The Skinny on Emotional Support Animals

Jun 27, 2013    /    luna the traveling pooch

Page updated: September 2014. While the information here is accurate to the best of my knowledge, regulations may vary or change and you should always check with the airlines before booking travel. 

Navigate this page: the original video / video transcript / important notes / Q&A

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about traveling with an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) lately, so I thought I’d dive into the world of video and answer them for you in a more face-to-face kind of way.

(Don’t worry if you aren’t a video fan, though. Just check out the transcript below.)

Also, I’ve included some additional notes and answers to common questions from the comment area at the bottom of the transcript (so scroll down for more after the video).

Transcript & links: Hi, this is Gigi Griffis from gigigriffis.com and this is my dog, Luna. Today, I wanted to do a video because I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about Emotional Support Animals (or ESAs).

Now, Luna is an ESA in the United States. What that means is that she is an animal that accompanies a person with an invisible disability. So, if your doctor has diagnosed you with severe depression, panic attacks, PTSD…that same doctor can also say that it would benefit you greatly to have an Emotional Support Animal—an animal that’s going to be a companion animal—to help you.

So, that’s what an ESA is and in the United States there are two different protections for ESAs:

One is that the airlines are required to allow you to fly with your ESA and they aren’t going to charge you an extra fee…and that includes when American airlines are flying to overseas destinations. So even an overseas destination like the UK that normally doesn’t allow you to travel with an in-cabin dog will allow you to fly with an ESA.

The other accommodation that’s made in the United States is for housing. So, even if a place is not normally pet friendly or normally charges a pet fee, they are required to allow you to have your ESA and to not charge you a fee.

So that’s what an ESA is and those are the protections that are afforded for an ESA.

The other big question I get is what are the requirements? What kind of paperwork do you need? Do you need a vest for an ESA?

Luna does not have a vest. You can buy service dog vests online, so they don’t have a ton of credibility to me and they aren’t required. What is required, if you are going to fly with or request housing with your ESA, is a letter. That letter must be on the letterhead of the mental health professional who has diagnosed you and it needs to state a few things:

  • The title, address, and phone number of the mental health professional
  • The passenger has a mental health related disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – 4th Edition
  • The passenger needs the emotional support or psychiatric service animal as an accommodation for air travel and/or for activity at the passenger’s destination
  • The person listed in the letter is under the care of the assessing physician or mental health professional

(These letter requirements were pulled from/read from Delta Airlines‘ website. You should definitely double-check the requirements, but these are the things stated in my own letter and they have been sufficient for every need I’ve had so far.)

Now, once you have a letter that has all of these things in it, you can use that letter for up to one year (usually) to travel or get housing with your ESA.

I also found that overseas, even though the requirements are different and they don’t have ESAs in most places, people are really understanding. If you have your paperwork, never be afraid to ask if they’ll make an exception and let you stay in a hotel that’s not normally pet friendly with your ESA.

The last thing I want to say is that if you do have and need an ESA to travel with you, make sure that that ESA is trained. There are no training requirements. It’s not the same as a service animal; the animal doesn’t have to do something for you (a task) in order to be considered an ESA. However, it’s really important that you make sure that your animal is being respectful, isn’t barking at people going by, isn’t misbehaving…because we want these protections to continue for people who need these dogs.

It helps every person who has an ESA and asks for an exception after you is helped out by the fact that your dog is really well-behaved.

That’s it for today. I hope this has been helpful! Hola from Mexico. And goodbye from Luna for now!

A few additional things to keep in mind:

To have an ESA, you have to be diagnosed with a mental/emotional health related disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 4th Edition and you have to be under the care of a mental health professional. This is not something you can take advantage of if you simply have a fear of flying or if you just want to get around airline fees.

It’s also important to remember that any animal (ESA, service animal, or pet) must still comply with the state or country’s animal import regulations, including quarantine laws. So always make sure to do your research and get your paperwork sorted before traveling.

To view the legal scope of these accommodations, you can find the DOT information here (via Delta’s website). I believe the ESA information starts around page 24 of this PDF.

Finally, please note that this information is based on my own experience and research and should not be taken as legal advice. It’s always a good idea to do your own research and liaise with your medical professional.


                     


Q&A

What about travel outside the US?
What about people who abuse the system?
Does my ESA have to travel in a carrier?
Wait, is Luna a therapy dog or an ESA?
I’m worried that I’m going to get to the airport and have a problem. What should I do?
Can ESAs go into restaurants, shops, and other not-dog-friendly places?
Where can I find country-specific pet travel requirements?
Are there any countries where I can’t take my ESA?
Who can write my ESA letter?
Does my doctor need to approve my animal in person?
Where can I find someone to diagnose me and/or write my letter?
Does my ESA need some sort of registration, a vest, and/or tags?
Who do I need to tell about my ESA at the airport?
How much information do I have to give about my disability?
Will my ESA need to go through a special customs check?
What if I get to the airport and have a problem?

What about travel outside the US?


The above should apply to anyone traveling to or from the US from another country. When traveling within another country (for example: flying from Paris to the south of France) or between non-US countries (for example: flying from Paris to Rome), the regulations and recognition varies greatly. Mexico, for instance, generally recognizes ESAs and Luna and I flew on a Mexican airline from Puerta Vallarta to Cancun with a stopover in Mexico City with no problem at all. Other countries (like the U.K.) have very narrow definitions of service animals (even seizure dogs don’t count at the time of this writing), so you’ll need to get creative if traveling within the U.K. In every case, check with the airline you wish to travel with before you book your ticket.

Finally, a note: if your flight has multiple legs, check with the airline to make sure all legs are with that airline. Partner airlines may have different policies about carrying your ESA. For example, if you’re flying from Dallas to Amsterdam via Paris, make sure that the Paris – Amsterdam leg of the flight is operated by the original airline and not a partner. (You can do this by calling the airline directly before booking.)

What about people who abuse the system?


First, it’s important to note that there aren’t as many abusers as you probably think. The media likes to report sensational stuff, so it tends to focus on the handful of abuses and/or disasters. Additionally, the airlines are legally allowed to contact the person’s mental health professional and confirm that the letter is real, as well as to ban an animal from the flight if it is not behaving as a service animal should (biting, barking, jumping all over people, etc.). So don’t worry so much about system abusers. They exist in every system (how many people hang a handicapped parking tag in their window when they don’t need it?), but they’re fewer than we’ve been led to believe.

Does my ESA have to travel in a carrier?


No. It is my understanding that ESAs can exceed the weight limit for in-cabin pets and can be outside a carrier, sleeping at the feet of their owner, just as a guide dog might.

That said, out of a desire to keep the peace (and for Luna’s safety and security), I usually keep Luna inside her carrier for the whole flight.

From the Delta website: “A kennel is not required for emotional support animals if they are fully trained and meet same requirements as a service animal.”


                       


Wait, is Luna a therapy dog or an ESA?

Luna is both. A Therapy Dog is an animal who has been trained to work in a therapy program (such a hospital program where the dogs visit sick kids or a reading program where the dogs work with kids with learning disabilities). An ESA, as discussed above, is a companion animal that helps an emotionally or mentally disabled person. These are different things, but not mutually exclusive. Since people often don’t understand the term ESA, I usually just tell them she’s a Therapy Dog, which is a term more people seem to grasp.

I’m worried that I’m going to get to the airport and have a problem with my letter. What should I do?


Like many people who need an ESA, I’ve got some massive anxiety. So, first, let me say: I hear you, sister/brother! Doing this for the first time can feel totally overwhelming.

If you’re feeling worried, here’s my advice: contact your airline and ask if you can email them a copy of your letter to confirm that it meets their requirements. When they email you back to confirm that it’s okay, print out that email and bring it to the airport with you. You’re unlikely to have a problem, but if you do, you can always pull out the email. For me, having that kind of documentation on me makes things feel much more manageable.

Can ESAs go into restaurants, shops, and other not-dog-friendly places?

As far as I know, this is up to the store proprietor. They are not legally obligated to allow you and your dog into shops, restaurants, etc., but I believe they can choose to allow you (with proper documentation – e.g. your letter) entry if they want. My best advice is to always ask nicely and have your letter on hand. I have personally been granted exceptions and allowed to bring Luna to not-pet-friendly hotels (when I got stuck overnight in New York and was making a panicked last-minute reservation) and the occasional coffee shop. I’ve also had no trouble with restaurants inside the airport terminals.

You say I need to follow each country’s specific animal-entry regulations…where can I find these?

The best thing to do is go straight to the source: the embassy website. Look for (or search for) Pet Import or Animal Import information. Here, you’ll find the regulations for bringing a dog into the country in question. Keep in mind that the regulations will vary based on what country you are coming from. For example, the regulations for coming from America to Switzerland will be very different than the regulations for coming from South Africa to Switzerland with your dog. The important rules for dogs are almost always the same for ESAs, service animals, and pets. So make sure you follow these rules to a T.

The other place you can get great information about traveling internationally with your dog is from a USDA-approved vet. You can contact the APHIS veterinary contact in your state to find out what vets are approved near you (and to ask them other questions about animal import/export).

Finally, a note: this is not nearly as daunting as it sounds. Many first-world countries make it fairly simple to bring your dog with you. Luna and I have flown many times from the U.S. to Europe (into Italy, Germany, etc.) and the process is very doable.

Are there any countries where I can’t take my ESA?


Since ESAs are required to follow all animal import and quarantine regulations, there are a few places in the world where they are either not allowed at all (Maldives) or will have to go into quarantine (Australia, New Zealand, etc.). Before you plan your travel, check with a USDA-approved vet (as noted above) or the embassy of the country you want to visit.


                       


Who can write my ESA letter?

The requirement is that the person writing the letter be qualified to diagnose mental and emotional illnesses according to the manual listed above. Your doctor (be she a psychiatrist or a therapist) will need to be qualified and will need to list her qualifications on the letter. If you are not sure if your doctor/mental health professional qualifies, you should call and ask her/him.

Does my doctor need to approve my animal in person?

No. The doctor only needs to confirm (using the letter described above) that you have a disability and require your animal for travel and/or an activity at your destination. However, that doesn’t mean your animal can be untrained. Current law allows the airlines to deny transport if an ESA is behaving badly. ESAs should be trained to behave properly (like service animals) in public. Personally, I recommend therapy training (which has served Luna very well) and I’ve heard others praise Canine Good Citizen training.

Where can I find someone to diagnose me and/or write my letter?


If you are looking for a mental health professional, there are a variety of ways to find one in your area. I found my Denver-based therapist in the listings on Psychology Today’s website – so perhaps start there (I believe they have listings all over the US). Other good places to start would include local universities with psych programs and/or your family doctor.

Keep in mind that you must be in the ongoing care of a mental health professional to get an ESA letter (it’s not a one-time visit kind of thing), so if you find someone who is willing to just diagnose you and write a letter on the spot, run – that person is not legit.

Does my ESA need some sort of registration, a vest, and/or tags?

No. The only requirement for ESAs at the time of this writing is the letter from your mental health professional. If you would like to get a vest for other reasons (e.g. if you prefer people not pet your dog while he/she is working, etc.), you can. But you do not need to register or get any tags or vest in order for your dog to be considered an ESA.

Who do I need to tell about my ESA at the airport?


The only person who is likely to ask for your letter is the desk agent checking you in. You should let that person know that you are traveling with an ESA (some airlines will give you a special tag for the carrier if your dog is in a carrier and most will need to copy/document your letter). After that, you probably won’t need to talk about it with anyone else. In some rare exceptions, you may need to speak to the airline staff helping you board and/or with a flight attendant (if, for example, they accidentally seat you in an exit row, where you cannot have an animal for safety reasons and will, thus, need to be moved from).

How much information do I have to give about my disability?

The answer is almost none. You will need the letter stating that you have a disability, but you do not need to disclose what your disability is. When I get questions or confusion about my ESA, I usually explain ESAs in general rather than referring to my own struggles. I tell people “An ESA is an animal that supports someone with an invisible disability like PTSD or panic attacks.” Feel free to steal my exact words if it helps.


                       


Will my ESA need to go through a special customs check?

This depends where you are traveling to, but I have found customs to be very manageable in all our travels.

In the U.K. (flying into Manchester), we were greeted at the gate by the animal import agency who checked Luna’s microchip, confirmed her paperwork, and then gave me a sheet of paper confirming she was okay to enter the country (which I presented when I went through the normal customs line).

In Mexico, there was a vet booth (with a clear sign) on the way to the main customs line. We had to stop there and let the vet check Luna’s paperwork and inspect her directly. He then okay-ed the paperwork and we went through the normal customs line.

In Italy and Germany, I went through customs normally, declared the dog, showed my paperwork (in Italy, they waved me away; in Germany, they took a quick peek), and entered the countries.

What if I get to the airport and have a problem?

If you have any trouble at the airpot, ask to speak to the Complaint Resolution Office (CRO). You can also call the Department of Transportation’s disability hotline at 800-778-4838 (or 800-455-9880 if you are deaf and require TTY). The Aviation Consumer Protection Division phone number is 202-366-2220 (or 202-366-0511 for TTY).

Have more questions about ESAs? Please feel free to drop them in the comments.


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204 Comments
  • erika
    June 28, 2013

    Do you think you can travel with TWO esa dogs? (very little dogs).
    And what about non USA citizens who mostly travel in Europe?
    Thanks!

    • gigigriffis
      June 28, 2013

      Excellent question. I haven’t been able to find any information about traveling with more than one ESA. I’d consider reaching out to a mental health professional or perhaps an ADA or legal expert on that one.

      As for Europe: I can answer that!

      Any US-based airline must comply and allow you to travel with your ESA in cabin at no extra charge. This means if you fly with Delta to Italy, American Airlines to Paris, etc. – the law still applies.

      That said, two things to keep in mind: European airlines are not required to comply and if you are booking with an American airline, it’s always wise to make sure they are operating the flight. Sometimes partners operate the flight – and you should be okay even if that happens, but partner airlines sometimes aren’t as familiar with the policies. So it’s always a good idea to call before you book and ask about taking an ESA on the route.

      Finally, Europe tends to be super dog friendly (WAY more than the US). So even if without the ESA designation, you’ll find that trains and housing, etc. tend to be super pet friendly. And you can always ask for an exception if you have your ESA paperwork. Even though Europe doesn’t recognize it in law, many people are willing to help you out (we’ve stayed in hotels that aren’t normally pet-friendly, reserved a sleeper cabin on a ferry that usually required dogs to ride on deck, and stayed in many rentals that aren’t normally dog-friendly – all because I politely asked for an exception.

      • Luanne
        November 28, 2016

        Hi Gigi,
        I haven’t been able to find definitive info regarding an owner to have two ESA pets in one home. Do you have any insight to this? I have been in touch with my therapist and they say this is not an issue and the email refers to updating my esa letter. However, I just wanted to reach out and hear your thoughts. Thanks!

        • gigigriffis
          November 28, 2016

          Hi Luanne,

          I’m sorry, but I haven’t ever run into info on having two ESAs. Perhaps call the DOT hotline? Even though they mostly handle airline questions, they may be able to speak to the two-ESA thing in general.

      • Agna
        January 6, 2017

        I am scheduled to travel with two little dogs to Poland in February. The dog weight 5 lbs each. The Polish airlines approved both of them to be with me in the cabin. The only condition is that they must fit in one bag under the seat. I also know that the bags are not required for ESA, but for our own convenience we will have a bag.

      • Dano
        January 11, 2017

        In your DOT information link, pg 24877 under Miscellaneous Questions:

        About the Passenger Who Has Two or More Service Animals?

        • A single passenger legitimately may have two or more service animals. In these circumstances, you should make every reasonable effort to accommodate them in the cabin in accordance with part 382 and company policies on seating.

        • gigigriffis
          January 11, 2017

          Thank you!

    • Anne
      January 23, 2017

      Air France have informed me that the accept esas

  • Dave Cenker
    June 28, 2013

    Although I didn’t need the specific information presented in this article, it is extremely beneficial in another way. When we get caught up in constantly reading words from blogs we follow, it is really nice to put a voice and personality to the words on paper ;-) Thank you for continuing to inspire with your exploratory and adventurous lifestyle! And the content of this post was very well articulated also :-) Have a great day!
    Dave Cenker recently posted…Massage your mood with musicMy Profile

    • gigigriffis
      June 28, 2013

      Thanks! :)

  • samantha
    July 3, 2013

    It is a very controversial supject writing about ESA’s when there is so much abuse of it by people who are not actually diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder.
    It is sad that people have to get back to such measures to be able to travel with their pooches but it definatly should not be abused to save money or be able to stay at prefered hotel.
    Tough decisisions…..

    • gigigriffis
      July 3, 2013

      I know! It’s so sad to me that it is a controversial subject. It’s too bad when people game the system, especially since these dogs really do serve an important role for those who do need them.

    • gigigriffis
      July 3, 2013

      The good news is that the letter from a mental health professional is required to have contact information on it – so the airlines can check up as needed. I don’t know that as many people are gaming the system as people seem to think.

      • Sara
        December 20, 2013

        Actually, I think that is a HIPAA Privacy Act violation.

      • gigigriffis
        December 21, 2013

        Hi Sara – When they check up on the letter, they’re only checking to make sure it’s legitimate, not asking medical questions of the doctor.

        I could definitely be wrong, but it’s my understanding that HIPAA protects our privacy and means the doctor can’t share medical details. But he/she can confirm whether they actually wrote the letter.

      • mjb
        January 30, 2014

        airlines do not have the time or the manpower to be tracking down health professionals to verify that the paperwork presented is accurate, current, etc. The people who abuse this (in my opinion the majority) know this and travel with dirty, poorly behaved animals because they can and because as long as their needs are met to hell with the rest of the people.

        • gigigriffis
          January 30, 2014

          The airlines do spot checks (I know people who have had theirs checked) and any animal that is being aggressive or disruptive they are allowed to deny entry to. While, yes, there have been some sad abuses of the system and yes there are a couple colorful dogs-escaping-from-carriers anecdotes, the majority of traveling dogs (be they ESAs or simply traveling pets) travel inconspicuously and without causing trouble. These days, there are animals on almost every flight. And most airlines accept small dogs or cats who aren’t ESAs as well.

        • Amy
          July 27, 2014

          I have traveled with my (legitimate) ESA over 25 times in the last 2 years (I travel for work). I have had the customer service agent call and verify the letter. It happens quicker than one might think. I used to be a flight attendant before I experienced a traumatic incident and I was terrified to fly after leaving my flight attending job. Having my ESA has changed my life. Why is this important? After working in the airline industry and having lots of friends and family in the airline industry, I have realized it really is not abused as much as people may think. They are are pretty rare (At the most I saw one a month on manifest). There have been a few bad apples that have really made everyone skeptical.

  • Kate
    July 8, 2013

    Thanks for including the info and suggestion that people train their ESA dogs (and other dogs). I have a well-trained little poodle who travels with me and my partner frequently. He is not a ESA. I completely understand the necessity of ESA’s but I get frustrated when I see horribly behaved ESA dogs (beyond normal doggyness), I start to wonder REALLY truly are ESA or just gaming the system. I get resentful because I choose to follow the rules and pay the money for my dog to travel with me.

    • gigigriffis
      July 8, 2013

      Hi Kate,

      Yeah. I totally understand. I think it’s incredibly important for ESAs to be trained and it pains me when I see people traveling with animals that aren’t well behaved (in any context). I guess people don’t realize that it impacts all of us when they don’t train their animals (or small children – but that’s a topic for another day, yes? :)).

      • Brianna
        February 28, 2014

        I have a brother in law that is going thru a pretty intense divorce, he has a ESA for his depression, and anxiety from his divorce. I live in a apartment complex with a “no-pet policy” does the same laws still apply. He has been staying with me for a few months now. can the complex owners discriminate against us, and say he cant be there because of the dog??

        • gigigriffis
          March 1, 2014

          Hi Brianna,

          That’s a tough one. I’m not sure how the law impacts guests/long-term visitors on an existing lease with a non-disabled tenant. I would consider reaching out to a lawyer/expert (many will give a free quick consult and answer questions like this). I also found this online, which might be useful: http://www.bazelon.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=mHq8GV0FI4c%3D&tabid

  • Cat
    August 12, 2013

    Can you tell me if the same dog and carrier size requirements are applied for ESA dogs in cabin flights? American says they are on their website but others don’t specify. I want to travel with an ESA who is slightly over the 20 pound max. Thanks

    • gigigriffis
      August 12, 2013

      Hey Cat,

      I believe that ESAs are actually allowed to be outside their carrier technically, but I’m not 100% sure (I leave Luna inside her small Sleepypod Air carrier in flight). A licensed mental health professional (the person who could write the documentation for the animal) may have more information on this and the airline disability liaisons should also know (if you call, ask for the disability rep – they know all about the ESA regulations and allowances).

      Sorry I couldn’t be more help on this one!

  • Figgy
    November 16, 2013

    Wait, is Luna a “trained therapy dog” (My Story) or a documented emotional support animal who has been “trained” to be a well-behaved dog? If she hasn’t been trained to provide a service, the first is a misnomer.

    • gigigriffis
      November 17, 2013

      Hi Figgy,

      She was trained for therapy work when I lived in Denver, as I was planning on having her work with the Children’s Hospital program there. We don’t work in any programs at the moment, as we’re traveling, but she is still trained as a therapy animal. She is also a papered ESA (e.g. has the legal paperwork). They’re separate things, as you know, but not mutually exclusive. :)

  • Michael M
    November 20, 2013

    Just an FYI: If you are traveling to Europe from the US, be certain that you get either a non-stop flight or one that has the same US carrier (e.g., AA or UA) for all legs. Foreign carriers (e.g., Lufthansa or even Air Canada) are legally obliged to take ESA’s when flying “in” and “out” of the U.S. However, if you are taking Lufthansa to Paris and need to change planes in Germany, say Frankfurt, Lufthansa will NOT recognize your ESA on that 2nd-leg inter-Europe flight and will most likely have to go “in the hold.” Just be mindful when making reservations/searching for frequent flyer tickets. Thanks…Michael

    • gigigriffis
      November 20, 2013

      Very excellent point. Thank you, Michael!

    • Mike G
      February 22, 2014

      I’m confused now….is ANY airline required to accept an in cabin ESA if it is on a non-stop out of the US?

      • gigigriffis
        February 23, 2014

        Good question. My understanding (though you should double-check me) is that it’s US-based airlines who are bound by the law, though others (affiliates of the US airlines) may also abide by it. For any non-US airline, you’ll want to check.

  • Keely
    November 25, 2013

    Thank you so much for the information. I am flying from Phx-Phl tomorrow evening. I have a mini poodle who is about 14 lbs and we will be flying together for the first time. My primary physician wrote me a hand written note on an official prescription paper stating that I have anxiety and need an ESA as an accommodation for travel. She also stated that I am under her care and listed her license number. The prescription paper includes the doctors name, phone number, etc. Earlier this month I called my airlines to double check this documentation (along with my dog’s certification and ID card) would be sufficient. They told me this would be fine.
    As I said I fly tomorrow for the first time, (first time flying with an animal and first time having an ESA) and have been doing extra research. Do you think what I have will be ok? I can’t get ahold of any one through the airlines and worried I should have urged my doctor specifically write “The passenger has a mental health related disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – 4th Edition on letterhead. ”
    Thanks, Keely

    • gigigriffis
      November 26, 2013

      Hi Keely!

      If the airline said it would be fine, you should be okay. If you can, maybe call the airline back this morning and ask them to send you an email that confirms that your paperwork will be okay. Then you can print that out and bring it with you (it’s always nice to have confirmation).

      Gigi

  • Heidi
    January 16, 2014

    Hi. i was wondering if you knew if ESA’s can be restricted from going into places such as maybe a friend or family members apartment that does not allow such animal? or other businesses?

    thank you for your info above

    • gigigriffis
      January 16, 2014

      Hi Heidi,

      Sadly, the only two protections are for planes and your own housing, so technically they cannot go to restaurants, businesses, etc. unless they are dog-friendly. That said, I have found that very, very often people are willing to make exceptions if you are honest and up front.

      One example: I was flying into New York unexpectedly and trying to book a hotel. The hotels I’d found were not dog-friendly, but I called anyway, explained that Luna was an ESA, told them what an ESA was, told them that they were under no obligation to make the exception, and asked if they would make the exception anyway. The hotel said yes, as long as I had my paperwork on me they would make an exception. I find it also really helps if you can tell them that the dog has also been trained for therapy work or as a canine good citizen.

  • Lin Hadley
    January 17, 2014

    Hi! Thanks so much for all the info. I have an ESA and recently went to the UK with her. I had to do much research to find out what would be required and the anticipation of what I may not know was painful and expensive. Fortunately, everything went smoothly. Now she also has a EU Passport. My question is – Every country has different policies regarding transporting an in-cabin animal for arrival in their country. I had to have UK write a letter to the airline giving them permission to transport my animal in the cabin and a person from ARC had to come to the gate to meet us for inspection and customs clearance. Is there a website that has this type of information for all countries? I want to go to Italy and then drive through France and Spain thus departing from a different country.

    • gigigriffis
      January 17, 2014

      Hi Lin,

      I don’t know of any website that has a list like that (though check out DogJaunt.com – she just wrote a book and perhaps it has this info in it – you can ask her).

      The good news is the the UK is the trickiest of the European countries and (I believe) the only one that doesn’t allow in-cabin dogs (which is why the ESA process is a complicated one). Other European countries leave it up to specific airlines, so you don’t need special permission (except, of course, the normal paperwork). Luna and I have flown into Italy (Milano) with no problem and also out of Spain (Barcelona) with no problem. In both cases, it was on Delta Airlines, who have been great about the ESA thing without fail. And in both cases all we had to do is have her paperwork (both the ESA letter and the Eu entry paperwork) and let Delta know there would be an ESA with me.

      Here’s the skinny on my Italy process, which is pretty much the same across all the western European countries: http://gigigriffis.com/how-to-take-your-dog-to-italy/.

      Flying back to the US from Spain (and anywhere else in Europe) was super super easy. All I needed was Luna’s ESA letter and her rabies certificate.

      Hope that helps!

    • Penny Billington
      March 10, 2014

      We have been refused entry into the UK with an ESA. Can you tell me where you flew into and with which airline?

      • gigigriffis
        March 11, 2014

        Oh dear! We flew Delta into Manchester the first time and took a ferry from mainland Europe the second time. You can find info about all the paperwork and such (I’m guessing you have that, but just in case) here: http://gigigriffis.com/how-to-take-your-dog-to-the-u-k/

  • Penny Billington
    March 10, 2014

    Please excuse me, I was referring to Lin saying she had managed to travel to the UK with an ESA!

  • Chad
    March 17, 2014

    I have never taken advantage of the ESA tag, but I sure have given it a lot of thought. I have a 14 lb shih tzu who is extremely well behaved. Her problem is she hates being locked in a carrier…almost like claustrophobic. The last time we flew we paid the $125 each way on Delta, which I have no problem paying so I’m not interested in doing this to save money. We had her walking around the airport (against the rules I know!) and she’s completely fine. We got her in the carrier and got her on the plane then wouldn’t stop scratching at the bag and was freaking out…not making noise, but since she’s basically our child, we took her out of the carrier and she didn’t move the rest of the flight. Long story short, she is easier to fly with than a human child and makes no noise but just needs to be in our lap. I wish there was the ability to fly with her in our lap and still the pay the money because I would do that in a heartbeat. The nightmare on the way back was that we literally couldn’t even get her in the carrier outside the gate and felt like we were abusing her so we walked with her on the plane and she never went back in the carrier…nobody on Delta ever said anything. It was very stressful. I know people will say you just have a dog that can’t fly, but she had the ESA tag she would be a perfect flyer…I just wish I didn’t have to decide make a choice against my morals for people who actually need ESAs. Does anybody else ever have the issue and have any solutions? We tried light sedatives but they didn’t do anything…? Once again, I don’t want to break the rules nor escape paying the fee, I just want to be able to bring our dog to visit family across country.

    • gigigriffis
      March 17, 2014

      I definitely encourage you not to take advantage of the ESA designation unless you truly need your dog.

      That said, a few thoughts about getting the dog used to a carrier:

      For Luna, I put the carrier in the house for about six months before I ever took her anywhere. I got her used to the smell. I encouraged her to go inside with treats, by putting items of my clothing inside, by putting toys inside. And it became her safe space, somewhere she could go to get away from the bustle of the house.

      You could also ask your vet about light sedatives. And it helps if the dog can smell you, so put a sock or a t-shirt into the carrier with her while she travels.

      Hope that helps!

  • denise
    March 19, 2014

    Hi. Gigi. I, too have an esa and she is a seven pound yorkiepoo. I do not try to take her in restaurants, etc., but I do suffer from anxiety and she helps tremendously. I was wondering if we still have to have health certificates for the dog if we ever go to Mexico or Puerto Rico. I wish Hawaii wasn’t such a pain. We used to live there and would love to visit, but it is too difficult to bring her there. Thanks!

    • gigigriffis
      March 20, 2014

      Hi Denise – Yes, all the health/quarantine/etc. requirements still apply. For Mexico, our paperwork was super easy, though, and I’m guessing Puerto Rico is also really simple.

      Hawaii actually has a five-day-or-less quarantine program. It’s still pretty complicated, but if you want to take the dog, you can and if you follow instructions to a T you can be out in one day (or so I’ve heard).

      • Denise (Dogsmama)
        March 20, 2014

        Thanks, Gigi. Yes, I know about the Hawaii requirement, but if your plane is late for some reason and you don’t arrive on time, you cannot get your dog that day and then, of course, they charge you to keep the dog overnight and I wouldn’t want to chance it. I know Puerto Rico is much easier and so I was thinking about going there instead.
        One more question if you don’t mind: I am a tad confused if the emotional support letter can be from a medical doctor. Some places say that it has to be a licensed mental health professional and I was just on Southwest Airline’s site and it said it could be from a mental health professional or a medical doctor, but not all airlines state either/or. Thanks so much!

        • gigigriffis
          March 20, 2014

          My understanding is that it has to be someone who is qualified to diagnose mental/emotional disabilities (the letter should actually say “I am qualified to diagnose…” I believe). I think medical doctors would generally fall into this category (at least a general practitioner should, yes?), but I’m not 100% sure.

          According to one website (http://science.education.nih.gov/supplements/nih5/mental/guide/info-mental-a.htm), “To be diagnosed with a mental illness, a person must be evaluated by a qualified professional who has expertise in mental health. Mental health professionals include psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, social workers, and mental health counselors. Family doctors, internists, and pediatricians are usually qualified to diagnose common mental disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, and ADHD.”

          Hope that helps.

  • denise
    March 21, 2014

    Thanks! U r so nice! A refreshing personality!

  • Pekk
    March 24, 2014

    Hi

    Thanks for your informative post. I have a few questions:

    – how the person, who has an ESA, can move in the plane? Or does he/she need to be next to the ESA all the time. I think this is very important, as people need to move their legs, use toilets etc. to avoid problems. Especially during the long flights.
    – is it okay to give medicine for the ESA to relax it during the fligths?

    • gigigriffis
      March 25, 2014

      Good questions.

      As for your first question, I don’t know the legal answer, but I would recommend always having your animal under your control. For me, I leave Luna in her carrier during the flight. She feels safer and I don’t need her out in flight. This also means I can go to the bathroom and simply leave her carrier under the seat. If you need to have your animal out of its carrier during flight, it should be under your control or someone you are with’s control.

      As for medication, that’s really between you and your vet. My vet recommends not medicating animals in flight unless absolutely necessary, but if your animal needs a sedative, I don’t think being an ESA/not being an ESA really matters in the scheme of things.

  • Dominique
    April 4, 2014

    What about Jamaica? They don’t accept dogs from anywhere except the UK. Will they accept ESA dogs? Thank you.

    • gigigriffis
      April 5, 2014

      Hi Dominique,

      For ESAs, all the normal dog paperwork/quarantines/rules/etc. usually apply for any country you’re visiting. It looks like for Jamaica, the UK rule applies to all animals, including ESAs and service dogs. If you are moving to Jamaica, perhaps look into whether you can import your dog to the UK and then export from there to Jamaica.

  • Christina
    April 22, 2014

    I have a question regarding emotional support animals. Does the doctor have to approve of the animal before it can be considered a support animal? My friend has lupus and she went out and bought a dog. It has no training can a doctor still consider this animal an “emotional support” animal?

    • gigigriffis
      April 22, 2014

      Currently, the doctor does not need to approve the specific animal, nor does the animal need any special training (though airlines can deny you entry with an ESA if it is being threatening or overly disruptive, I believe, and though I do strongly encourage everyone to train their ESAs). However, I have heard from a reliable source that the rules will be changing in the near future and animals will be required to have a certain level of training before you can get your ESA letter. I’m not sure when this is happening, but the best idea is to start training (Canine Good Citizen training or Therapy training should probably do it) now.

      • Christina
        April 22, 2014

        Thank you! That was very helpful!

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