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Emotional Support Animals in Australia

If you have a mental health condition that prevents you from taking part in activities and affects your daily life, perhaps an Emotional Support Animal is for you.

What is an Emotional Support Animal? (also known as ESAs)

Emotional Support Animals are pets and they provide companionship and comfort to those experiencing common conditions such as depression, anxiety, phobias, and PTSD.  Emotional Support Animals don’t have to be a certain type of pet, size, weight, or breed, or have special training.

cavoodle emotional support dog
A cavoodle might make a good emotional support dog, but meet in person to view its temperament

Where can I get an Emotional Support Animal?

If you don’t yet have an Emotional Support Animal, we recommend researching pets on an animal welfare / animal shelter / pet rescue website such as Animal Welfare League, Perfect Pets, Pet Rescue, or RSPCA’s Adopt a Pet website and recommend visiting your local animal shelter or rescue to find your ideal ESA. If you have your heart set on a specific breed – it may be harder to find at a shelter or rescue, another option is to reach out to a responsible breeder website.

Labradors emotional support animal
Yellow Labradors have been bred to be therapy and service dogs, which means they have been bred for calmness. 

The Right Temperament is Key

Owning any ESA is a long-term commitment and researching a breed with the right temperament and for your condition is critical. If you create a strong connection with your emotional support animal, they can be more effective in relieving the symptoms of your disability instead of having the opposite effect (like stressing you out if they bark too much).

The long haired Chihuahua is very portable because of its small size.

Positive Reinforcement Obedience Training is Key

While it doesn’t ‘certify’ Emotional Support Dogs, booking a Positive Reinforcement Obedience Trainer is often a prerequisite required by therapy dog organisations if you also want to go down that path.

Can I take my Emotional Support Animal to shopping centres and on plane trips?

No. Emotional Support Animals are not the same as Service Dogs or Assistance Animals and do not share the same rights and protections under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth). 

The only way to give your pet legal rights is by having it certified as an Assistance Dog. Airlines are not required to accommodate emotional support animals, and nor are shopping centres.

If you are looking for a dog that offers handlers legislative protection from discrimination, then you might be looking for a Psychiatric Assistance Dog.

Can my Emotional Support Animal be included in the goals in my NDIS Plan?

Yes in a broad sense. If your goals are to have your confidence and communication skills improved, and to increase your self-sufficiency and independence, then Animal Assisted Community Mentoring using your pet is an activity that that may be right for you to achieve those goals. You can include your own dog when you go on outings with Support Workers from PetCloud. Your dog does not have to be a therapy dog.

How do I get a letter of Support to have an Emotional Support Animal?

Any registered mental health therapist or medical health professional can write ESA letters and state the pet is part of your therapy treatment plan.

a doctor writing a letter of support for an ESA

What should an ESA Letter contain?

  • Your Doctor, Mental Health Clinic, or Hospital’s letterhead and signature, as well as the date of issuance
  • Mental health professional’s licence type, the date the licence was issued, licence number, and the state that issued the licence
  • A supporting statement that an Emotional Support Animal is a vital part of your life
  • “Prescription” (although not technically a prescription, it is sometimes referred to as an ESA prescription) 
  • Details about your pet (type, breed, name, etc.) may be included (but not required)

How to get an ESA Letter in four steps:

1. Locate a registered clinical therapist or registered doctor in your State that is familiar with Emotional Support Animals. 

2. Book an Appointment in-person or online.

3. Discuss your mental health and whether an Emotional Support Animal could help. 

4. Request a signed ESA letter with the clinic’s letterhead stating the animal is part of your therapy treatment plan.

What is the point of having an ESA Letter if they have no rights?

The point of having a Registered Doctor or a Registered Mental Health Therapist write you an Emotional Support Animal letter is that it will indicate to your landlord or Property Manager that you have a genuine condition and so they are more likely to give special consideration on compassionate grounds and they may waive additional fees for a Pet Deposit on top of your rental property Bond.

It is also possible that an Emotional Support Animal can be upgraded to a Service Animal if some training is given by a Registered Service Dog Trainer a then Certificate obtained from the Trainer and then you would put in an Application to the Government for Assistance Dog Approval (the dog then would carry identification, which will give them rights).

It’s important to note that if you will need a dog to also assist with your mobility who will more likely be easy to train to fetch things or open doors, a dog breed such as a labrador retriever might be more suitable than a small lap dog such as a cavoodle.

This article was written in collaboration with Dr Noel Morrison – a Registered General Practitioner in New South Wales.

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