An emotional support animal is typically a pet that provides comfort, companionship and soothes individuals if they become angry, anxious, have a panic attack, etc. They can help regulate emotions, provide a sense of safety and improve an individual's well-being.
If a doctor determines that a patient with a mental illness would benefit from an emotional support animal, the doctor can write letters of support to public housing and airlines so the animal can be allowed in “no pets” housing or in the cabin of a plane.
The ADA considers emotional support animals to be distinctly different from PTSD and psychiatric service dogs. The ADA does not grant emotional support animals the same access to public places that it gives to individuals who use service, psychiatric or PTSD dogs to mitigate their disability.
There is little or no training required for an emotional support animal. They are not trained specific tasks to mitigate their handler’s disability. Their main role is to comfort their handler.
Would an emotional support dog be more appropriate for me than a service dog?
Many people find emotional support animals to be exactly what they need. They don’t have a need for the dog to perform a specific task. They just want the companionship a dog can provide. A pet dog or rescued dog can be used for emotional support. Although, under the ADA the dog doesn’t have public access, you can take it anywhere a pet dog can go. Often an emotional support animal is enough to get the handler out of the house and into more social settings. If you get a note from your doctor, the dog can be permitted to live in “no pets” housing, or accompany you in the cabin of a plane. But, because they don’t have public access they could not accompany you to restaurants, stores or other public places.
One of the biggest benefits of going with an emotional support dog opposed to a service dog is there is no time factor. It often takes months to get a service dog, but an emotional support dog could be as easy as going to your local shelter and falling in love with a pet dog. It’s still highly recommended that you go to training classes with your dog to learn basic obedience. Asking a trainer to go with you to pick out a dog is also a good idea so he/she can do a temperament test to ensure the dog doesn’t have any behavioral issues that could interfere with your recovery.
Additional info on emotional support dogs can be found on our PTSD Dogs page.