Rosemary’s Guide to Actually Accurate Information on Emotional Support Animals

Art: Robin Mead


If you’ve ever tried Googling “Emotional Support Animal” you may have noticed yourself falling into a black hole of conflicting and confusing information, along with a sudden temptation to spend money when you are not sure if you really have to.

Rosemary to the rescue! Here’s Rosemary’s guide to support animals with actually accurate information. Along with links to actual HUD regulations.

Meet Rosemary

I am homebound from chronic illness and spend most of my time in bed. My cat is my world.

She brings so much joy, comfort, companionship and love into my life, and she is my main source of emotional support. Without a doubt, she helps me greatly with anxiety and depression.

When I moved to a new apartment, I asked my doctor for a letter verifying that she is an Emotional Support Animal, because…. she is!

What is an emotional support animal? 

An emotional support animal provides emotional support that helps alleviate symptoms for a person with disabilities.

Where to Find Sample Emotional Support Animal Letters

Your doctor may not be aware of what needs to be included in an Emotional Support Animal Letter. Some doctors write too little, and others go in the other direction and write too much – disclosing a shocking amount of personal information (things you do NOT need to share with your landlord)

Here’s where you can find Sample Disability Letters About Assistance Animals, including:

  • sample letters from doctors prescribing an animal
  • sample letters you can write your landlord about an animal
  • sample letters to remove pet fees and deposits
  • sample letters to declare your animal as a medical expense

Where to Learn About Emotional Support Animals

Be careful with reading online. The information online about Emotional Support Animals is highly confusing and often inaccurate. There are a lot of websites that charge money and give out false information about Emotional Support Animals.

If you read any articles about Emotional Support Animals, make sure the information is legit. Do not read or trust ANY articles from a website that charges money.

The best source of information is the HUD documents on Emotional Support Animals:

🌷 FHEO Notice on Assistance Animals

🌷 FHEO Notice on Assessing Animal Requests

How I Got My Emotional Support Animal

I got my cat to be an emotional support animal by getting a letter from my doctor. I started by reading a little about the rules and then finding a sample letter. Some links to sample letters are below.

I printed a copy of the HUD sample letter, then I brought it to my doctor to review. When it was done, I brought a copy to my landlord.

Getting an emotional support animal was easy and free. My cat loves her new job. It is the same as her old job, but now she is official.

Is an Emotional Support Animal different than a service animal?

Yes. An emotional support animal is not a trained service animal and has different rights and requirements than a service animal. In most situations, you cannot bring your emotional support animal to public places that do not normally allow animals.

Please see below for more information on the difference between emotional support animals and trained service animals.

Who Can Get an Emotional Support Animal?

🌷 Emotional Support Animal can only be prescribed for someone who is disabled. You do not need to be on disability. You can be working and still be considered disabled. Learn more: Fair Housing Act Definition of Disability

🌷 It does not matter if your disability is physical or mental. If you have physical disabilities, you can still qualify for an emotional support animal, if your doctor feels support from the animal will help alleviate one or more of your symptoms.

Does My Landlord Have to Say Yes?

🌷 Your landlord can say no if they are not covered under the Fair Housing Act. Is my landlord covered under the Fair Housing Act?

🌷 Your landlord can say no if you did not provide a letter from a doctor or therapist. Some people think this is not required because the ADA does not require a letter for public space. The rules are different for housing. The letter is required.

🌷 In most other cases, your landlord must say yes. If your landlord denies your animal based on safety issues, request written proof that your specific animal poses a safety threat (not your breed of animal in general.)

Who Can Write a Letter Prescribing My Animal? 

🌷 For housing, either a doctor or a mental health professional can write a letter for you. Many websites state that it must be a mental health practitioner, but this is not accurate. According to the FHEO Notice on Assistance Animals you can provide “documentation from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional.”

🌷 For airlines, the letter must be written by a licensed mental health professional (such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist or Social Worker).

What Does it Cost?

🌷 Emotional Support Animal: Free Through Your Doctor – If your doctor or mental health provider writes you a letter, this is all that is needed. You do NOT need to pay money, buy a vest, or register your animal anywhere. Do not listen to any websites that say you need these things.

🌷 Emotional Support Animal: Pay Online – Some online sites offer Emotional Support Animal letters for a fee. Will your landlord accept one of these letters? This is a bit of a gray area. Learn more here: Can I Purchase an Emotional Support Animal Letter Online? 

🌷 Trained Service Animal: Free to Train Yourself –  Some people train their service animal themselves. This is more common among psychiatric service animals. If you are requesting a landlord or airline accommodation, you will also need a letter from a doctor or mental health provider.

🌷 Trained Service Animal: Pay to an Organization –  There are many organizations that charge a fee for training or providing trained service animals. These organizations are often non-profits or other legitimate, reputable businesses. Some people fundraise to raise the fees to get a service animal.

What are the benefits of an emotional support animal?

In addition to the obvious benefits of unconditional love, emotional support, and helping relieve symptoms of mental illness:

🌷 An emotional support animal may be able to live in apartments that do not normally accept animals. Some states have an exception for small, private landlords and owner-occupied buildings. Learn more.

🌷 If you live in some forms of subsidized housing, an emotional support animal may lower your rent. The cost of food, vet bills, litter, and other expenses can be deducted as a medical expense: How to Document Medical Expenses.

🌷 If you are applying for any other program that allows deductions for medical expenses, check to see if they count assistance animals.

🌷 In some cases, if you are flying on an airplane, an emotional support animal may be able to fly with you in the cabin (not in cargo storage). Learn more about New rules for Emotional Support Animals on Airlines

🌷 If your landlord has a pet fee, you will not have to pay this if the landlord is covered under the fair housing act.

What Emotional Support Animals CANNOT Do

An emotional support animal is different than a service animal. A service animal is trained. This distinction is very important to many people with disabilities.

🌷 It is important not to confuse your emotional support animal with a service animal, and not to represent your support animal as a service animal.  Learn more about trained service animals. Here’s a great article on psychiatric service animals.

🌷 In most areas, emotional support animals cannot go to places service animals can go. For example, they do not have to the right to enter stores and restaurants. The laws vary in different places, so please check the laws in your city or state.

🌷 In most states, emotional support animals are not considered a medical expense for SNAP food stamps. On the other hand, trained service animals are considered a medical expense and this can raise the amount of food stamps. Please check the laws in your state.

Please respect the rights of others with disabilities by never representing your emotional support animal as a trained service animal.

What About The ADA? I Heard Emotional Support Animals Don’t Count? 

Try not to get confused if you run into rules about the Americans With Disabilities Act. The ADA is great, but it is IRRELEVANT to most landlords.

Emotional Support Animals are not covered under the ADA. Most landlords also are not covered under the ADA. If you are requesting an Emotional Support Animal, you need to look at the Fair Housing Act not the Americans with Disabilities Act.

On the other hand, if you are planning to take your animal to a public place, then as mentioned above, you cannot do this with Emotional Support Animals. Public spaces are covered under the ADA.

Can My Landlord Require I Follow Pet Policies? 

Emotional Support Animals are not considered pets and do not have to follow pet policies. For example, your landlord cannot enforce:

  • Pet fees
  • Security Deposits (If your animal damages the place, you will lose your deposit though)
  • Size and breed restrictions
  • Other limitations

There are some exceptions. If local or state laws require all pets be spayed, neutered or registered, or other regulations, your landlord can require you to comply with local laws. You would need to make an accommodation for your city or local area for exceptions to those rules.

Your landlord may also be able to requests for anything that is required by the landlord’s insurance company.

Your landlord cannot ban a certain breed or size or weight of an animal. However, if your particular animal creates a safety violation or landlord has documented reason to believe this particular animal puts other residents at health or safety risk, they may be able to deny the animal. Must be your specific animal, not type or breed of animal in general.

Having Problems? 

🌷 You may find it helpful to share the FHEO Notice on Assistance Animals

🌷 Or this notice on Assessing civil penalties for Fair Housing Act cases

🌷 Or this FHEO Notice on Assessing Animal Requests

🌷 Don’t forget: Never (ever!) let someone turn you down verbally. Always make all requests in writing and ask for a written reply. If you are turned down, ask what your rights are to appeal, and how to appeal.


HUD recently released a new notice to clarify the rules for Emotional Support Animals. Many organizations gave input while the rules were developing.

After a long process of negotiating and revising, the new rules do a good job of clarifying… absolutely nothing. They do provide a few semi-clarifying, vague statements frowning upon online services that provide letters for a fee (while not outright banning them). For the most part, the new rules are more or less exactly the same as the old rules.

However, they do make it very clear that you are going to need a lot of extra documentation if you want to live with a kangaroo. HUDs New Notice

Learn More

A few resources to help pay for trained service animals: assistance dog vouchers

Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals: Where are They Allowed

Financial assistance for animals and pets

Assistance dogs in California


13 thoughts on “Rosemary’s Guide to Actually Accurate Information on Emotional Support Animals”

  1. Great post! Thanks you a lot for the samples! I agree that the most accurate information is given in HUD documents on Emotional Support Animals. And you have done a great job to make a summary of the main points.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I gain your addition of information about the differences between service and emotional support dogs. Many people do not understand that their emotional support animal is not a service animal and is not allowed in grocery stores or caféEmotional Support Animal

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I appreciate your inclusion of information about the differences between service and emotional support dogs. Many people do not understand that their emotional support animal is NOT a service animal and are not allowed in grocery stores or restaurants. Some people falsely claim that their dog is a service dog when it is really an emotional support dog or even a pet, so they can illegally gain access for their FAKE service dog. Texas recently passed a law making it illegal to falsely claim a companion dog or a pet is a service dog. A person who does so is subject to a $300 fine and 30 days of community service. A repeat offender may be required to surrender the dog.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve been aware of this blog for a while, but I had never looked at it in-depth since I’m not in the process of applying for disability and I thought that was the main content. Well, today I finally looked and found out it is SO MUCH more than that.

    My god, what an incredible wealth of information is on this site! And so cogent and well-organised. I’ve spent the whole day reading it. and have 20 open tabs on my computer. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. If you contact animal rescue groups in your area and let them know you are housebound, someone may be willing to bring a cat to you. There are so many cats in need of good homes. People often list cats on craigslist as well for free. Someone might bring one to you if you can provide a good home. Or just post on your facebook page, I’m sure there are many people in your area that have a cat that needs a home.

      Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s