People who suffer from a disability in the form of a mental illness have found that the presence of a devoted dog companion can help them navigate through the struggles that arise from the condition.

 

If you have an emotional disability, you can legally qualify for an ESA, which stands for Emotional Support Animal. You must be certified as emotionally disabled by a psychologist, therapist, psychiatrist, or other duly-licensed and certified mental health professional. The certification needs to be a formal and appropriately formatted letter, known as an ESA Letter.

 

Any other kind of doctor — such as a cardiologist, for example — does not qualify as a mental health professional because unlike a psychiatrist, other medical doctors are not specialists in mental health. Some property managers and airlines carriers do however accept verification forms filled out by a family physician, if they are treating you for a mental illness. Ensure that you have the correct authority create the letter for you.

 

To qualify for an Emotional Support Animal, the ESA letter must be written on the mental health professional’s letterhead, and it must include his or her license type, date of license, license number, and the state which issued the license. Plus, it should have the date when it was written. 

German Shepherd support dog
German Shepherds make an excellent choice as an ESA - only if they've been bred (and trained!) the right way

What an ESA Letter Must Contain

An ESA letter must contain certain details which will inform the necessary people that you are:

 

  • A current patient of the mental health professional writing the letter.
  • Under this mental health professional’s care for your disability, which is described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders Version V.
  • Substantially limited in performing or participating in at least one of life’s major activities because of your disability.
  • Having an Emotional Support Animal is an integral part for the treatment of your current condition.
  • The ESA letter must be dated no later than a year from the date of your departure if it is for air travel.
ESA sample letter example
Example of an ESA letter as supplied by a certified mental health professional (source: Barka)

What Disorders Qualify You as An Emotional Support Animal Owner

Below is a list of some of the disorders listed in the previously mentioned DSM-V:

 

  • Learning disorders
  • Attention Deficit Disorder also known as ADD
  • Sexual disorders
  • Mental retardation
  • Tic disorders
  • Motor skills disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Gender identity
  • Substance-related disorder (alcohol and/or drugs, among others)
  • Cognitive disorders
Support dog with woman

Getting an Emotional Support Dog

An Emotional Support Animal is mostly commonly a dog, and can be any breed of canine that helps alleviate symptoms of mental illness or emotional distress. An ESD can give its owner the confidence and support they need to live a normal and productive life.

 

Any breed of dog can make a great Emotional Support Dog. Dogs can be found in shelters and rescues that could potentially become ESD’s. You can qualify for an ESA letter before or after adopting a dog. Unlike a Service Dog, Emotional Support Dogs do not need to be specially trained to perform tasks for their owners; they are intended instead to provide comfort and support through their companionship.

 

Any breed can be an Emotional Support Dog, but when searching for the right fit for your needs, be sure to look for a dog that is manageable and won’t cause added stress. For example, if you live in an apartment, a small dog may be easier to handle versus a large dog that might need greater amounts of exercise and room to roam.

 

You should also consider how the dog may affect your mental health. For example, if you have severe anxiety, a dog that is hyperactive may not be the best fit, and you should instead look for a dog that has more of a calming influence. Visit a number of dogs and ask questions about the different breeds until you find one that is right for you. 

What does an Emotional Support Dog do?

Emotional Support Dogs aren’t limited to living and assisting individuals in their homes - many emotional support dogs, or therapy dogs, are handled by other professionals who use them in their day to day life to provide therapy for others. This could be from a healthcare worker that takes them to a daycare centre to provide therapy to elderly patients (who doesn’t love the visit of a loveable dog?!) to visiting hospices, schools, mental health organizations, anywhere that they can provide some form of relief to others. 

 

With the above in mind, ESA’s need to be well trained to be comfortable in all kinds of situations and to be handled by all kinds of people. Whilst clearly the training behind a therapy dog might not be as intense as the requirements for a service dog, there still needs to be a lot of effort put into getting a dog ready to be used as an ESA.

 

Here at Regis Regal German Shepherds we’ve got over 30 years experience of breeding dogs that go on to become Emotional Support Animals and Service Dogs. Training one of our German Shepherd puppies to go on and become a therapy dog requires a lot of time, effort and attention. Whilst it’s not for everyone, it’s a service we’re been providing for many years here in Spring Grove, Illinois.

 

We sell German Shepherds as puppies that can be trained to become emotional support dogs - so you can be confident that after your additional therapy training with us has been completed, your dog will make the ideal therapy dog!

Puppies ready for ESA training
German Shepherd puppies from Regis Regal ready for their ESA training!

How Do I Certify My Emotional Support Dog?

You do not actually “certify” an Emotional Support Dog — certifications are meaningless when it comes to qualifying your dog as an ESD. This is a common mistake and there is a very important distinction between “certifying” a dog and obtaining an ESA letter.

 

There is no such thing as a certificate or a certification program that officially qualifies a dog as an emotional support animal under any law. The only correct way to qualify your dog as an Emotional Support Animal is by obtaining a recommendation letter from a licensed mental health professional. If you do not have a therapist or are having trouble finding one, you can connect with a mental health professional through an online platform.

 

Anyone who asks for a registration number, certificate or ID proving your dog is an emotional support animal, such as a landlord, is misinformed. The only proof you need is the ESA letter written by a licensed professional stating your need for an emotional support dog.

 

The Fair Housing and Air Carrier Access Act rules do not recognize certifications or registrations of emotional support animals.

 

Get in touch with us about our therapy dogs service, or take a look at our therapy and service dogs page. 

About Cindy Kelly

I'm the owner of Regis Regal German Shepherds, a small family business located in Spring Grove, Illinois. I've been breeding German Shepherds of sound body and mind for over 30 years and specialize in providing families with loving companion dogs, and dogs for emotional support therapy, for veterans suffering PTSD, and for other special needs. I'm trying to share my extensive knowledge on breeding and training the perfect German Shepherd with the wider community.

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