Pets make our lives much better, don’t they? They’re our little (nuisance creating) buddies that have a huge presence. (Think: wagging tails hitting objects and people, howling at the moon at 3 am, and the occasional stinky poo.) That’s why we need the proper initiation when living with pets in the house we rent. That means that the landlord, your roommates, and all others involved have to be in tandem with your furry little bud’s needs and desires, as well as yours. And while there’s pet fees and approvals involved with a regular pet, in the case of emotional support dogs, you have certain rights that you can exercise for you and your ESA (emotional support animal) dog’s well-being.

So let’s deep dive into how to make the process of living with your emotional support dog easier for everyone involved.

Who is an emotional support animal?

If you’ve seen the first episode of dogs on Netflix, you’ll know what we mean when we say ‘service dogs.’ And you’ll also know the difference between service dogs and emotional support dogs. For those who haven’t (make sure you don’t miss it!) service dogs have trained their entire life to assist someone with a physical or mental disability that poses a danger to their lives when out and about in the world.

For example, a person with epilepsy or a blind person might have a service dog. The pooch would be allowed to go everywhere their humans go, because without the guide dog, their lives could be in danger.

On the other hand, emotional support dogs may or may not be recognized by your state.

As the website for Americans with Disabilities Act mentions,

If the dog has been trained to sense that an anxiety attack is about to happen and take a specific action to help avoid the attack or lessen its impact, that would qualify as a service animal. However, if the dog’s mere presence provides comfort, that would not be considered a service animal under the ADA.

And it’s true that all our furry buddies, no matter their designation, put a big smile on our faces and make our hearts lighter. However, emotional support dogs go that extra mile to provide comfort to people who have debilitating mental conditions like severe social anxiety or depression that seriously harms their lives.

How to get an emotional support dog

While service dogs require special training and may be chosen for you by their trainers to suit your disability, ESA dogs can be of your choosing. So when you’re thinking of bringing home a canine roommate who will ease all your troubles, you need to interview them (and try and understand their woofs) just like you would in the case of a human roommate.

Get to know them better, observe how they make you feel and also read up on what it is like to live with pets.

For example, if you need a dog with a calming effect on you, you should probably stay away from overly energetic dogs.

On the other hand, if you love being outside and a morning run elevates your mood, then you’ll find good companionship in an energetic animal who needs to run to stay healthy.

Visit adoption centres or pet stores, meet some dogs, meet their owners/breeders, and make a good couple of days out of choosing your new best friend! (Or letting them choose you!)

Do I have to pay pet fees for an emotional support dog?

In short, no you don’t have to. But let’s look at this in depth.

Under the Fair Housing Act, ‘reasonable accommodation’ allows your ESA dog unrestricted entry into any landlord’s home, (even the ones that don’t allow living with pets.)

However, there are some exceptions:

  • Rental dwellings of four or less units, where one unit is occupied by the owner.
  • Single family homes sold or rented by the owner without the use of a broker.
  • Housing owned by private clubs or religious organizations that restrict occupancy in housing units to their members.

Now that the accommodation rules are out of the way, you should know that service and ESA dogs are not regular pets, so you don’t need to pay pet fees to live together. However, the landlord does have the right to charge a security deposit and can demand for more, if the ESA dog happens to cause any damage to their property.

And if there is a bigger issue, the landlord can also seek legal help, and may be able to get you and your emotional support dog to move.

How to register a dog as emotional support animal

It’s important to remember that a service dog has to be registered and certified.

On the other hand, there’s no requirement for an emotional dog registration or certification. You just need an official ESA letter by your licensed therapist.

That said, we’d urge you not to get a fake emotional support animal letter if living with regular pets help you stay mentally and physically stable, so as to not hinder the progress of real ESAs and their respective owner’s health.