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The Truth about Emotional Support Animals

I’ve very open about my depression. I don’t really care who knows. It is an illness, one I can treat but not cure. We don’t shame people for having Type 1 diabetes or breast cancer, so why do we for mental illness? I feel VERY strongly about this.The truth about emotional support animals

Part of treating my depression is my emotional support animal – Ursula! There are a ton of misconceptions about emotional support animals.

Support animals are the same as service animals.

This is totally false. A service animal is trained to do specific tasks. A support animal can’t warn you of a stroke or bring you your meds. Support animals are there to help with mental health. Also, service animals are thought of more as helpers and support animals as pets.

For a support animal to be legit, I must register it online.

I can not stress this enough. IT IS TOTALLY FALSE. There are a couple of websites out there to “register” your animal. What you are really doing is throwing $75 away to get a card in the mail. A card that is not legally registered anywhere or officially accepted by anyone. All you really need is a note from your doctor. If you buy one of these cards without a letter from your doctor, you are basically committing fraud.

I can take my emotional support animal anywhere.

This is mostly false, with exceptions. Personally, I’ve taken my cat shopping, even grocery shopping with me. I’ve taken her to a couple restaurants and to a doctor appointment. I’ve yet to be told she is not allowed. But, she is also a black cat in a black purse. If someone does ask, I’ll just tell them she is my emotional support animal.


BUT, legally, stores, restaurants, offices, etc have every right to make you leave. Emotional support animals are not covered by any laws in this way. Only service animals.

Having an Emotional Support animal lets you live in housing that doesn’t allow pets.

True + some. There are only two real laws covering emotional support animals. The first deals with housing. If you have somewhere that doesn’t allow pets, you are legally allowed one. Remember, a LETTER from your doctor is what gets you in – NOT a card you bought online.

The other law covers airlines. Legally, you are allowed to take your pet on an airline for free. But again, you need a real documentation.

You don’t have to have a mental illness to have an Emotional Support Animal, as long as it makes you feel good when you are sad.

FALSE, FALSE, FALSE, AND MORE FALSE. This really bugs me. Just because an animal makes you smile when you feel sad doesn’t mean it should be an emotional support animal. Emotional support animals are for people with mental illnesses. I hate when people say they have an emotional support animal just because they want to tote their animal around everywhere. These animals are for people with mental illness, period. You can have any flavor of mental illness, but you MUST have one. And I’m sorry, but getting sad like a normal person isn’t having depression.

Think of them as a prescription. You aren’t going to get a script for Xanax if you have a cold. So, you aren’t going to get a script (aka your letter) for an emotional support animal if you don’t really need it. They are meant to alleviate a mental illness, just like a pill would.

Any animal can be an emotional support animal.

Yes – kind of. Technically, yes, any animal can be considered a support animal. But it is a lot more likely you will get hassled if you bring your horse, pig, or boa constrictor, compared to a dog or cat. If you plan on making your less common animal species your emotional support animal, really only the housing and airplane laws are going to cover you.

I have to carry proof that my animal is an emotional support animal.

This is false. You don’t have to carry your doctor’s note. Remember, that online registration is not considered real proof. BUT, personally, I do. I figure if there is every an issue, it would be a lot easier just to pull out my letter.

If someone asks why you have an emotional support animal, I have to disclose my illness.

Heck no! This is totally false. While I really don’t mind sharing, I don’t have to. Either do owners of support animals. You never have to tell someone your illness, ever, under any circumstance.

So how do I use Ursula as my emotional support animal? I try to take her with me as often as I can. To me, taking Ursula is the same as going with my mom. It is the company. I don’t feel as stressed when I can pet her. Or when I can talk to her, even though it makes me look like a weirdo talking to a purse. If I have high anxiety, holding her close helps calm me down. I’ve also found I’m not so much as an angry driver if she is with me. Plus, it gives me a reason to dress her up!


I hope this has cleared up any misconceptions about emotional support animals. If you have any more questions, let me know in the comments below!

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27 Responses

  1. Edye says:

    This was such an informative post! Your cat looks so cute in your purse, I had to do a double-take to see her. She blends in so well, ha 😉

    Edye // Gracefulcoffee
    Edye recently posted…Giveaway: 4th Generation DesignsMy Profile

  2. Ms.Fergie says:

    I too have a service dog, it aggravates me when people argue with me about the rules. I just don’t take my dog anywhere, I have panic attacks, and outbursts. Then when people want to know what’s going on, my husband has to explain. I don’t leave my house without him anymore because the dog issue was just too much.

  3. Emily McManus says:

    I will soon be leaving home and going to live on campus out of state. I suffer from depression and severe anxiety and have been wondering if getting a Esa will help me with the transition of living alone? I’m not a huge cat person and would prefer a dog. Do you think it would be selfish of me to want to bring a dog into a dorm? I don’t want the animal to suffer. Also, is there any breed you’d recommend?

    • ninamcclain93 says:

      Well, there are a couple of things to consider here. First: have you ever had a dog before? Aka do you know that you can build a special bond with a dog? You don’t want to get a dog and then realize you don’t actually like being a dog owner. That isn’t fair to either of you.
      Next, do you have the ability to take care of the animal? Dogs do take a lot more work than cats do, simply because you need to play with them, let them out to pee, go for a walk, etc. While HAVING to do something is good because it forces you out of bed, just make sure you will have time with school. Also, can you afford to make sure it has food?
      Finally, check with your school to see what they can do to accommodate you. Are you actually living alone or with roommates? If you are living with roommates, will you be forced to live in a single dorm? Will you be able to afford the cost?

      I don’t think an animal will suffer in a dorm as long as you are responsible. If you love the animal, it will love you. If you do go with a dog, I suggest something small. I personally like Yorkies, but really anything small would work. Just make sure you train it not to yap, as little dogs tend to bark a lot. Plus you can tote them around with you in your purse, something you can’t do with a big dog. Whatever breed you go with, I would make sure it is a puppy. Even though I usually want people to adopt older animals because they look really sad in the shelter, you have to train this dog to act a certain way. The earlier you start the better. Get the dog pretty quick so you can start before you move out and have to start worrying about everything else plus training a puppy.

      Or, you can get a kitty. Cats take a lot less work. But I do understand why people want dogs.
      Let me know what you decide! I would love to know how things work out.

    • Shelby says:

      I would recommend a collie, though they are larger dogs, they do well in small spaces, as long as you make sure they get exercise. They are very loyal, gentle, calm( but still playful), and protective (not aggressive, they’re just vigilant). I know you probably don’t have kids, but just so you know, they are AWESOME with kids, when we had my first collie, Nikki, a lot of the kids in our neighborhood (ages 5-10) would come into the yard to pet him and our other dog, Dixie. He would never play rough with them and would sit there calmly and let them pet his head, pull his tail, etc. Without becoming agressive. If he did get tired of something they were doing he would just get up and move lol. But anyway I would highly reccomend a collie as both an emotional support animal and for smaller spaces

  4. Heather says:

    Great information! And I agree, getting a letter and carrying it with you is a good idea. My local Walmart told me the greeters will often ask for it.

  5. Catherine says:

    May I suggest pet insurance? My little fractured her canine tooth! Pain meds, surgery, anesthesia, and antibiotics were very costly. Luckily I did have insurance that covered almost all of it. Either that or the SPCA is an excellent source of pet care if your town provides it. Their services are at a lower rate, but not the quality, and there are also many lonely big and small cats and dogs looking for homes.

  6. Catherine says:

    ** pug/yorkie mix

  7. Shelby says:

    Thank you for making this post! I have the same mindset when it comes to mental illness, I’m very open about my depression and social anxiety, I don’t think there should be a stigma with it, I also think there should be more effort to educate people about it, everyone I’ve talked too (that doesn’t have it themselves) thinks depression is just “being sad”, which makes it sound a lot easier to deal with than it is, and leads people to say things like “why don’t you just be happy”, etc. Even with social anxiety people usually say “oh you’re just shy, that’s totally normal” being terrified to talk to people and be in big crowds is not normal, anyway, A friend of mine who also has anxiety decided to make her lab an emotional support dog and gave me the idea to do so with Bosco (my collie). When I’m depressed at home, he snuggles with me and encourages me to get up and play with him, which helps a lot. He makes me feel safe and loved, so I think having him around when I’m out places would be helpful for my social anxiety, and also I would probably be more willing to get out of the house if I knew I could take him with me. He is very calm, intelligent, and very tolerant of strangers and other dogs, so I don’t think I would have any issues with him barking and being agressive toward people or getting in fights with other dogs. I’ve been googling how to make him one and these registries come up wanting to charge you $45 for just a printed ID card, and also saying you don’t have to have any doctors note or proof that you have a medical condition of any kind to make your dog an emotional support animal, I thought this was sketchy, but they all said the same thing, thankfully I found this before I spent all that money for something I didn’t need. I do think I’m still going to get him a collar/tag/bandanna that will mark him as an emotional support animal just to make things a little easier for me, I figure I’ll be less likely to get stopped and asked to explain why I’m bringing my dog in a store/restaurant/etc. If he’s marked, and I’ll also carry my letter everywhere.

    • Heather says:

      It’s a great idea to register your pet as an ESA. i have struggled with anxiety and depression and only realized i had anxiety 1 year ago because i didnt know that what i was feeling wasnt normal, so i too want to register my dog as an emotional support animal. But just a reminder an ESA is NOT a Service dog, you cannot bring it in to restaurants, or malls or walmart if they dont allow pets. you only have the right to live where normally they wouldnt be able to and to take them on flights, that is it. good luck with making your pup an ESA,

      • ninamcclain93 says:

        You CAN take your pet into places, you just cant bitch when they ask you to leave. I’ve never had an issue taking my kitty in with me anywhere, but I also don’t make a big production of it. She stays in my purse so most don’t even know she is there.

      • Valerie says:

        Thank you for your post.

  8. Oh God, thank you so much for this post. Very infoirmative, I learned so much from it.
    Olivia Williams recently posted…10 Best Dog Boots in 2017My Profile

  9. Angela Denzer says:

    Thank you so much for educating people, I saw that advertisement and it made me angry. They are taking advantage of people with mental illness! I try to educate people also and I encourage them to get a rescue pet because that bond is a strong one,
    An unconditional love like no other!

  10. Gavin says:

    I know lots of people think of dogs when they hear of emotional support animals. Without getting into too many details, horses are some of the most emotionally wise animals on the planet.

  11. Lerrea Mcintosh says:

    Do you still have to pay a pet deposit with housing? I have heard this and am not sure myself

  12. Great to make people aware of this! I know someone who brings her dog everywhere with her as well for the emotional support. I have noticed that if you deal with anxiety, it is a great way to have conversation starters and take the attention away from you.

  13. Gina Gastineau says:

    I am wanting to get a letter on line is one more reputable than another, my doctor has moved away

  14. Valerie says:

    Shame on you for bringing your ESA everywhere. Please look up the laws and respect them.

    It is not a victimless crime. It’s a serious problem for real service dog teams.

  15. Helen says:

    I too have depression, & no I’m not ashamed that I Do! I do have a pet, lily, that is my therapy pet. I don’t usually have problems when I have her with me. But there have been a few times where it really upset me. Like once I was in Wal-Mart, an employee came up to me & asked me, I said yes, she told me I couldn’t have her in the cart ( she’s only a 7 lb. Dog, will not get any bigger) I told her she’s my therapy dog & that I needed to have her in my sight at all times & to be able to touch her whenever I need to. She was on a blanket. But that wasn’t good enough, the dog had to be on the floor, like all therapy dogs. I was so upset that I left very distraught. I did report her, but don’t know if she was talked to. Then there was another time I was at the grocery store & the check out lady said the same thing, I told her the same thing, but that too wad not goid enough, but her reasoning was, that there are people are allergic to pets, now we have to sanitize this cart,( ya, like they do that often!!) She really upset me that day. If only I would think fast enough I would’ve had a come back for her but I didn’t think fast enough. I have papers on lily & everything! She is my life, my world! My depression has ruined around, like 180! But there are people out there that really bring me down. When I ask them if they want to see het papers, they flat out tell me NO!

  16. I’m truly been enticing with your amazing writings! Thanks for sharing this great post!

  17. Abigail says:

    Could you bring a emotional support dog to stay in college with you?

  18. Lisa Smith says:

    Thank you very much for sharing such a wonderful piece of article. I am a professional dog trainer. Your article helped me a lot.

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