How Do you Certify a Dog as an Emotional Support Animal?

Dogs are wonderful pets because they provide unconditional love and companionship to their owners. But they can do so much more than that, including detecting bombs and drugs, smelling disease and ensuring seeing-impaired owners can get around. They are also known for offering emotional support to owners who need it, and can be certified as emotional support animals.

Beagle Dog with Senior Owner
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What are emotional support animals?

If you think you may need an emotional support animal, you first need to know what exactly the legal definition entails. Emotional support animals are for people with disabling mental illnesses who will benefit from having an animal companion to help them in their everyday lives. A mental health professional, such as a psychologist, therapist or psychiatrist, will prescribe that a patient needs an emotional support animal in order to function. A dog may help a patient with depression, anxiety, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder or another mental illness that is preventing him or her from moving forward with life.

Emotional support animals are not the same as service dogs, which help with physical ailments. They are not allowed everywhere like service dogs are, for example.

Legal rights for emotional support animal owners

If a person has an emotional support animal prescription from a mental health professional, he or she cannot be discriminated against when it comes to housing, and cannot be forced to pay a pet deposit on a rental. Even if the rental stipulates "no pets," most rentals will need to accommodate emotional support animals. These rules are stipulated in the Fair Housing Act.

Under the Air Carrier Access Act, emotional support animals can travel in the cabin of an airplane with their owners. The dog cannot be dangerous, and must be well-behaved and housetrained in order to fly. Some airlines have size and breed restrictions, so owners need to call up ahead of time to confirm their animal can fly.

Flying with ESA
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How to certify a dog as an emotional support animal

Getting a dog as an emotional support animal can be highly beneficial if you're struggling with a mental illness. Before or after getting your dog, you will need to obtain a letter from a mental health professional that details what your mental condition is and why you need an emotional support dog. The letters are effective for 365 days, so they must be renewed on a yearly basis.

Making sure a letter is legitimate

There are many websites that will offer fake emotional support animal letters. If you're caught using one of these letters, you may not be able to fly or you'll lose an apartment you wanted. It is critical to find a legitimate service for these letters. You can do your research and find a service that provides an online session with a registered mental health professional, or go to a registered professional in your neighborhood. If a website says you have to register your animal or it provides instant approval without seeing a professional, then you know it's not legitimate. There is no registration for emotional support animals, and it is always necessary to talk with a professional before receiving a letter.

To determine if a letter is legitimate, it must have the date of issuance, the mental health professional's letterhead, signature, license type, license number and the state where the license was issued, a description of how your dog will help you with your condition, language on how your dog is crucial to your life and a recommendation (or prescription) for the dog. You can include your name and your pet's details, but this is not necessary.

The girl hugs the basenji dog, toned, close up.
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An emotional support dog can change your life for the better. By going through the process of getting legitimate approval, you are going to be much more successful when it comes to renting, flying and going about your everyday activities with your pup.