Do you need an emotional support animal?

Last time I flew dogs were everywhere—on the plane, in the terminal, waiting at the gate. A girlfriend told me about a business trip when she checked into a hotel behind a man with an emotional support dog.

“If you call your dog an emotional support animal you get to stay in hotels that don’t allow pets. They can’t charge you a pet fee. Also, the dogs fly free. You just need a special dog vest.”

What? I’ve had a dog most of my life though sadly since 2013 various life circumstances make that joy not available to me. Did I miss a freebie? I researched Emotional Support Animals, ESA for short.

ESAs help people with mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, depression, or panic.
They don’t have specific training for this but comfort through generalized doggy affection and companionship.

Interpretations vary.

  • The officialservicedogregistry.com website sells a lifetime service dog registry for $59 and emotional support dog vests for $54 to $76 depending on size and says emotional support dogs are protected under federal law.
  • ADA.gov (Americans with Disabilities Act) says:
    “Under the ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.  The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.

Q. Are emotional support, therapy, comfort, or companion animals considered service animals under the ADA?

A. No. These terms are used to describe animals that provide comfort just by being with a person.  Because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Air Carrier Access Act have broader guidelines.

HUD regulations seem favorable to ESA. In April 2013 HUD said public universities are required to allow emotional support animals in dorms and residence halls. You probably can get into a dog-free hotel if you sound convincing, and perhaps dress your pooch in a mesh vest labeled ESA (purchase for $24.99 on eBay), or an ESA collar (on Etsy at $19.95). ADA says service dogs are not required to wear a specific harness or tag, but still, it looks cool…

The Air Carrier Access Act allows trained service dogs on airplanes, but a person traveling with an Emotional Support Animal must have a doctor letter stating the passenger has a mental health-related disability, and the animal’s presence is necessary to the passenger’s health or treatment. ESAs travel in the cabin of the plane rather than in the baggage compartment with other pets.

freemypaws.com may be happy to bring such a medical letter to you within the comfort of your home for $125 if you complete a medical questionnaire and phone interview with a licensed medical professional. They trust the honesty of your answers.

Even without special travel permits, pets help your health.

  • James E. Gern, MD, pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told WebMD that studies suggest kids growing up in a home with “furred animals” — whether a pet cat or dog, or on a farm and exposed to large animals — have less risk of allergies and asthma.
  • Dogs help you meet people. If you want a “date magnet”, choose the breed accordingly. More than once a handsome man tried to start a conversation with me as I walked my dog, only to take off the other direction when the sweet 95 pound German Shepherd jumped him with growling and baring of fangs. Osa was not a good pick up dog.
  • Pets help lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides. The one-year survival rate after heart attack is greater for pet owners than those without pets.
  • Dog owners who regularly walk their dogs are less likely to be obese.

  • Pet owners have milder responses and quicker recovery from stress when they are with their pets than with a spouse or friend. What that says about the spouse or friend…

On our travels, Osa stretched out inside the door of the hotel room and I slept better. Sometimes I snuck her in, often I paid the fee, once I gave the maid $150 to apologize after she ate two bars of soap from the bathtub and had diarrhea all over the room while I was at work.

My favorite dog hotel is the Hilton downtown Knoxville. They welcomed her during her feeble last days, smiled when I walked her through the elegant lobby to take her out, and their valet helped me lift her in and out of my car!

A pet IS an emotional support animal, irrespective of doctor letter or vest.

Losing one hurts. Next week The Booktalk Lady reads from Mr. Rogers’ book about pet grief.

How about you? Do you travel with a pet? Any tips to share?

©2016 Booktalk Lady LLC

4 thoughts on “Do you need an emotional support animal?”

  1. I do think that having an emotional support animal can help a lot of people out. One of my friends recently got one so we’ll see how that turns out. For me, I don’t know if I need one or not. If I do get to a point where I need one, I might see about getting one like you have pictured above.

    1. Deborah Rankin, RD

      Yes, Andy, I agree that ESAs can provide great help and comfort. I’m so glad you like the pics–she was my beloved friend and buddy for thirteen years!

  2. Thank you for writing this post. There is a lot of confusion about emotional support animals and people assume that registering their pet will make it an ESA. Emotional support animals require a letter from a licensed mental health professional in order to qualify as an ESA.

    Trying to use a registration card at the airlines will not work and they can deny your pet access. Some airlines (American Airlines, Delta) require a therapist’s letter and an additional document, that the airlines provide, to be signed by a therapist. People wanting to fly with their pets should call ahead to find out the requirements of their airline.

    Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about emotional support animals. We would love to contribute a guest post on this topic.

    1. Deborah Rankin, RD

      Good comments, ESA Doctors. Some websites might add confusion by offering products that may not provide the needed documentation. We’ll be focused on pet grief next week, but thanks for your offering of a guest post.

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