Although ESAs provide benefits for individuals with mental health-related needs, they are not considered psychiatric service animals. Psychiatric service animals are trained to help relieve specific aspects of an individual’s psychiatric disability, such as PTSD, OCD, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or autism. They perform specific tasks and skills such as checking rooms, guarding their owner’s backs, accompanying them in public, identifying hallucinations, retrieving medications, and helping their owners calm down from disability-related stress or emotional disturbance.

Emotional support animals are not trained, and they do not perform tasks to help relieve and support aspects of an individual’s disability, though they do provide comfort, support, and relief with their presence and the routine that caring for the animal brings to their owner’s life.

Some individuals may qualify for an emotional support animal and believe that they can enter into a facility that doesn’t typically allow ESAs but does allow service animals by misrepresenting their emotional support animal as a service animal. This can be done by directly lying to others when asked or utilizing vests, IDs, and leashes that are marked to identify service animals on your emotional support animal.

You must take note that this is a crime and is often a federal misdemeanor. Misrepresenting an ESA or even a regular pet as a service animal makes it more difficult for those with service animals to access the places they need without stress and poses a risk to others, as emotional support animals do not undergo the extensive training that service animals do to remain focused and alert in public.

Many state laws are adding updates to emotional support animal law that further list the punishments and fines one may incur by misrepresenting their emotional support animal as a service animal. California is the most recent state to undertake legislation such as this.

Emotional support animals are different from service animals. ESAs provide benefits to individuals with certain mental health conditions or disabilities via their presence and the routine that caring for these animals provides. You are not required to train your emotional support animal, as they are not expected to perform disability-related tasks or skills for you the same way that service animals are.

That being said, it’s always helpful to teach any animal that you own basic manners when possible so that you can more easily take them into public or travel with them. Any animal can benefit from the stimulation that comes with consistent training, and the bond you have with your animal is often deepened when you take the time to train with them.

Emotional support animals don’t need to be dogs, though this is a very common choice, along with cats. Any animal can be an emotional support animal, but when choosing the animal you wish to adopt, your mental health provider might need to list what benefit the animal has on your mental health condition or disability.

If you pick an animal that is more exotic, requires complex care, or might be hard to care for in more residential areas (i.e., without specialized equipment or proper space), it might be harder to get your emotional support animal recognized and take advantage of the protections granted to you for living with your ESA.

In general, you cannot bring your emotional support animal into a restaurant with you unless the restaurant permits animals. Emotional support animals are not service animals, and they are not granted the same widespread public access rights as service animals. Always double-check with a facility that you wish to enter about whether or not emotional support animals will be granted the right to access that place, and don’t become combative if turned away. Most states do not provide specific access rights for emotional support animals, no matter how well-behaved your animal might be.

If you absolutely need to keep your companion animal by your side when out and about in public for a specific reason, then you might benefit more greatly from a service animal, not an emotional support animal.

You have a few different protected rights when it comes to your emotional support animal, and you do have the right to live with your ESA. You will need to submit a formal accommodation request using your official emotional support animal letter to your landlord or property’s rental agency to ensure you will receive reasonable, adequate accommodations for you and your emotional support animal.

You can travel with your emotional support animal, but whether or not you will be able to get fees waived or stay in areas that don’t typically allow animals is very situation-dependent. The Air Carrier Access Act no longer covers emotional support animals, so airlines will now decide whether to accept these pets on a case-by-case basis. You may need to pay fees when flying with your emotional support animal and have them treated like a pet as you register your animal to board the flight with you.

There are only a few circumstances in which your landlord or rental agency might be able to legally deny your request for accommodations. We list common valid reasons for denial below:

Your accommodation request isn’t reasonable, such as bringing several large dogs into a small studio apartment or other space that doesn’t allow for proper care.
Your animal is destructive, destroys property, or causes significant financial loss to the landlord or rental agency.
Your animal poses a direct health or safety threat to others on the property.
If you believe that your accommodation request has been denied for a reason other than those listed above, you will need to check with your state’s regulations, federal law, and consult a legal professional in the case that you have been unfairly denied your right to live with your emotional support animal.

You don’t need to identify your emotional support animal via a vest, ID card, harness, or other marked leashes and certificates. Some individuals may choose to identify that their animal is an emotional support animal when they take them in public, but this is a personal preference. Identifying your animal as an ESA can help reduce unwanted interactions with other animals or individuals interested in meeting your animal, but there is no law requiring it, and individuals cannot make you identify your emotional support animal.

It is illegal to misrepresent your emotional support animal as a service animal, and many states have laws in place against this action, as well as it being considered a federal misdemeanor in certain circumstances.

Attempting to pass your emotional support animal off as a service animal might seem like a great way to gain access to public areas that your animal might not otherwise be allowed in, but doing this is dangerous for those around you, as your ESA likely isn’t trained to handle public spaces, crowds, and distractions, and makes it harder for individuals with legitimate service animals to access the spaces they need without stress or scrutiny.

The choice of whether or not to get a service animal or an emotional support animal is a highly personal one. As you consider which of these animals would be more beneficial to your life and treatment plan, you should make a note of whether you will need your animal to complete certain disability-related tasks for you or if you are just looking for the comfort and support that an emotional support animal might provide. If you believe that you will need to be accompanied by your animal at all times for a specific reason, a service animal might be a better choice for you.

Make sure to speak with your mental health provider before making a choice about adding a service animal or an emotional support animal to your care plan, as they will be able to help you narrow down the benefits that you might get from either choice and assist you in making your final decision.

As the popularity of emotional support animals has risen over recent years, so have the number of companies claiming to offer ESA letters for a fee. It’s important to use common sense and scrutiny when trying to find a way to officially register an emotional support animal, as many companies are designed to simply take your money and provide you with a fake letter or a letter that would not be valid to request accommodations.

Make sure that you understand your state’s regulations surrounding what an official ESA letter is supposed to say, and that you have a licensed mental health care provider as needed for diagnosis of a mental health condition or disability and the receipt of an official emotional support animal letter that will allow you to request accommodations without issue.

Emotional support animals make wonderful companions, and they are a valuable part of many individuals’ treatment plans.

If you would like to add an emotional support animal to your life or you think that one of these animals would help you greatly when dealing with a mental health condition or disability, your first step is to reach out to your mental health care provider. Together, you can discuss the pros and cons of an emotional support animal, learn more about your rights, and eventually adopt the emotional support companion that you need.

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