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How To Adopt An Emotional Support Dog? 5 Steps You Should Know 2023

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Medically reviewed by Kathy Shattler, MS, RDN

How To Adopt An Emotional Support Dog

One in five Americans[1] suffers from mental illness yearly. There is still a stigma attached to mental illness and many who are struggling with mental illness are too scared to seek help. An emotional support animal can help people with mental disorders feel better. They are not simply pets but provide comfort and support to people with mental or emotional illnesses.

The question on your mind is probably how to adopt an emotional support dog. We will share everything you need to know about getting an emotional support animal and how to choose the right one for you.

What Is An Emotional Support Animal? 

An emotional support animal is not just a pet with a fancy title. They are there to provide emotional support and comfort to people who are struggling with mental health issues. Studies[2] show that pets can help improve mental health.

Dogs are not the only emotional support animal that you can have. Any pet that helps you feel safe and comforted, from a dwarf horse to a spider, can be an emotional support animal.  

Emotional support animals are not to be mistaken for service animals. Service animals learn special skills that allow them to perform specific tasks for their humans.  For instance, a service dog leading a blind companion needs special training. On the other hand, emotional support animals do not require such specialized training. Your emotional support dogs have a basic duty of being your loyal companion and comforter, unlike service dogs. 

However, your emotional support animal dog should have some basic training so that they can manage some degree of social interactions.

Emotional support animals do not need special certification or licenses. Most websites offering emotional support dog certification online are shady and should not be trusted. The ESA letter gotten from your licensed mental health professional is all you need for your emotional support animal. Simply saying that your pet is around to provide you comfort does not afford you the benefits of an ESA letter.  

How Can I Adopt An Emotional Support Dog – 5 Steps  

Take A Screening Test

Identifying that you have some sort of mental health issue is the first step to getting an emotional support dog. People experiencing phobia, depression, and anxiety disorders may benefit from having an emotional support dog. Certapet can help make getting your ESA letter much easier and faster. 

Once you identify the signs of mental disorders, consider taking the free screening test on the Certapet website to determine if you need a support animal. This online quiz serves as a pre-screening test and lets you know right away if you would be a great candidate for an ESA letter. The ESA screening is easy to complete and will not typically take more than five minutes of your time. 

Passing the Certapet ESA online screening moves you on to the next step which is speaking to your licensed therapist. Certapet will connect you to a mental health specialist after you choose and pay for the type of ESA letter you want. However, passing the Certapet online screening quiz is not a guarantee that you will get the ESA letter. That is because you still need to be evaluated by your therapist.

Consult With Licensed Mental Health Professionals

Diagnosis by a mental health professional is the only way to get an ESA letter. Certapet helps connect you with a licensed therapist. You can consult with your therapist via virtual sessions. These sessions help your therapist determine if getting an emotional support animal can help you.

 If your therapist determines that an ESA can provide you with the right support, they will issue you an ESA letter as part of your treatment plan. That means that your therapist recommends the emotional support animal as part of your treatment for your mental or emotional disability. 

Get an ESA Letter

Certapet offers three ESA letter options for clients.  These are:

  • ESA letter for housing 
  • ESA letter for travel 
  • ESA Travel + Housing Combo

The ESA letter for housing confers on you the right to have your emotional support animal with you in your house under the US Fair Housing Act. Even if the building or landlord has a no-pets policy, they are obligated to let your emotional support animal in the building with you.  

Having the housing ESA letter also saves you from the pet fees required by some buildings. If you have paid a deposit for your pet before getting the ESA letter promoting them to ESA status, you can discuss getting a refund from your landlord after getting your ESA letter.

The ESA letter for travel lets you take your emotional support animal with you on flights under the US Air Carrier Access Act. The airline may have restrictions on the type of pets allowed onboard and other certifications they may require. Ensure that you call the airline ahead of your flight to know all that you need to get before the flight. The ESA Travel + Housing Combo from Certapet gives you the benefits of both.

Click Here To Get ESA Letter

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Adopt An Animal

Now that you have got your ESA letter, the next step is how to get an emotional support animal. If you have already got a pet at home, you may not need to go out to get another one. Your ESA letter promotes your furry friend as an emotional support animal. 

If you do not already own a pet and would love to get an emotional support dog or cat, consider adopting one. There are lots of animals at animal shelters with lots of love to give. A huge benefit of adopting your emotional support animal instead of buying a puppy is that you know exactly what you are getting. You can tell right away if you have found your match. You may also get the chance to foster a pet to learn if you are a match.

Adopting a pet is a wholesome way to give back to your community. You will be fighting against cruel breeding facilities[3] if you decide to adopt a rescue instead of buying a pet from a pet store. Furthermore, when you adopt an emotional support animal, you will be saving a life[4] from being euthanized. Hence, you are giving your adopted emotional support animal just as much love, comfort, and support as they will be giving you. A true love story.

Training Your Emotional Support Dog

Emotional support animals do not have a special duty to perform beyond being loving companions. Therefore, they do not generally need special training as service animals. However, your emotional support dogs may need some behavior training. Your emotional support animal may have to follow you on public transportation and airplanes, therefore, getting them to obey basic commands is helpful.

Emotional support dog owners with experience training pets can try teaching their dogs to follow basic commands such as sit, come, stay, or down. Getting your dog potty trained is also important.

You can seek professional help for emotional support dog training if you cannot do it yourself. Some shelters have dog trainers who can help you train your dog.

Living and Traveling with Your Emotional Support Animal

Your ESA is backed by the US Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act under the Disabilities Act[5]. That means that when you have an ESA, your landlord is legally obligated to let you move in with your support pet even if the building has a no-pets policy. The fee that applies to regular pets in the building does not apply to your emotional support animal too.  

While the Air Carrier Access Act allows you to take your emotional support animal on the flight, there are some restrictions. Amendment to the Air Carrier Access Act regulation on animal transport[6] by the US Department of Transportation does not require airlines to treat your emotional support animal as a service animal and you have to look up the airline’s policy on transporting pets. 

Most airlines are fine with you bringing your emotional support dog or cat[7] on the flight but may have some restrictions. Airlines may refuse transportation of unusual support animals such as ferrets, spiders, or reptiles. Pets that pose a danger to other passengers or exhibit uncontrollable behavior such as biting or growling, may have to be removed from the flight. 

Before booking your flight, you might want to call in to learn about the airline’s policy.  Some airlines might require that your emotional support dogs are placed in carriers or they are muzzled. Airlines may also require additional documents[8] that certify that your animal will be of good behavior during the flight. 

Calling in advance to inform the airline of your emotional support animal is also required by some airlines. You may need to inform them about 48 hours in advance. Knowing the airline’s requirements and informing them in advance helps you get the proper documentation for the flight. 

Who Needs An Emotional Support Animal?

Specific mental health conditions[9] can be improved significantly by having the support of an emotional support animal. Some mental health conditions that may benefit from an emotional support animal include:

  • Depression 
  • Anxiety disorders 
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD
  • Attention deficit disorder (ADD) 
  • Phobias 
  • Learning disabilities 

The first step to getting an emotional support animal is knowing that you need help. Lots of people with mental health problems are scared to seek help due to the stigma attached. However, getting professional help is crucial to protecting your mental health. 

If you find that you are experiencing signs of these mental or emotional disabilities you should consider speaking to your therapist. A licensed mental health professional can get you the help you need. During your consultation with your mental healthcare provider, they will determine if getting an emotional support animal will be beneficial for your condition. You can also learn how to adopt an emotional support animal.

Benefits Of Having An Emotional Support Dog

Emotional Support 

Lots of people with mental health disorders feel alone and having an emotional support animal around can be a source of encouragement. Your emotional support dog can give you unconditional love as you work your way through your mental health issues.

Calm Anxiety 

Stressful situations that cause you anxiety and emotional distress may feel a lot better with your emotional support dog by your side. Flying alone can be daunting but with your travel ESA in hand, your emotional support dog can accompany you to reduce your anxiety[10].

Support Other Treatment 

Your emotional support dogs are not usually the only treatment for your mental health condition, rather it is a part of a comprehensive treatment plan your therapist develops for you. They can help you feel safe in stressful situations and encourage you to spend more time outdoors. A pet can also help increase your sense of self-worth and identity.

Pets have been known to increase social interactions[11] with friends and family. Also,  some people revealed that confiding in their pets was much easier since they faced no judgment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does an emotional support dog need a certificate?

The ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional is all your pet needs to confer on them the status of emotional support dogs with its benefits.

Can an airline reject an emotional support animal?

The ESA letter lets you fly with your emotional support animal but airlines have specific restrictions. Unusual emotional support animals such as reptiles, spiders,  or rodents may not be allowed on the flight. Dogs and cats are usually fine,  however, if your pet is unruly or a danger to other passengers, they may have to be taken off the flight.

 What is the special training necessary for an emotional support animal?

Emotional support animals typically need only basic behavioral training. They do not need special training to learn special skills, unlike a service animals. Learning to obey basic commands, social skills, and potty training is typically enough.

Is Certapet legal?

Your ESA from licensed mental health professionals at Certapet is fully compliant with the provisions of the US federal laws. Certapet also ensures that your ESA also meets your state requirements.

Does an emotional support animal need a vest?

Emotional support animals do not need a vest. However, you can put a vest on your emotional support animal in specific situations such as when on a plane to let everyone know that your pet is with you for an important reason.

+ 12 sources

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  1. Anon, (2021). About Mental Health. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/learn/index.htm#:~:text=1%20in%205%20Americans%20will,illness%20in%20a%20given%20year.&text=1%20in%205%20children%2C%20either,a%20seriously%20debilitating%20mental%20illness.&text=1%20in%2025%20Americans%20lives,bipolar%20disorder%2C%20or%20major%20depression.
  2. ‌Brooks, H.L., Rushton, K., Lovell, K., Bee, P., Walker, L., Grant, L. and Rogers, A. (2018). The power of support from companion animals for people living with mental health problems: a systematic review and narrative synthesis of the evidence. BMC Psychiatry, [online] 18(1). Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29402247/
  3. ‌Ada.gov. (2020). A Guide to Disability Rights Laws. [online] Available at: https://www.ada.gov/cguide.htm
  4. ‌Transportation.gov. (2019). Service Animal Final Rule | US Department of Transportation. [online] Available at: https://www.transportation.gov/briefing-room/service-animal-final-rule
  5. ‌Sampson, H. (2021). 8 questions about flying with emotional support animals, answered. [online] Washington Post. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/2021/01/14/emotional-support-animal-airlines-restrictions/
  6. ‌Delta.com. (2021). Flying with Service Animals & Emotional Support Animals : Delta Air Lines. [online] Available at: https://www.delta.com/us/en/accessible-travel-services/service-animals
  7. ‌Advantage Care Health Center (2019). Emotional Support Animals: A Trendy Mental Health Treatment. [online] Advantage Care Health Center. Available at: https://advantagecaredtc.org/emotional-support-animals/
  8. ‌ASPCA. (2015). 10 Reasons to Adopt a Shelter Dog. [online] Available at: https://www.aspca.org/news/10-reasons-adopt-shelter-dog
  9. ‌The Humane Society of the United States. (2021). Top reasons to adopt a pet. [online] Available at: https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/top-reasons-adopt-pet#:~:text=Because%20you%27ll%20save%20a%20life.&text=The%20number%20of%20euthanized%20animals,who%20might%20desperately%20need%20it.
  10. ‌View all posts by KY COUNSELING CENTER (2021). Mental Health Benefits Of Emotional Support Animals – Kentucky Counseling Center. [online] Kentucky Counseling Center. Available at: https://kentuckycounselingcenter.com/mental-health-benefits-of-emotional-support-animals/
  11. ‌Jau, J. (2014). Human – animal interaction and the benefits to mental health: A phenomenological study. [online] Research Online. Available at: https://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses_hons/1487/

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

Jennifer Anyabuine holds a bachelor's degree in Biochemistry from the University of Nigeria Nsukka and is currently a medical student. She is a freelance medical writer specializing in creating content to improve public awareness of health topics.

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

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