In Praise of Emotional Support Dogs

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We see them more and more out and about: dogs (and other animals) boldly going where no dog has gone before, and proudly wearing the Emotional Support Animal harness.

Have you ever wondered what an Emotional Support Animal does? Or how it’s different from a Therapy Dog or a Service Animal?

Or have you ever thought your Jack might have what it takes to provide this valuable service?

What is an ESA?

An Emotional Support Animal provides comfort and emotional support for people suffering from a variety of different conditions, including:

  • PTSD
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • and many more

Emotional support animals are not the same as service animals. However, their presence and use are protected by the Americans With Disability Act (ADA), the Fair Housing Act (FHAA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). This means that a registered emotional support animal can travel with its owner for free in an airplane, and is also permitted to live in buildings where no pets are allowed — much the same as service and therapy animals.

There are a few differences, however.

ESAs, Therapy Dogs, and Service Animals

A lot of people throw these terms around as if they’re the same thing. They’re not. But what’s the difference? How is a Therapy Dog different from a Service Animal? And how are both of these different from an Emotional Support Animal?

The difference comes down to two different factors: education and job description (to put it in human terms).

The job of a service dog

First, service animals perform specific tasks for their owners. Service animals may help their owners to put on clothes. They may guide the blind through dangerous city streets, push a wheelchair, maneuver a fallen owner into the recovery person, or alert their owner that a seizure or blood sugar event is coming.

Watch the amazing things this service dog can do.

This requires years of specific training. A service dog must also be unflappable, undistractable, and completely focussed on their duty.

Service dogs are covered by the ADA, the FHAA, and the ACAA, and are generally allowed places other dogs cannot go, such as restaurants and grocery stores.

The job of a therapy dog

A therapy dog performs various therapeutic functions. These may include providing affection and companionship for people in nursing homes, in therapeutic settings, and in hospitals. Therapy dogs may also provide learning support, by allowing reluctant readers to read to them.

Check out this Texas area therapy dog in action.

Therapy dogs, like service dogs, must be highly trained. Moreover, they must easily adjust to different types of people. Unlike service dogs, however, they are not protected by the ADA or the FHAA.

The job of an emotional support animal

An emotional support animal provides unconditional love and support for its owner. It might not sound like much, but for some people, it can literally be a life-and-death difference.

ESAs are not required to have any special training, as they generally don’t perform tasks like service animals. They are protected under the ADA, the FHAA, and the ACAA — but only if a physician or psychologist has prescribed the animal as part of a therapeutic course for a diagnosed condition.

Are you confused yet?

Why Does a Jack Make a Good ESA?

One thing we can all agree on is that a Jack Russell Terrier can make a fantastic emotional support animal.


We’ll tell you!

First, Jacks are clever and intuitive. They enjoy learning, and can quickly learn what their owners need.

Also, they are small. This means that they’re portable, for one thing. An emotional support Jack can sit on your lap or in your arms. They’re also not as intimidating to others as a larger dog might be.

Finally, whose life wouldn’t be improved by a happy-go-lucky little Jack?

Regulations and Requirements

If you think your Jack might be ESA material, you could be right. But there are a few hoops you’re going to have to jump through, first.

The most important of these is your own diagnosis. An emotional support animal isn’t just a pet in a vest. It’s a valuable member of a therapeutic team.

As part of the therapeutic team, an ESA must be prescribed by a medical professional, who believes the owner will function better with the ESA’s assistance. The medical professional will write a letter of need, which can be presented to a landlord, airline, or anyone else who requires it.

Finally, although an ESA is not legally required to have any special training, you might consider not only basic obedience training, but also a Canine Good Citizen certification. These will ensure that your Emotional Support Dog will behave himself or herself in public — and avoid a lot of hassle.


In recent years, the idea of an emotional support animal has come under fire. The fact that there are so few legal requirements has led to a proliferation of fly-by-night companies that rubber-stamp diagnoses, offer ESA “certification” for a fee, sell ID cards, harnesses, and more.

As a result, some dishonest people have used these false credentials to bring ill-behaved, untrained, sometimes aggressive pets into no-pets zones. Unsurprisingly, this has caused a backlash.

It has also tarnished the name of true emotional support animals, who provide vital and needed services to their owners.

As a result, some airlines now require that ESAs have basic obedience training, are vaccinated, and have a letter from a veterinarian stating that the ESA will not disrupt service or cause a threat to other passengers’ health or safety.

Is Your Jack ESA Material?

Emotional support dogs provide a vital and needed service to people around the world. And the Jack Russell Terrier has a lot of qualities that make it a natural.

If you’re thinking that your pup might make a good ESA, make sure they’ll also be a good ambassador as well. Make sure they’ve mastered basic training, and if they can get their CGC (Canine Good Citizen), even better.

Is your Jack already an ESA? We’d love to hear about it!

Featured Image CC0, via PxHere

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