Animals make the world a better place. 

Any animal lover would agree with that – but if you’re one of the around 2,000 Americans who have an Emotional Support Animal (ESA), you’ll know first-hand how important pets can be for your mental health.

Having an official ESA can be a lifeline for people all over the world. However, as stories about fraudulent ESAs swarm the media, we’re seeing increasing pressure for regulations to tighten. That means it’s more important than ever to understand your rights. 

In this post, we’ll explain exactly what the law says about your ESA. 

1. Your ESA Doesn’t Have To Wear Identifying Clothing

Unlike service animals, your ESA doesn’t have to wear special clothing as emotional support dog identification. Some owners choose to buy their animal a harness or collar to wear in public, as this makes them easily identifiable and can dissuade people from attempting to pet them. But it’s not a legal necessity. That means nobody can question the legitimacy of your ESA on the basis they’re not wearing an official harness.

2. Landlords Can’t Discriminate Against You

According to the Fair Housing Act (FHA), a landlord can’t discriminate against you and your ESA if you’re applying for pet-free accommodation, as long as it wouldn’t be unsafe or impractical for you both to live there. This is because ESAs aren’t legally classed as pets. 

The law states that housing providers must make ‘reasonable accommodations’ for you and your animal, providing you can prove that you’ve been diagnosed with a disability and require an ESA as part of your treatment. 

3. Your ESA Can’t Automatically Be Banned from Airplane Cabins

Are you planning to travel with your animal? Then it’s crucial to understand how the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) affects you. According to this act, emotional support animals are allowed to accompany their owners into an airplane cabin. However, it’s up to each individual airline to set and enforce their own rules. 

If your ESA is reasonably small, well-behaved, and clean, almost all airlines will allow you both to board. But if it’s an unconventional species, very large, or in any way disruptive, there’s no guarantee this will be the case. 

Different airlines have different policies when it comes to admitting ESAs. That means it’s vital to check the rules well in advance. Some may require you to fill out additional forms at least 48 hours before your flight, while others have banned specific species such as snakes, reptiles, rodents, or ponies. 

4. You Must Have A Valid ESA Letter

Without a valid ESA letter, you and your animal won’t be able to enjoy any of the benefits we’ve mentioned in this article. Always keep a copy of your letter with you if you’re traveling in public — and remember that an unofficial harness or collar is no substitute for the proper documents. 

You will need to renew your letter every year. The law states your letter should:

  • Be prescribed and signed by a licensed mental health professional
  • Be written on your professional’s letterhead 
  • Contain details of your diagnosed disability 
  • Confirm that you’re being treated for the disability and that an ESA will help you cope

5. Businesses Don’t Have to Admit Your ESA

Even with a valid ESA letter, your animal doesn’t have a legal right to enter businesses. Some pet-free organizations may allow them to enter on a discretionary basis, but don’t assume you’ll be able to bring your ESA into your favorite restaurant or shop!

Living with an ESA? We hope this article has helped clear up any confusion when it comes to your legal rights.