Emotional support can come in many forms and from many sources. Most people turn to friends and family while others seek out professionals for guidance. And while those avenues are great options, some people could benefit greatly from an emotional support animal.

ESAs make living day-to-day life with a mental or emotional condition more manageable. Specifically, their companionship can greatly help people living with depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. But there are some things to know before embarking on the journey of registering an animal as an ESA.

1. Emotional Support Animals Aren’t Service Animals

While ESAs serve a much-needed purpose for their owners, they don’t have the same rights as trained service animals. For example, in many businesses where service animals are allowed emotional support animals are not. This is because with service animals, owners need them all the time as guide dogs or to alert them to medical episodes.

This distinction in rights between ESAs and service animals is also common within travel restrictions. Travel can be more challenging with an ESA. In 2020, the Department of Transportation revoked its classification of ESAs as service animals. As a result, the Air Carrier Access Act no longer protects ESAs and their flight eligibility. Emotional support animals that need to relocate may need to fly in a kennel in the cargo area of the plane. Or owners can research other pet transport options.

While access may be granted for ESAs in certain places, there isn’t a legal requirement to allow them in public buildings. ESAs are largely considered pets that provide benefits, which aren’t specifically taught. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t benefits to having an ESA.

2. Licensed Medical Professional Approval is Required

For an animal to be considered an ESA in the eyes of the law, owners must complete the registration process. However, they also have to be approved by a licensed mental health professional or doctor to ensure any legal protections. This helps limit registration to people with a diagnosed condition.

While several companies provide other forms of registration for ESAs, they are only legally relevant with this backing. Remember that requirements can vary based on location, though. It’s always a good idea to verify your state’s policies, specifically for protections and other benefits, before pursuing registration.

For those looking to get their animal legally registered as an ESA, working with a licensed professional is the first step. If you already have a therapist, bring up the request to them to start the process. Be clear that you want to legally register your animal and prepare a few reasons why just in case. For those not currently connected with a licensed professional, the first step is to reach out. From there, you can begin the process.

3. Your Pet Doesn’t Need Special Training

Service dogs can do a lot of tasks and are trained to meet their owner’s specific needs. From alerting for low blood sugar in diabetics to guiding the blind, service animals require dedicated training. ESAs, though, do not.

Your animal must be well-behaved. Aside from that, their natural affection and companionship will suffice. However, animals with a history of aggression are not eligible to be registered as ESAs.

There also aren’t restrictions on the type of animal that can be an ESA. It’s only necessary that your cat, dog, or other animal can provide you with the emotional support you require. And a licensed mental health professional must approve of and believe your animal can be helpful to you. This flexibility is great for people who have an animal preference or already have a pet they wish to register.

4. There Are Benefits When Renting

Once your ESA is legally registered and meets all state requirements, you can’t be charged for them to live with you. Pet fees or pet rent should no longer be applicable. Their designation as an emotional support provider removes the need for those costs.

However, that doesn’t include any potential damage or additional wear and tear to the home they may cause. Damage fees must be paid by all tenants, even without animals. Additionally, some states allow landlords to charge a security deposit for the animal to cover any potential damages, though.

This renting rule helps ensure your pet can go with you to any place you live. And that can be incredibly relieving to those who rely on ESAs. Oftentimes, breed or weight restrictions in apartment complexes prohibit people from moving in. Or tenants are forced to give up their pet to sign a lease. With an ESA, you don’t even have to consider losing your companion.

Deciding to Register or Not

As with anything, there are pros and cons to officially registering a pet as an ESA. It will be a process that takes time and work, but for many the benefits outweigh any cost. The decision is ultimately up to each individual. However, working with a licensed mental health professional can help in the decision-making process.

Being educated about the requirements of making an animal an ESA is an empowering first step to take. Knowing with confidence what’s to come can make the experience easier and have you well on your way to official registration.