Animals are our best friends. Regardless of how far apart you are from your beloved pet, both of you suffer, right? Good news, now, in the District of Columbia, you can officially take your pet on board while flying or moving from one location to another. And that will cost you nothing! It sounds incredible, doesn’t it? All you need to do is to get your pet registered as an emotional support animal or simply ESA. And that’s it.

Are you now wondering what emotional support animals mean, what it comes for and what other benefits emotional support animals can bring both of you? Let’s check all these out. 

What is an ESA 

Basically, an emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal that provides some benefit for a person disabled by a mental health condition or emotional disorder. Simply put, this animal helps the individual to overcome the symptoms of an emotional or mental disability via animal companionship.

It is interesting to add that any animals can become an emotional support animal, although dogs and cats are the most popular ones. You might accidentally mistake it for a service animal but these terms do differ greatly. Look here.

A service animal vs an emotional support animal

It’s also crucial to realize the difference between an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) and a service animal. Occasionally, people get confused when they think about an emotional support animal (ESA) since they believe that it’s the same that a service animal. But that is not true. Let’s take a closer look at their common and opposite characteristics. 

  • To some degree, ESA grants important benefits to people with disabilities, still, it is important to admit that nontraditional animals can in their turn, grant the same comforting option to an individual as a dog or cat might give someone else. Thus, an ESA is such a type of animal (not always dogs, you can find dozens of cats, rabbits as well as raccoons) that grants therapeutic benefits to its owner by means of affection and companionship. Just for the record, some individuals brought pigs, birds, monkeys, lizards, and even alligators as emotional support animals on flights. Meanwhile, if we are talking about a service animal, it’s either a dog or a mini horse. 
  • Bear in mind that an ESA, unlike a service animal, does not require any specialized training. Meanwhile, when it comes to a service animal, this dog/mini horse should undertake special training to perform a task to help someone with a disability. For instance, once a person is blind, he can be often seen with a seeing-eye dog, and that’s a service dog, not an emotional support animal. 
  • The other difference between these two types of people helpers is their protection. Wondering why? Consider the following: A service animal is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act while an emotional support animal is protected by the Federal Fair Housing Act
  • Finally, unlike service animals, an ESA is not allowed to accompany individuals into public accommodations, unless that facility is animal-friendly.

However, emotional support animals and service animals also have something in common:

  • They both serve to help people. 
  • According to Emotional support animal regulations in the District of Columbia, neither service dogs nor emotional support animals have to wear any type of clothing or harnesses.

Why get your animal registered as an ESA in the District of Columbia

Anyway, both service animals and emotional support animals have become a booming industry. While the reasons for service animals are obvious, not everything is so transparent with the emotional support ones.

Let’s repeat the major benefits apart from just therapeutic options an emotional support animal and its owner can take full advantage of:

  1. You can take your ESA on board with you, having it sitting right next to you the entire flight and not on the cargo section, even if it’s a rather big dog or cat.
  2. You don’t need to buy a ticket for it. In fact, you can take it with you absolutely for free provided you have the needed documents, which we will examine in detail below.
  3. Moreover, you can stay in guest houses and hotels that generally do not allow pets. 

As a matter of fact, these days more and more individuals are claiming they have a right to live with their animal for their mental well-being, bringing them on board of the aircraft and into venues. 

So, it now becomes evident why emotional support animals have become a boom. 

Are you now wondering how to turn your pet into an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)? Let’s check it out.

Specific ESA regulations in the District of Columbia

Emotional support animal regulations differ from state to state. So, if you are willing to travel across several states, ensure that you satisfy the criteria of a certain state. Now, we are going to talk about regulations that are specific to the District of Columbia.

There are several civil rights laws that protect people who have a disability-related need for an animal along with the support of animals and their rights. By the way, misleading information about your ESA when communicating with business owners, housing providers, and other parties is prohibited by the law. Know these rules to avoid those troubles.

  • To get your pet registered as a qualified Emotional Support Animal, you will need a letter from a mental health professional (state-licensed ESA therapist) stating that the animal provides therapeutic value to its owner. The therapist will need to evaluate the interaction between the animal and the person to make sure the animal has a demonstrated benefit to the person. Please don’t forget to ensure that this letter indicates that the passenger features some mental disabilities, restricting one or several main life activities. Furthermore, the disability is to be listed in the DSM-IV. Moreover, your letter should also indicate that the presence of Emotional Support Animal is crucial for the passenger’s health or treatment.
  • The ESA letter is good for only one year. You need to renew it every year. 
  • To be accepted on board of the aircraft, you should provide a notice to the airline at least 48 hours before the actual flight.
  • If a resident requests to have more than one ESA, he or she must have a separate letter for each individual animal.

Your ESA might not be accepted if:

  1. It behaves in an unacceptable way and its owner can’t or doesn’t control it. As a simple example of the improper behavior is when the ESA barks all the time, jumps on other people or runs away from the handler.  In such cases, a business or other entity may restrict the animal from being there or accessing the area.
  2. You cannot provide all the proper documents needed. 
  3. Your ESA letter is invalid.

Final Thoughts

Getting your pet registered as an ESA is not difficult in the District of Columbia. 

So, if you are a keen traveler who doesn’t want to leave your pet at home, time to get your emotional support animal registered properly and enjoy your life on the go together. By the way, it’s possible to take a free and quick screening test to check if you could potentially qualify for an emotional support animal. Anyway, if you do not enjoy all the benefits an ESA has to offer yet, what are you waiting for?