In Spite of Recent Criticism, Therapist Argues Emotional Support Animals are Invaluable Help for People with Psychiatric Disabilities

by Sue on April 22, 2014

By Michael Halyard, MS, MFT

Emotional support animals provide tremendous benefits to psychiatric patients, but recent news stories have painted them in a bad light.
Recent articles in the New York Times, The Press-Enterprise, The Salt Lake Tribune, and a variety of other sources on the Internet, have brought skepticism to the growing use of emotional support animals (ESA’s).

ESA’s are animals that provide therapeutic benefit to their owners through devotion, affection and companionship. As more psychiatric patients learn about their rights, more are exercising their rights and obtaining such animals.

However the rights are limited to commercial air travel and housing. Contrary to what some people believe, there are no legal protections for disabled people to bring their ESA’s inside commercial establishments, like Lowe’s Home Improvement, where a child was recently bitten by an alleged ESA in Southern California.

“People are confusing service animals with emotional support animals. Service animals are trained to perform specific tasks that benefit the disabled person, and are therefore protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Emotional support animals are trained only as much as an ordinary pet, and are not covered by the ADA,” says San Francisco psychotherapist Michael Halyard.

Halyard is a San Francisco Marriage and Family Therapist and can be found on the websites and

People with disabilities are allowed to bring their service dogs into commercial establishments, government buildings, and public places—but that does not apply to emotional support animals.

The two federal laws that regulate emotional support animals are the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 (ACAA) and the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHAA). The ACAA and regulate emotional support animals on commercial aircraft and the FHAA regulate emotional support animals in housing

“The protections for ESA’s are limited to commercial airline travel and a person’s residence. If a disabled individual wants to bring his ESA into a commercial establishment, he has no legal right to under Federal law, and it is up to the discretion of the establishment whether to allow the ESA in with the individual,” adds Halyard.

There have been a number of recent stories in the media that doubt the validity of people bringing ESA’s on commercial airlines and tenants exercising their right to have their ESA in their homes.

“The skepticism around ESA’s is unfortunate, because the vast majority of people who have prescriptions for ESA’s have bona fide psychiatric disabilities, and gain tremendous benefit from being able to have these animals,” argues Halyard.

“I guarantee that a commercial airline passenger would rather be next to a relaxed psychiatric patient with an ESA than next to a psychiatric patient without one having a panic attack. People with extreme anxiety around flying–who would normally need a strong tranquilizer–are able to fly fine with their emotional support animal,” argues Halyard.

The bottom line is that people are getting tremendous relief from their psychiatric symptoms by having ESA’s serve as their companions–whether it’s at home or on a commercial airline.

Emotional support animals should not be confused with psychiatric service dogs. The latter referring to dogs that require special training to perform specific tasks that help a person mitigate the effects of a mental illness–like turning on the lights for a person with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“Emotional support animals provide emotional security, unconditional love, and act as a secure base for their owners,” explains Halyard.
“Many people struggle due to trauma that triggered a psychological inability to function in day to day activities. Other people have biological-based psychiatric disorders that affect their ability to function. For all of the above, the company of a beloved pet serving as an emotional support animal can considerably diminish or eliminate their symptoms,” adds Halyard.

Halyard says whether it disorders like Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Agoraphobia, Panic Disorder, PTSD, Autism Spectrum Disorders or Schizophrenia, people who have psychiatric disabilities can benefit tremendously from having an emotional support animal present in their lives.

“For some people, their emotional support animal is the one thing keeping them stable in spite of suffering from severe mental illness,” argues Halyard.

Landlords are required to provide reasonable accommodations to allow disabled tenants to have an emotional support animal even when there’s a “no pet” policy if they have the proper documentation. Landlords must waive security deposits for pets, but the owner can be charged for any damage caused by the emotional support animal.
Airlines are accustomed to people bringing their emotional support animals and have policies in place. Most airlines don’t charge an extra fee for emotional support animals, but they do require the proper documentation and notice 48 hours prior to the flight.

In order to have your pet become an emotional support animal, you need to get a letter from your physician or licensed mental health professional recommending the emotional support animal to help with your disability, and the pet has to be able to live peacefully with people without being a danger or nuisance. For airline travel, most people bring their animal in a pet travel crate.

“It’s important to train your animal so that it doesn’t bother other people, as there are still establishments that will allow let them to accompany you–but it is now up to the establishment,” says Halyard.
“People get such tremendous benefit from their emotional support animals! Emotional support animals reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and even can return a person to a higher level of functioning. A person who has a major mental illness may be able to live a fairly normal life,” explains Halyard.

“If you already have psychiatric condition that substantially limits at least one of your major life activities, you may qualify to designate your pet as an emotional support animal,” adds Halyard.

Michael Halyard, MS, MFT is a San Francisco psychotherapist and specializes in LGBT issues, depression, anxiety, addictions and couples counseling in his San Francisco private practice. He can be found on the websites and



All and all not a bad article. However there are a few bits of misinformation.

The disabilities that he listed…”Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Agoraphobia, Panic Disorder, PTSD, Autism Spectrum Disorders or Schizophrenia” are actually recognized disabilities that you may use a Service Dog for.

The statement…“If you already have psychiatric condition that substantially limits at least one of your major life activities, you may qualify to designate your pet as an emotional support animal” is true. However if you are using your dog to control that, it is also considered a service dog. Keep in mind that the ADA states the following in their list of what service dogs can do… “helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors”

ANY ESA or Service Dog MUST be well behaved in public! The fact that the child was bit has nothing to do with the fact that the dog was an ESA. The dog was not properly controlled or should just not be out in public period. Unless of course the child provoked the dog then the parents are to blame for not controlling the child.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>