply breed, size, or weight limitations to the accommodation of ESAs. However, many airlines can (and do).
No other public or private entities such as restaurants, stores, hotels, trains, or theaters are legally required to accommodate ESAs.