Emotional support animals (ESAs) provide therapeutic benefits for people with mental health conditions. Registering them properly is important for accessing legal housing and travel rights. The process involves medical verification and paperwork that takes some advance planning. Here, we outline the steps and typical timeline for successfully registering your dog as an approved ESA.
Obtain an ESA Letter From a Licensed Professional
The first step is to get an emotional support animal letter from a licensed mental health professional like a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist. They must assess that you have a disability and would benefit from an ESA. Completing this step takes 1-2 sessions over 1-3 weeks.
Have Your Therapist Complete an ESA Letter
Your mental health provider writes a letter on professional letterhead attesting you require an ESA. It should include their license details, that you are under their care, and the date. There is no official standard form.
Register Your ESA Letter With an Online Database
Although optional, registering your ESA letter with a reputable online organization streamlines verification for housing and airlines. It typically takes 1-2 days to process and costs $50-$100.
Inform Your Landlord and Provide ESA Letter
Notify your landlord in writing you will have an ESA. Provide them with your registration or ESA letter. Under Fair Housing laws they must make reasonable accommodations within 10 days.
Submit ESA Documentation When Booking Flights
When booking a flight, submit your ESA letter to the airline. Each carrier has different policies so review in advance. Allow 2-3 weeks for processing.
Follow Up With Property Management/Airlines as Needed
Check-in with your landlord and airline to ensure proper processing of your ESA documentation and accommodate your support animal.
Consider Optional ESA Gear and ID Card
While not legally required, obtaining ESA identification, vest, or collar tag can help avoid access issues. Online registration sites offer ID cards. Allow 1 week for delivery.
Renew Your ESA Letter Annually
Your therapist must renew your ESA letter each year verifying your ongoing need. Schedule an annual check-in appointment to review your disability status and ESA benefit.
Keep Your ESA Well-Trained and Behaved in Public
Make sure your ESA obeys basic commands and exhibits no aggressive or inappropriate behavior, as they can still be denied access for poor conduct.
Stay Up to Date on ESA Laws and Policies
Landlord and airline ESA regulations are constantly evolving. Monitor for legal changes that could impact travel and housing with your support dog.
The ESA Registration Timeline
To recap, registering an emotional support animal takes:
- 1-3 weeks to get a therapist ESA letter
- 1 day to register letter in online database
- 10 days for landlord to accommodate ESA
- 2-3 weeks to process with airlines
- 1 week for optional ID and gear delivery
Overall, allow 1-2 months for full registration, documentation, and processing to legally have your canine ESA by your side.
With some advance planning and patience, you can ensure your emotional support dog is properly documented as providing essential therapeutic support. Take the steps to register your special canine companion and provide yourself the emotional benefits an ESA can offer.