Are you looking to register your dog as a support dog so they may travel with you? There is a large difference between an emotional support animal (ESA) and a service dog. Having the right documentation allows you to keep your pet close when you rent from facilities that might not otherwise allow them, when you fly, and when you go other public places your pet brings you comfort. Here’s what you need to know.

Service Animals vs. Emotional Support Animals

According to The Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal is generally a dog that is trained to work or complete tasks for a person who is disabled. The dog might pick up something they dropped, guide someone who is blind, or press buttons the person can’t reach.

Guide dogs, sensory signal dogs, and seizure response dogs are examples. Service animals must either be dogs or, in some cases, miniature horses. Even service animals can only go where their presence doesn’t interfere with the safety of their owner and other human beings. For example, you couldn’t take a service dog around predators at the zoo.

Emotional support animals are not considered service animals. They help with an emotional need as part of therapy. They can be almost any type of animal and don’t require special training.

Beware of Misleading Websites

Some sites sell “emotional support animal registration,” which gives people the idea that there’s an official registration process that requires a fee. They advertise when you pay for registration, they’ll send you a photo ID card for your pet, a certificate of registration, and a handout card that details the animal’s rights.

There are several problems with being tricked into registering your dog as an emotional support animal. It creates the false idea that you can take your ESA anywhere a support dog can go. Because ESAs aren’t trained, taking them some places can put their safety at risk.

Another danger of registering your dog as an emotional support animal with fake websites is that some of them encourage fitting your animal with a harness or service tag for identification. In most states, misrepresenting pets as service animals is a misdemeanor punishable by fines of up to $500.

What You Actually Need

If you have a psychological, emotional, or mental disorder like anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or depression that interferes with the way you experience life, you may be able to have your pet in some situations where there would otherwise be restrictions. Under the Federal Housing Act, landlords may be required to waive pet deposits. You might also request airlines allow you to travel with your pet.

To receive these accommodations, you need a letter from your licensed mental health professional. The letter must be on their official letterhead and less than a year old. The letter should state you are under their care and your pet is part of your treatment. It should also supply your healthcare professional’s credentials. It does not have to provide any information about your diagnosis.

Always contact airlines in advance and realize under the Air Carrier Access Act they aren’t required to allow unusual animals like snakes or rodents. For more information on emotional support animals, visit our ESA Letter FAQ.