Frequently Asked Questions
What is an Emotional Support Dog?
Actually the correct wording is emotional support animal (ESA), even though most ESA’s are dogs. An ESA provides comfort, support, affection, and companionship for an individual suffering from a medical or emotional condition. An ESA is not required to perform any specific tasks like service dogs are. They are meant solely for emotional stability and unconditional love. To see difference between an ESA, a therapy dog, or a service animal, click here!
How do I certify, register or license my animal as aN ESA?
Unfortunately there are websites that either imply or actually say that registering your emotional support animal (ESA) is necessary when applying for ESA status. As a bonafide Florida resident, the only requirement you need is an official letter from a Florida licensed mental health provider stating your need for an ESA. Your local or state ordinances or laws may require you to license your animal (such as a county dog license) but this differs from the rules regarding ESAs. For more information about the laws regarding ESAs click here.
WHAT KINDS OF CONDITIONS OR ISSUES WOULD QUALIFY YOU FOR A LETTER FOR AN ESA?
Click here for some examples.
Can I have an emotional support animal (ESA)?
If you want verification that your animal is an ESA, then you must have an official prescription letter stating the animal qualifies as an ESA. If you want to take the animal on a plane, there is a separate official prescription letter allowing the animal to accompany you on the plane. If you want the animal to live with you in “no pets” housing, there is a separate letter for that too. As a bonafide Florida resident, the only requirement is that any or all of these letters must be written by a verifiable mental health professional in the state of Florida. Click here to view our different letter options.
What kind of training does my dog (OR OTHER ANIMAL) need to go through in order to be considered an emotional support ANIMAL?
There is no specific training that your dog (or other ESA) needs to go through in order to be considered an emotional support animal. Keep in mind that your ESA needs to behave properly in public settings.
Does my ESA have to be on a leash?
ESA’s must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless these devices interfere with the ESA’s work or the individual’s disability prevents using these devices.
Can I be asked to leave if my ESA is being disruptive?
Emotional support animals are not granted automatic permission to enter public places. Only service dogs are granted that right. Click here to see the differences. However, many facilities (such as businesses) understand the importance of having your ESA with you at all times. If you call ahead and ask permission, stating that you have an ESA who is trained to behave in public, or present your official letter stating that you have an emotional support animal, the owner may agree that you can enter with your ESA. If the animal is unruly in the establishment the owner or staff may legitimately ask you and your ESA to leave.
Are businesses allowED to question me or refuse to give me service?
Yes. a public facility can deny your ESA from entering. If you ask politely, explaining that your ESA is well behaved, and show them your official letter, the owner or staff may grant you permission to enter.
Do I need to notify my airline that I’m bringing an emotional support Animal on board?
Yes. Please notify your airline at least 48 hours prior to boarding so they can accommodate and arrange seating for you and your emotional support animal.
To travel with an ESA on an airplane, you must provide documentation from a licensed mental health professional. This documentation must state, that:
- You have a mental or emotional disability recognized in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.
- You need the ESA as an accommodation for your air travel.
- The individual providing the assessment is a verifiable licensed mental health provider, and you are under his/her professional care.
My landlord says, “NO PETS ALLOWED”; can I have my emotional support ANIMAL with me?
Once your animal is considered an ESA he/she can stay with you at your residence even if they do not allow pets. However, the landlord may require written documentation that the animal is truly a prescribed ESA. Click here for more info.
What laws protect my Emotional Support Animal and Myself?
In order for your animal to be legally classified as an ESA you must have a letter from a verifiable licensed mental health professional who has a license in the state you legally reside and live. There is no such thing as a “national license”, although a professional mental health provider may have a license in more than one state. Support Dogs of Florida is licensed for individuals who are residents of the state of Florida. This letter must be current within the year. ESA’s are permitted in housing, airplanes, and businesses with permission from management.
If your ESA is a horse, obviously you will not be able to have the horse sit in the seat with you on a plane. We recommend that you contact the airlines beforehand and ask what requirements they have. Some airlines may have you submit your letter from your mental health professional prior to your flight.
For more information on your legal rights, click on any of the following links:
How will people know that my animal is an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)?
We recommend that ESA’s are identified by wearing an emotional support animal vest, letting the public know that he/she is an emotional support animal. It is important that your ESA does not wear a vest that reads “service dog”, or that you do not tell people that your ESA is a service dog. Representing your ESA as a service dog in any way is against the law in Florida. Click here for more info! The general public understands that working animals wear vests, and are leashed. This will significantly cut down on questions and comments from others..
What are the rules for flying with your Emotional Support Animal?
A written note that is not more than one year old from a mental health professional is required by the airlines. Also, your ESA must be trained to behave appropriately in a public setting. There is no additional charge to travel with your ESA. You should let your airline know 48 hours before your scheduled departure that you are bringing an ESA so that they can make the proper accommodations for you. You may be asked to present your written note from your mental health professional when flying so keep it with you at all times.
IF I SEND A LETTER OR ASSESSMENT FROM A PERSONAL PHYSICIAN OR MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL, CAN THAT BE USED INSTEAD OF YOUR ASSESSMENT AND REDUCE MY COST?
No, because of ethical and legal responsibilities Support Dogs of Florida is required to base our professional letters on our own mental health professionals’ test and assessment rather than someone else’s findings. Your documentation may be factored into the final assessment, but our test and session questions must be completed for use in our diagnosis and assessment.
CAN I GET A COPY OF MY TEST QUESTIONS AND ASSESSMENT?
No, all Support Dogs of Florida test content/questions, client answers/responses, therapist notes, etc. are the sole property of Support Dogs of Florida and are unavailable to the client, original purchaser, and/or any public entity.
IS IT POSSIBLE FOR ME TO REVIEW THE TEST BATTERY BEFORE PAYING FOR YOUR SERVICES?
No, it isn’t possible for prospective clients to preview the questions and components of our psychological test battery prior to ordering and paying for the Support Dogs of Florida disability assessment.
HOW IS SUPPORT DOGS OF FLORIDA ABLE TO ACCURATELY ASSESS AND DIAGNOSE A CLIENT?
The assessment process begins when a client completes our online questionnaire. The questionnaire includes clinical questions to collect background information, current functioning, and a thorough mental health history. The questionnaire uses encryption to keep a client’s responses private.
Once the questionnaire has been scored, a licensed mental health professional reviews the results, paying particular attention to the client’s subjective responses and mental health history.
Using the test results as a foundation, the licensed mental health professional will contact the client by phone to establish a telephone counseling session appointment. The appointment is to further evaluate the client’s mental health and emotional status. This is required to formulate and process the requested letter(s), and cannot be bypassed.
IS THE SUPPORT DOGS OF FLORIDA THERAPIST LICENSED?
Yes, our Florida licensed therapist has 35 years of experience in clinical social work and is an animal lover too!
IF THE AIRLINES OR PROPERTY MANAGER CALLS SUPPORT DOGS OF FLORIDA TO VERIFY THE LETTER AND CONFIRM THAT THE THERAPIST IS APPROPRIATELY LICENSED, DO YOU ANSWER THOSE CALLS?
Yes. A fee for this service applies. Before we can even legally confirm that you’re our client, however, you must order a “Release of Information” form, complete it, and send back to us. This form can be ordered at the time you order your Official Prescription Letter. Many airlines require passengers to fax or email their Official Prescription Letter in advance of their flight so that airline personnel can, if they deem it necessary, 1) accept the letter, 2) reject the letter, or 3) call the mental health professional to verify the letter and/or confirm the licensing information of the therapist.
If airline personnel or property management call our office for verification and we’re unavailable (after hours or clinicians are with a client, etc.), staff will return the call as quickly as possible. We understand that your hassle-free flight or housing approval depends on this communication.
Advance notice to the airlines leaves time for a process such as this to occur. There is no way for Support Dogs of Florida to predict how much verification an airline or property manager might require, or how long it will take them to process this information. Advanced planning is best.
MY PROPERTY MANAGER/LANDLORD/COLLEGE HAS A FORM THAT MUST BE COMPLETED BY MY THERAPIST FOR ME TO HAVE AN EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMAL (ESA). IS THIS A SERVICE YOU OFFER?
Yes, you may order an “Official Prescription Housing Letter” from Support Dogs of Florida – Click here for more information. In addition, a “Release of Information” must be ordered and returned to us, legally authorizing us to release your information – Click here for ordering. Many property management companies, landlords, as well as colleges and universities require completion of an official ESA housing form by your therapist prior to approving an ESA for a resident. Although forms differ, they typically ask for detailed information about the client, emotional/psychological status, diagnosis, when treatment began, diagnostic prognosis, and other personal, subjective information. We can’t guarantee that the responses we provide on this form will assure approval from your landlord, property manager, or college/university.
IS THE PROCESS TO TRAVEL WITH MY ESA THE SAME FOR ALL AIRLINES?
No. Airlines may have their own rules that they follow. However, some airlines do, in fact, check to make sure that the mental health professional who signs your Official Prescription Letter for an ESA is a Florida licensed mental health clinician. They typically inquire through the state board certification website (there’s one for each state) to verify the accuracy of licenses.
If the airlines call Support Dogs of Florida to verify our information after receiving the Official Prescription Travel Letter, we will verify that at no charge to you. However, if they want to ask for more information about you, then a release or information form must be purchased, signed, and sent back to us – Click here for more purchase information.
A mental health professional or related agency is unable to release any information about a client without his or her written permission. Airlines and other businesses may call or email us (our contact info and office telephone number is listed on the “contact us” page of this website) to verify licensure information, but we can never confirm the name of a client without the client’s permission due to confidentiality rules.
According to Florida law, “a person who knowingly and willfully misrepresents herself or himself, through conduct or verbal or written notice, as using a service animal and being qualified to use a service animal or as a trainer of a service animal commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083 and must perform 30 hours of community service for an organization that serves individuals with disabilities, or for another entity or organization at the discretion of the court, to be completed in not more than 6 months.” – 2016 Florida Statutes, 413.08 (9).