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Are Emotional Support Animals Fake?

Are Emotional Support Animals Fake?

Those suffering from mental health disabilities have many challenges to face. Skepticism surrounding the authenticity of their chosen management method should not be one of them. There are many options available to treat mental health disorders, and what works for one may not work for another. This is true for ANY disability, whether visible or invisible. 

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Some individuals benefit most from counseling or therapy. Other individuals might see the most improvement using monitored prescription medications. People have been known to seek help from holistic means such as routine acupuncture or chiropractic care. All of those examples are widely acceptable treatments to the general public. 

In this post, we want to consider another group of folks that are less welcomed by society. The people who find the assistance of an animal companion most constructive when handling the effects of their disability are often dismissed as fraudulent or fakers. Unfortunately, the topic of Emotional Support Animals is filled with controversy and hesitation. We hope to bring some enlightenment and offer truths to dispel the myths that all Emotional Support Animals are fake.

Are Emotional Support Animals Fake?

What Exactly is an Emotional Support Animal?

An Emotional Support Animal is “a type of animal that provides comfort to help relieve a symptom or effect of a person’s disability.” Any animal that provides support, well-being, comfort, or aid to an individual through companionship, unconditional positive attention, and affection may be regarded as an Emotional Support Animal. 

Some common psychiatric disabilities that may qualify an individual for an ESA include, but are not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bi-Polar
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Chronic stress
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

Every animal owner knows there are many benefits to having them. However, for some people with mental health struggles, the presence of their animal is vital to their ability to function. The companionship that animal provides may be the only reason they are even able to get out of bed in the morning. Without it, they might experience a compromised quality of life just like any other disability could cause.

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Due to the new Department of Transportation (DOT) policy, Emotional Support Animals are NO longer allowed to fly in airplane cabins for free. However, Psychiatric Service Dogs are eligible.

Are Emotional Support Animals Considered Service Animals?

Although they are equally important, the short answer is NO. Emotional Support Animals legally fall under the category of “Assistance Animals” which is not the same as Service Animals. There ARE Service Animals that assist with mental health disabilities, but those are known as Psychiatric Service Animals and only dogs or miniature horses are permissible by ADA law. Service Animals must be task trained to take specific action which mitigates the daily effects of a mental health disability. Emotional Support Animals do not have to be trained in any specific manner to perform tasks or supportive duties. They are in their owner’s life for emotional support, exactly as their title implies. You can read more about the differences in our recent blog post found here

Contrary to popular belief, ESAs are also NOT the same as pets. Through the years, naysayers have presented the argument that those with Emotional Support Animals are simply elevating their pet’s status to claim extended rights. It must be noted that you have to QUALIFY for an Emotional Support Animal. What does that mean? Well, individuals must be evaluated and approved by a licensed healthcare professional for the adequate necessity of an Assistance Animal.

An ESA Letter is the required official documentation that is needed. It essentially states that the Emotional Support Animal provides an imperative and unequivocal benefit to the owner who suffers from a mental health disability. You can’t just run over to a local shelter, adopt a pet, and claim them as your ESA. There is a process and a protocol of mental health screening and proper evaluation before any housing or limited public access rights are bestowed.  

Are Emotional Support Animals Fake?

Why So Much Push-Back?

Much of the controversy with ESAs surrounds the understanding (or lack thereof) regarding the above-mentioned housing and limited public access rights. What are those rights? Good question. 

Emotional Support Animals are protected under federal law and also some state laws. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (better known as HUD) protects all ESAs and their owners from discrimination when it comes to living situations. No matter what state you reside in, these laws mandate that rental exceptions be made for Emotional Support Animals. Even when landlords and housing authorities have “no pet” policies, they must consider provisions for legitimate Emotional Support Animals (at no extra charge). When trying to make ends meet, saving money is appealing… which has led to some individuals abusing the system by claiming false ESA status. We do not condone that practice in any way. Owners must always follow HUD outlined instructions when requesting a legitimate Emotional Support Animal accommodation.

Are Emotional Support Animals Fake?

In some states, ESAs are also allowed to accompany their owner to a few public places such as retail stores or on the job. Many public venues are not required to allow Emotional Support Animals, although many do work with visitors who have proof of necessity (such as a valid ESA Letter or personalized ID card). That being said, an ESA must display appropriate behavior in public for the safety of everyone. There have been many instances of disruptive or aggressive animals being touted as ESAs and causing harm to the people or property around them. This is absolutely unacceptable and has sadly contributed to the negative narrative surrounding the Emotional Support Animal community at large. 

For the same reason, ESAs no longer have the same air travel rights that they once did. In January 2021, the ACAA amended its regulations to allow carriers the choice of accepting or denying cabin access to an ESA. Many airlines decided against the provisions and now enforce regular pet guidelines for ESAs. Some do still make exceptions, however, so it’s always best to call a company representative and ask directly. 

You can read the full rights of an Emotional Support Animal owner here

What We Can Do

So far, we have determined that Emotional Support Animals are very real. We know they are legal when recommended by a licensed healthcare professional, and they have certain rights under Federal and/or state laws. We know that they are NOT the same as pets or Service Animals. Lastly, it’s well known that they are still looked down upon due to a lack of knowledge and understanding. The isolated incidences of some individuals’ unfortunate disregard for acceptable procedures have been quite damaging. So what can be done to further the conversation and bring more awareness to the legitimacy of Emotional Support Animals (and Psychiatric Service Dogs)?

Are Emotional Support Animals Fake?

1. Talk about them accurately and positively

If you’ve read this post, then you are probably more educated on the topic than you were 5 minutes ago. If ESAs or PSDs come up while chatting with a friend or family member, bring up some of the information you learned here! They might be surprised by what you know and embrace the facts themselves. 

PS – Ignore the social media trends that encourage sarcasm towards the realities of life with an ESA. All disabilities are real and Emotional Support Animals are needed. Most people are not faking it. 


2. Never abuse the system

The rules, laws, and regulations are in place for a reason. They are there to protect and safeguard the disabled community. Whether individuals suffer from a visible or invisible condition, everyone deserves security and respect. If you do not fall under the categorical definition of “disabled” as detailed by the ADA, do NOT pretend that you do to gain what might be perceived as special privileges.


3. Decide to reduce the stigma

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with a mental health disability, consider the real benefits an ESA or PSD has to offer. If you have any questions, American Service Pets is always available to answer them through their caring customer service team. 

ESA or PSA Certification?

The benefits of an Emotional Support Animal certification and a Psychiatric Service Dog certification are drastically different. Fortunately for you, American Service Pets’ network of active board certified doctors can help you find the right path to certification. To find out whether you need an ESA or PSD letter, take our easy, three-step Pet Owner Survey!


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