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What is an Emotional Support Animal?

emotional support dog

Dogs can perform many important jobs. An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is a distinct title that is very different from other types of working dogs. Continue reading to learn what it takes to become an ESA and if this is the right job for your pet!

Interested in learning more about working dogs? Be sure to check out our articles on Service Dogs and Therapy Dogs!

What does it mean to be an Emotional Support Animal?

An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is a comforting pet/companion to their owner just by being present. These dogs are not trained in any specific manner to perform any tasks or behaviors. They are no longer protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) the way Service Dogs are. In addition, they do not provide any emotional support or comfort to otherpeople, the way Therapy Dogs do.

Where can I take my Emotional Support Dog?

An ESA is not allowed to enter buildings and facilities that forbid animals because they aren’t specifically trained to behave calmly or well in public. ESA’s have no registration or certification for any types of tasks or behaviors.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) recently revised the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) regulation concerning the transportation of service animals by air. This revision has explicitly detailed that ESAs are not service animals, and therefore are no longer able to travel in the cabin of an airplane without following the same guidelines as any other pet flying in a cabin. This means ESAs do not fly for free, may not be allowed in the cabin unless they are under a certain weight and size, must be in a carrier, or may not be allowed in the cabin at all – this depends on each individual airline’s regular policies for flying all pets.

In summary, ESAs are considered pets just like all others when it comes to flying on planes and are no longer able to obtain the same rights as true service dogs.

The reason for this recent revision is due to the 15,000+ comments received by the DOT from people with disabilities, airlines, flight attendants, airports, other aviation transportation stakeholders, and other members of the public. These comments highlighted the increasing abuse and misuse of labeling animals as ESAs and acting as if they have the same rights as service dogs.

  • A summary of the DOT’s final ruling can be seen here.
  • The final rule can be downloaded here.
  • FAQ (frequently asked questions) concerning this updated policy can be seen and downloaded here.

How can my dog become an Emotional Support Animal?

Emotional Support Animals are no longer classified as service animals and do not have officially recognized certifications by the DOT. Based on new classifications, Psychiatric Service Animals must be individually trained and certified to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of the individual owner with a disability. This is not a document your veterinarian can provide for you.

Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding emotional support animals or another condition?

Click here to schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets. You can also download the FirstVet app from the Apple App Store and Google Play Stores.

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