What is emotional support dog registration and what does it entail? The answer might surprise you. Learn more about the difference between ESA registration and an ESA prescription letter, why one of these is more valid than the other and whether you need to register your emotional support animal online in order to benefit from legal protection.
As you research the ins and outs of ESA requirements, you should keep a few things in mind. The information can be confusing, but if you focus on some basic facts, it will all be a lot easier to understand. First, it’s important to remember that dogs aren’t the only animals who can qualify as ESAs. Second, “registration” isn’t exactly the right word to use in describing the legal evidence required to provide protection for your ESA. You need a prescription, not a license number, to obtain emotional support animal status for your pet. Let’s take some time to explore this fact and understand why that is.
From a legal standpoint, it is the act of entering specific identifying information in an official public record of some kind. This usually has to do with legal licensure of some sort. For example, if your state requires nail technicians to carry a license to operate, you’ll likely be able to look up their license number in a public registry. When a licensed professional obtains their licensure, they must usually then register their license.
Not all registries are legally mandated and maintained by public organizations, but private registries run under the same basic concept. You might be able to register for superfan status for your favorite movie, for example. This kind of private “club” usually isn’t something an official organization oversees.
When it comes to Emotional Support Animals (ESAs), there is no official registry organization, and no public body that keeps track of registered animals. You don’t need a license or a registration number to own an ESA or prove that your pet is more than just a regular animal. There are some organizations that offer registration for your ESA and you may opt to participate in this voluntary program if you wish. There are several different groups that do this and you usually need to pay a fee to get registered. You may not get anything more than a certificate included in the application fee, but optional extras, like a vest and an ID badge, may be available for an additional cost.
This doesn’t mean that there is no way to prove that your ESA is a special animal who serves a therapeutic function for you. It just means that “registration” isn’t the right word to use to describe that proof. Registering your emotional support animal is not a necessity and shouldn’t be your primary focus in the beginning phase of the process.
It is absolutely vital to understand that voluntary online enrollment alone will not provide sufficient proof of ESA status for legal purposes. Since registering your ESA is optional, it isn’t something you need to worry about. Again, you are not required to seek out a support animal registry. Airlines, landlords, employers, and school systems are very unlikely to grant you ESA rights if all you have is a badge. In most cases, informed professionals won’t even ask about emotional support dog registration or want to see a badge for your ESA.
The question of emotional support animal “registration” can cause some confusion because service dogs, which are an entirely separate kind of support animal, may be required to register in some way, perhaps even with an official governing body of some sort. Do not confuse service dog legal requirements with legal requirements for emotional support animals. The two are in completely different categories. Service dogs do specific work and must be able to reliably perform those tasks, so their legitimization process is a lot more rigorous and specific. Often, this does include some sort of enrollment process.
Just like a licensed car driver needs to know what to do when they pull up to a stop sign, a guide dog for the blind needs to know what to do when they guide a human handler to a crosswalk on a busy city street. Plus, service dogs have even more rights and access than ESAs do, which means that there’s more incentive to try and fake this status.
With an ESA, all you need is a valid letter. You don’t need to have a vest, a badge, a registration number or anything else. The letter is considered a prescription, but just as with a prescription for medications or physical therapy, not just anyone can write it. Your landlord or a random airline employee may not understand this, but you can point to laws such as the Fair Housing Act or the Air Carrier Access Act to prove that the written prescription is all you need.
The prescription letter is the only legally required documentary evidence in play with ESA issues, and that means that certain rules dictate what the letter should say. Your ESA letter needs to be written by a licensed healthcare provider, a doctor or therapist, who has evaluated you and can certify that you do meet diagnostic criteria to benefit from an emotional support animal.
You should keep this letter with you whenever you may need it and keep a copy easily at hand to provide protection when applying for a new apartment, discussing illegal pet fees with your landlord or boarding a plane. In some cases, you may not even be required to show the letter, but you should still have it available. Many people keep a few hard copies of their letter in a file so they can pull one out and take it with them when needed without worrying about losing their copy. You can do this and keep an electronic copy in a special email folder plus a PDF copy on your phone, tablet and computer so you’ll have multiple ways of displaying your letter.
Why is this letter so important? It contains all the relevant information to prove ESA status without violating your privacy. The letter will describe in general terms that you have a debilitating medical condition for which your ESA provides vital support. The letter doesn’t really have to give more detail than that, meaning you can keep your private medical information to yourself. In fact, you should generally keep this information to yourself as a matter of compliance with medical privacy laws and in order to get in the habit of protecting yourself from potential discrimination.
What the letter must show, though, is that it’s written by a licensed medical professional with knowledge of your condition. The healthcare professional’s name should be prominently displayed on official letterhead, and contact information should be included on the letter. This information doesn’t need to go any further than the letter. You don’t need to enter it onto any sort of registry. That ultimately makes the process of getting an ESA so much easier.
Now that you’ve put registration on the back burner, you should start focusing on getting your ESA letter. Remember, if you register your ESA animal without a prescription letter, you won’t be in compliance with the law and, therefore, are unlikely to benefit from ESA protections.
ESA letters are valid for one year from the date they’re issued. For some people, a year is enough to resolve the problem at hand. For example, if you suffered from postpartum depression and are feeling back to normal now that your body and your hormones have rebalanced, you may not feel the need to renew your ESA prescription.
Other people who suffer from issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, people with disability or impulse-control disorder, those suffering from mental health or other mental disability, a stress disorder, or is utilizing a psychiatric service or other mental health professional may also be eligible for registering a emotional support animals.
You can easily qualify to register your pet as an animal support animal if you have any of the following mental conditions:
The United States Federal Laws protect the rights of owners/handlers of emotional support animals. The policies and rules governing ESAs are stricter as compared to service dogs. However, there are certain things you need to keep in mind when considering ESA registration:
Studies have shown that an individual with mental health conditions can greatly benefit from the companionship and love of his/her emotional support friend. Some of the real life benefits of an ESA include: