An emotional support animal or ESA is a dog or other common domestic animal that provides therapeutic support to a disabled or elderly owner through companionship, non-judgmental positive regard, affection, and a focus in life. Emotional support animals are typically dogs and cats but may include other animals. In order to be prescribed an emotional support animal by a physician or other medical professional, the person seeking such an animal must have a verifiable disability.
What Animals Qualify To Be An ESA?
All domesticated animals may qualify as an ESA (cats, dogs, mice, rabbits, birds, hedgehogs, rats, minipigs, ferrets, etc.) and they can be any age (young puppies and kittens, too!). These animals do not need any specific task-training because their very presence mitigates the symptoms associated with a persons psychological/emotional disability, unlike a working service dog. The only requirement is that the animal is manageable in public and does not create a nuisance in or around the home setting.
How To Qualify
Unlike Service Dogs, Emotional Support Animals are much easier to qualify for because the animal does NOT need to be specifically trained to perform a task. Rather, you as the handler must qualify by having an emotional/mental need to have that animal be with you at home or when traveling to provide emotional support.
For a person to legally qualify for an emotional support animal (ESA), he/she must be considered emotionally disabled by a licensed mental health professional (therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, etc.), as evidenced by a properly formatted prescription letter. Typically, a medical doctor does not qualify because they are not a licensed mental health professional. Some airlines and property managers will accept a verification form completed by a family doctor, however.
Is my dog required to wear any identifying clothes or a harness?
No. Federal law does not require Service Dogs/ESAs to wear any type of clothing or harnesses. However, we strongly encourage you to make your dog look as official as possible. It will cause you far less confusion when taking them places and you will definitely be happy you did!
Although the law does not exclude any particular species from qualifying as an ESA, commonsense will nearly always prevail. For example, despite there not being written exclusions, if an emotionally disabled airline passenger wants to to be accompanied in the cabin of the aircraft by his ESA and the ESA is a full sized goat, the airlines will likely require the goat to be in a crate and travel in cargo. Similarly, a landlord would likely be able to successfully defend the rejection of a tenant with a hippo as an ESA. Remember that it is important to keep the ESA in manageable condition because a disruptive emotional support pig and its owner had to get their plane trip canceled for causing too much havoc.