ESA Letters and Pet Therapy
May 1, 2023
Stacey and her rescued street feral cat, Paul.

Written By Stacey Inal  MA, MBA,
Licensed Marriage Family Therapist and Women’s Life Coach

More Than Just Pets:

The Life-Enhancing Benefits of Emotional Support Animals and ESA Letters

During my entire life, my home has always been filled with pets of all types. When I was little the seven neighborhood dogs would gather at my front door daily and walk me to school. We lived in a small rural town in Northern New Mexico. Growing up, dogs often lived outdoors part or all of the day. Every day at 7:15 am, the neighborhood dogs would show up at my front door and they would walk the quarter mile with me to school and then return home. In fact, one of the dogs, insisted on walking me into the school, into the classroom, laid down at my feet and would not leave me. My mother was called to retrieve the dog.

Since those early days of my childhood, I have owned or rescued everything from newborn squirrels, to rabbits, horses, cats and dogs. To this day, my home is filled with rescued pets including fish, birds, and cats. Animals truly are therapeutic and on a bad day, I turn to my pets to provide soothing, love, and unconditional support. Through the years, it was not always easy to travel or find housing to accommodate my pets.

Stacey visiting her family and beloved horses in New Mexico

Stacey visiting her family and beloved horses in New Mexico

Stacey's beloved dog and guinea pig were rescued from the Humane Society.

Stacey’s beloved dog and guinea pig were rescued from the Humane Society.

The author gives a helping hand to a squirrel who lost her mother.

The author gives a helping hand to a squirrel who lost her mother.

Emotional support animals have become more and more common over the years, and for good reason. These animals offer a unique and profound bond with their owners that can provide comfort and support in times of distress. In this blog, we will discuss the psychological and physical benefits of pet ownership, what an ESA letter is, and its limitations.

Psychological Benefits of Pet Ownership

Pets have the ability to improve an individual’s mental health in numerous ways. They can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression by providing a sense of companionship, unconditional love, and support. Cuddling or petting an animal has been shown to release oxytocin, a hormone that promotes feelings of happiness and relaxation.
Furthermore, pets can help reduce loneliness and social isolation by providing a sense of purpose and encouraging social interaction. The bond between a pet and its owner can help create a sense of routine and structure, which can be especially beneficial for individuals struggling with mental illness.

Physical Benefits of Pet Ownership

In addition to the psychological benefits, pets can also provide physical health benefits. For example, owning a dog can encourage daily exercise through regular walks or playtime. This can help with weight management and improve cardiovascular health.

Furthermore, studies have shown that pet ownership can help lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels, and decrease the risk of heart disease.

The presence of a pet can also provide a sense of comfort and security, which can help reduce stress and improve overall physical health.

The author's rescued cat and administrative assistant, Amoura

The author’s rescued cat and administrative assistant, Amoura

What is an Emotional Support Animal and how does that differ from a Service Animal?

In the United States, emotional support animals are protected under two federal laws: the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).

Under the Fair Housing Act (Assistance Animals), individuals with emotional or psychological disabilities are entitled to request reasonable accommodations from housing providers, including the right to keep an emotional support animal in their home, even if the property has a no-pets policy. Landlords cannot charge pet fees or deposits for emotional support animals, but tenants are responsible for any damage caused by their animal.

Under the Air Carrier Access Act, individuals with emotional or psychological disabilities are allowed to travel with their emotional support animal in the cabin of an aircraft, provided they have a valid ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional. Airlines are not allowed to charge extra fees for emotional support animals, but they can require documentation, including the ESA letter and vaccination records, and may have specific policies regarding the type and size of animal allowed on board.

It is important to note that emotional support animals are not the same as service animals, which are trained to perform specific tasks for individuals with disabilities. Service animals have different legal protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and are allowed in all public places, including restaurants, stores, and other businesses. Emotional support animals do not have the same broad access rights as service animals, and their access to public places is determined by individual businesses and establishments.

What is an ESA Letter?

An ESA letter is a prescription letter written by a licensed mental health professional that certifies an individual requires the presence of an emotional support animal to cope with their emotional or psychological disability. This letter provides legal protection under the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act for individuals to live with their emotional support animals and fly with them in the cabin of an aircraft.

Limitations of an ESA Letter

It is important to note that an ESA letter does not give an individual unlimited access to public places or the ability to bring their emotional support animal wherever they go. While an ESA letter may provide certain legal protections under the law, it is important to check with individual businesses or establishments regarding their specific policies regarding emotional support animals.

Additionally, airlines and housing providers may have certain restrictions on the type of animal allowed or require additional documentation, such as vaccination records or behavioral assessments.

In conclusion, the benefits of pet ownership, especially emotional support animals, are numerous and varied. They can provide immense psychological and physical benefits to their owners, helping to alleviate symptoms of emotional or psychological disabilities. An ESA letter is an important document that provides legal protection for the individual and their emotional support animal, allowing them to live in housing that otherwise might not allow pets and fly with their animal in the cabin of an aircraft. However, it is important to understand the limitations of an ESA letter and to be respectful of the policies and regulations of individual businesses and establishments.

If you live in California or Florida and would like more information on ESA letters, please contact



  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Health benefits of pets.
  2. National Institute of Mental Health. (2019). Animal-assisted interventions.
  3. Fair Housing Act. (2021).
  4. Air Carrier Access Act. (2021).
  5. National Service Animal Registry. (2021). Emotional support animal laws.
  6. Delta Air Lines. (2021). Service and support animals.
  7. American Kennel Club. (2021). Emotional support animal vs. service dog: What’s the difference?
  8. University of Missouri-Columbia. (2018). Emotional support animals: Legal considerations for universities.
  9. American Veterinary Medical Association. (2021). Assistance animals: Rights of access and the problem of fraud.
  10. American Psychological Association. (2018). The power of pets: Health benefits of human-animal interactions.

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