Emotional Support Dog – Pros and Cons of the ESA Trend

We all know that pets provide us with endless amounts of love and joy. But they are also our family, our companions. And they are also great at offering us emotional support, hence the term, emotional support dog. Emotional support animals (ESAs) is a growing trend as pets are considered to offer support not just to people with disabilities in the form of ‘service dogs’, but also to those with mental health concerns.

emotional support dog - girl hugging a white dog

An emotional support animal is intended to provide companionship and support that will help alleviate at least one aspect of the owner’s disability. Although your pet may already be acting as your ESA, they are not protected under the law until it is officially certified. And if you obtain this certification, you can benefit from certain freedoms. For example, you can live with your animal in a rental property or in a college dormitory. This certificate, however, no longer guarantees ESAs right to fly in the cabin anymore.

Emotional Support Animal Dog ESA ID tag
Emotional Support Animal ESA ID tag
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Can only dogs qualify as ESAs?

Dogs are the most common type of emotional support animals, but cats are quite common as well. Other types of animals, such as miniature horses, are also on the emotional support animals list. The list goes on to include even peacocks as one even made headlines after it was denied from entering a United Airlines flight. Some of the more unusual emotional support animals that have flown with their owners include a pig, a duck, a monkey, and a turkey. But, let’s keep it real and down to earth: it’s safe to say that ESAs are usually NOT rare, exotic, or barnyard creatures. They are usually dogs. And dogs in the office are becoming a common scenery.

What does it take to qualify?

First, you must be certified as emotionally disabled by a psychologist, therapist, psychiatrist or other licensed and/or certified mental health professional. However, some landlords could accept a letter from your family physician. Most importantly, the letter needs to state the disorder that qualifies you as an ESA owner. This certification should be a formal and appropriately formatted letter.

emotional support harness
Emotional support harness
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Emotional disorders

The conditions that can qualify your for an ESA are:

  • Depression
  • Mild to severe anxiety
  • Learning disorders.
  • Attention Deficit Disorder also known as ADD
  • Mental retardation
  • Tic disorders
  • Motor skills disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Gender identity
  • Substance-related disorder (alcohol, drugs, etc)
  • Cognitive disorders
  • Fears of any kind (i.e. of flying)
  • Stress-induced disorders

Also note that the date of the letter stating your diagnosis should be no longer than a year from the date you present the letter.

Emotional Support Dog ESA Mesh Vest
Emotional Support Dog ESA Mesh Vest
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Pros of having an ESAs

Living with ESAs has done wonders for mental health of countless individuals. People have successfully dealt with their traumas, anxiety and so many mental heath issues thanks to their loving four legged friends. Whenever we feel as if we don’t matter, animals are there to remind us that we do. Doctors have acknowledged the benefits of emotional support animals as people coping with mental issues have exhibited significant improvements thanks to the companion of their furry friends.

Health benefits

Some of these improvements are:

  • Becoming more social
  • Boost in self-esteem
  • Feeling safe and comforted
  • Feeling more motivated
  • A decrease in the symptoms of the diagnosed illness
  • An increased sense of purpose
  • Reduction in the symptoms of PTSD (and other trauma-related issues)
  • Enhanced physical health benefits (when it comes to heart patients, etc)

Cons of ESAs certification – increasing abuse of the certificate

In 2011, the National Service Animal Registry, a for-profit company that sells official-looking vests and certificates for owners, had 2,400 service and emotional support animals in its registry. Now that number has almost reached 200,000. And there are many critics who claim that people have started abusing the system. Pet owners are often criticised for obtaining phoney certifications or letters from online therapists to avoid paying fees or to get permission to bring creatures where they wouldn’t normally be allowed, such as restaurants and hotels. We love the idea of bringing your dog everywhere with you, but the whole idea of this certificate is that your dog is helping you cope with your DISABILITY. So be honest.

The emphasis on “disability”

Let’s be honest, it is wonderful having your four-legged friend with you at all times but sometimes this can be too much. Do not go to extremes as you need to prove that your disability is significantly limiting you while doing one of life’s major activities. Do you really have this disability? Most of us are under stress 90% of the time and some of us can have a hard time coping with it – a life change is what we need, not a piece of paper.

After all, your dog will absorb in any negative emotion that you hold as they often mirror what is wrong with us in the first place.  And it is hard to draw a clear line between a pet and an emotional support animal. For example, an Emotional Support Dog is so much more than just a pet. It is there to help you navigate your way through the struggles of your condition. An Emotional Support Dog is stronger than any prescribed drug for your condition. There are many cases where owners no longer needed a medicine to get better.

The importance of TRAINING

You need to train your dog well, whether you have the certificate or not. Your dog needs to exhibit exemplar conduct. So if you have a certificate yet your dog is not behaving adequately in a restaurant or in a plane, the manager and other guests have the right to complain. No certificate or condition gives you the right to disturb others. Your dog must not bark, not to mention bite and seem dangerous in any way for other guests/passengers . And needless to say, your dog needs to be trained to do its business where intended. Your dog must also be well-trained. 

Service Dog Leash Wrap
Service Dog Leash Wrap
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How to certify your dog as ESA?

If you are struggling with any of the above conditions, there’s no shame in admitting that you can benefit from a “helping paw” to get you through the roughness of this world. Emotional Support Dog can really make a difference and help you  live your life to the fullest. They are here to help you achieve your potential that is ultimately Your gift to the world. We were all given the gift of life and not living it is like returning this precious gift.

So if you recognise this need, feel free to contact a licensed professional (therapist or physician) so you can demonstrate your need for an ESA and let the professional do the rest. There’s no need to register your dog, you only need to show the document that you will receive from them. Just do not forget that the certificate has a 1-year duration. Therefore, you will need to renew it if you intend to use it often.

No-Pull Emotional Support Pet Vest Harness
No-Pull Emotional Support Dog Harness
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Which dog breed is best ?

Unlike service dogs, emotional support dogs do not have to be specifically trained to perform specific tasks. This means you can get just as lovely emotional support dogs both from a reputable breeder or a rescue shelter. Any breed can be an Emotional Support Dog, but when searching for the perfect companion, be sure to look for a dog that is suitable for your personality and lifestyle.

Your dog that needs to fit your personality and lifestyle

For example, if you live in an apartment, a small dog will be easier to handle versus a large dog that needs excessive amounts of exercise, not to mention the space to run around. You will also want a dog that has a calming effect on you. A canine that is overly hyper, i.e. a Yorkie that sometimes seems as if it runs on batteries, may not be the best choice for you if you have anxiety issues. You can get your ESA letter before or after getting a dog, so if you are having any difficulties coping with the punches of today’s world, emotional support dogs can be of great help and perhaps even the cure!

Emotional Support Animal Patch for Dog Harness
Emotional Support Animal Patch for Harness
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Traveling – emotional support dog is not the same as a service dog

Although some airlines that usually do not fly pets make exceptions for service dogs, please note that under the ADA, Emotional Support Dogs are not considered Service Dogs and are therefore not given the same full rights and privileges. The Fair Housing Act  allows you to live with your emotional support dog – in a rental place or in a college dormitories. In certain cases, you can even bring an ESA to your office but do check with your employer first! Following the December 2020 DOT ruling that ESAs are no longer considered service dogs, airlines are now free to decide how they want to treat ESAs. It is your responsibility to find an airline that allows dogs to travel in the cabin with you or at the very least allow your dog to travel in cargo. 

The new DOT rule on ESAs gave way to airlines to decide how they want to treat ESAs. Airlines such as American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines are some of the latest airlines to change their rules on ESAs.

Each airline is different…

Having an ESA certificate is by no means a guarantee your dog can travel with you as each airline is different. For example, Emirates will not allow your emotional support furry friend to come on board as it only makes an exception for service dogs, period. The same goes for EasyJet which does not permit any type of live animal to fly in the cabin or cargo of its aircraft and allows service animals only on selected flights. Even those that do allow emotional support animals on board can be very strict. Some will ask for your dog to be beneath the seat whereas others might allow your dog to sit in your lap. American Airlines now requires $125 to bring your pooch as a carry-on or alternatively it can travel in cargo. They have also limited the types of animals that can travel in the cabin to certain dog and cat breeds. If you want to travel with your dog, you need to make sure you do your homework well in advance to avoid surprises.

Obtaining the certificate does not liberate you from all that paperwork

But regardless of the ESA certificate which might make traveling with your dog slightly easier, your dog still needs to have ALL the necessary documents that the country you are headed off to requires. No exceptions. And due to many pet owners abusing the ESA certificate, airlines are getting stricter in their rules regarding emotional support animals. Some passengers complained that they were taken off flights because their dogs merely touched the airplane seat. So do your research so you can avoid all that drama!

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