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What Is An Emotional Support Animal?

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

woman cuddling with dog

All animal lovers rely on their pets for love and companionship. People with mental health conditions, though, may need the presence of their pet to function normally and complete daily tasks. Thanks to the supportive relationship with their animal, these individuals can maintain a positive quality of life.

If needed, a healthcare professional can help your animal receive a certification as an emotional support animal (ESA).

A licensed therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist must determine that an ESA is needed based on a patient’s mental health diagnosis. Maybe the steady presence of their dog relieves their anxiety or gives them the confidence needed to hold steady employment.

It’s also important to note that emotional support animals are not classified as service dogs. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) specifically states that animals that provide emotional comfort do not qualify as service animals. ESA owners, then, don’t receive the same accommodations as individuals with service dogs.

A service dog is specifically trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. They may serve as a guide dog for a visually-impaired individual or an alert dog for a seizure sufferer. As such, they are allowed to join their owners in restaurants or shops. Note that some state or local have more lenient laws related to public access for ESA, so be sure to check with your local government agencies if you have any questions.

An ESA certification may play an important role in your housing options.

According to a recent survey, 68 percent of individuals said that pet policies decided their home-buying decisions. Fortunately, thanks to the Fair Housing Act from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), you cannot be discriminated against when it comes to housing because you own an ESA or service animal. For instance, some condominium associations only allow dogs under a certain weight limit (i.e. 30 pounds) or discriminate against particular breeds (i.e. pit bulls). With an ESA certification, you’re able to bring any size and any breed of dog into the condo. Additionally, any pet deposit or pet rent should be waived.

Of course, this process can be complicated if you’re not familiar with state and local laws. Fortunately, The Urban Dog Group can help! Since 2018, Christine Elias has been certified as an Emotional Support Animal-Certified Realtor. She is very familiar with this process as well as the Florida laws related to ESA and housing.

So how do you receive certification for an emotional support animal?

There are numerous mental health criteria that are considered during ESA certification, including anxiety, depression, bipolar/mood disorders, panic attacks, stress, PTSD, personality disorders, fear/phobias, and other emotional/psychological conditions. During the time of your diagnosis, it’s important that you have a long-standing relationship with your doctor. Your healthcare provider must identify at least three of these issues for you to move forward.

Next, you may have to complete a questionnaire and/or be interviewed by a licensed psychologist in your home state. Once approved, your doctor must submit a letter for ESA certification. The verbiage used in the letter is very specific and based on the HUD laws; you can find an acceptable example here. If accepted, you are required to pay a fee and must get the letter renewed annually. Additionally, your pet will need to wear an ESA vest, and you’ll need to keep a card with you.

More questions? The Urban Dog Group can help!

Let The Urban Dog Group help you with your real estate needs. Contact Christine Elias at

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