Emotional Support Dog (ESD) Information

Update: Due to too many people taking under-trained and under-socialized animals on airplanes causing hazards for humans as well as the poor animals themselves, as of July 1, 2018, airlines have become more specific in their requirements for ESDs. Please research each airlines requirements before your trip. Here is where the American Airlines requirements are listed:


And here is a link to the forms themselves:

Click to access emotional-psychiatric-service-animal-documentation-packet.pdf

Original Post:

Back in the day I knew so little about service dogs or emotional support dogs – let alone the differences between the two. It took me years, but I am now confident in my understanding of the applicability of the many laws that apply to each type of dog. The first thing I want to get across is that Emotional Support Dogs (ESDs) are NOT service dogs. There are service dogs categorized as psychiatric service dogs – but they are not the same thing.  I will write more about those in a different post. Anywhoodle, here is some stuff I have learned about ESDs – I hope it helps!

  • List of  important stuff to understand about ESDs:
    • ESD laws are only relevant for air travel and, to some extent, housing.
    • Many folks are going to really dislike you and your dog.
      • I am 100% certain that your dog is awesome and if I were traveling near you would joyfully chat about your dog. There will be a few people that will be supportive of your need for an ESD, but the universe doesn’t tend to allow those people to be seated anywhere near you on a plane. I have seen ticket agents actively search for loopholes to try to keep you off the flight. I am not trying to dissuade you, I just want anyone who is preparing to use an ESD to understand all of the requirements and to prepare yourself mentally for a certain level of loathing from people throughout the process such as airline special services, airline ticket agents, airline gate agents, flight attendants, and even other passengers.

  • List of important stuff you have to DO before you fly with an ESD: 
    • Be realistic about your dog’s behavior.
      • Socialize them, train them, take them everywhere. Don’t take a dog who has never been outside of their yard on a plane as an ESD – they will be so stressed that it could really do them harm.
    • Obtain a licensed mental health professional or a medical doctor’s letter that is dated within one year of your scheduled flight.
      • I have a good example letter listed below which includes the required wording. I recommend making it as easy on your doctor as possible and bring a copy of this letter for your doctor to use as a template – remember it must be on the doctors stationary!
    • Call the airline. a lot.
      • special note to anyone calling the airline from a VI 340 phone number – find a friend who still has a stateside number and call the airline using their phone. For some reason, when I call American Airlines using my 340 phone I get sent to a different region’s help center that is just not overly helpful.
      • write down who you spoke with, the date and the time of every contact you make with the airline. Yes, I am serious. This is very helpful information I have often needed.
      • Regardless of when you call, you will have to leave a message and a contact number so that a “special services” representative will call you back. You will then have to provide the letter to them via email or fax. They may tell you that you are “all set”; don’t believe them.
      •  48 hours before your flight – CALL THE AIRLINE. Ensure they  have a reservation for you and your ESD.
    • Take dog to the vet:
      • obtain a health certificate within 10 days of your departure flight
      • obtain a copy of your vaccination records – most especially your rabies vaccination information.

  • Travel Day
    • have your paperwork handy! This includes:
      • human travel ID
      • human ESD doctor letter
      • ESD health certificate
      • ESD vaccination records
    • comfy towel/blanket/dog bed – something that will keep him warm on the floor of the plane. It can get down to 40 degrees F on that floor for flights that are very high up. An uncomfortable dog is a dog that can’t settle down and rest.
    • you should lightly limit food/water the night before a flight – I have never had any issues not limiting food or water, but to be safe make sure they don’t get any new/strange foods that could cause gastrointestinal upset.
    • bring a “puppy pad” just in case. You know those “family bathrooms” at the airport. Those are the BEST when you are working with a SD or an ESD. You go in, lock the door, put a puppy pee pad on the floor and if they have to go – they’ll go. Don’t be shocked if your dog doesn’t go to the bathroom in a strange place, but go ahead and give them the option as well as offer them some water.
    • a harness that says “working dog” or “emotional support dog” isn’t technically necessary – however it does seem to help people understand that the dog is there to work.
    • If you have an ESD or SD, you are not allowed to sit in the emergency exit row. When you arrive at the airport, you want to ask the agent (if special services hasn’t already done this) to move you to the bulkhead. That is something that is considered normal when traveling with an animal. Additionally, you want to request pre-boarding; this is also considered normal by the airline when traveling with an animal.

ESD Medical Doctor Sample Letter

(on professional’s office letterhead)


(Patient’s name) is currently under my professional care for treatment for a mental illness defined by the DSM-IV. His/her mental impairment substantially limits one or more major life activities. I have prescribed an emotional support animal as part of the treatment program developed for (patient’s first name). The presence of this emotional support animal is necessary for (patient’s first name)’s mental health during air travel.

I am licensed by the state of (state) to practice (medicine/psychiatry/therapy–choose applicable). My license number is (license number).

Please allow (patient’s full name) to be accompanied by his/her emotional support animal in the cabin of the aircraft, in accordance with the Air Carrier Access Act (49 U.S.C. 41705 and 14 C.F.R. 382).

(doctor’s name and title)