Getting an Emotional Support Animal in Pittsburgh, PA

By: Kathryn Anderson Updated: September 16, 2021

Pittsburgh Philadelphia skylineLiving in Pittsburgh, PA and needing some emotional support? You may qualify for getting an emotional support animal in Pittsburgh. Just as the name suggests, emotional support animals or ESAs can be of therapeutic value to people with psychological conditions such as depression, stress, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety.

In Pennsylvania, as with other States, there are federal laws that protect people with an emotional support animal. In this article, we explain those laws, and what each means. We also cover the other information needed to go about getting an emotional support animal in Pittsburgh.

Emotional Support Animal in Pittsburgh: Specific Protection

The two pieces of federal legislation that offer specific protection to people with ESAs are the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). Within these laws, emotional support animals are considered assistance animals.

Pennsylvania State law also accommodates the rights of people with service and support animals. However, because federal legislation can override State legislation, we cover the national laws here.

Another federal law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), offers protection from discrimination for people with disabilities. However, this Act only covers people with a trained service animal, not an ESA.

Definition an Assistance Animal

You’ll often hear the general term of an “assistance animal” used, but what does it actually mean? They all help and assist people, but there are distinctions in the different types of assistance animals. These differences are especially relevant when it comes to where they are allowed in certain places, and which laws protect them.

There are two main types of assistance animals:

  • A service animal receives training to perform tasks for a person with a disability specific to their day-to-day life. Service animals are usually dogs, but even miniature horses receive training to help with mobility problems! A service dog receives special training to help people with visual and hearing impairments, such as a guide dog. Autism assistance dogs, psychiatric service animals or psychiatric service dogs receive specific training to recognize and help manage specific symptoms related to the condition the owner or handler is suffering from. Under the ADA, they are allowed in more places that are public.
  • An emotional support animal does not receive any specific training. The value of an ESA is that they can provide comfort and support to a psychological or emotional condition. A range of animals may be considered ESAs, but mostly they are dogs or cats. To qualify for an ESA a person must be assessed by a suitably qualified and licensed mental health professional (LMHP).

The other type of therapy animals you may be familiar with are those in shared environments. Settings like residential care facilities, day programs, and support groups may have a therapy dog or cat that many people can spend time with.

This animal category isn’t considered an assistance animal or a service dog with regard to this legislation, as people with disabilities do not own them individually.

woman being comforted by her emotional support animal in pittsburgh

How to Get an Emotional Support Animal in Pittsburgh: CertaPet’s Simple 5 Min Process

Certapet’s process is simple. There are two stages to our service.

  • First, you take a free five-minute pre-screening online. The information you give is completely confidential. It helps to ascertain whether you may have a psychological condition or disability that qualifies you for an ESA.
  • Then, if your answers indicate you may be eligible for an ESA and you wish to proceed, we connect you licensed mental health professional near you. The mental health professional will then assess whether you qualify for an ESA. The LMHP then signs and issues your ESA letter within 48hrs.

man researching emotional support animal laws

Travel Laws (Air Carrier Access Act)

The purpose of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) is to prevent discrimination toward passengers with disabilities. Under the Air Carrier Access Act, if your condition means you need to have your ESA with you on a flight or at your destination, an airline must consider this request. You do not have to pay for an ESA to fly with you.

Airlines can ask for advance written documentation if you wish to fly with your ESA. This will likely include a copy of your ESA letter confirming your eligibility, and may also include proof from a vet that your ESA is healthy.

Employment Laws

There are no federal laws that cover people having an emotional support animal in Pittsburgh with them in their workplace. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers must allow service animals in a workplace, but this does not apply to emotional support animals. An employer has the right to allow or not allow your ESA in the workplace.

Housing Laws (Fair Housing Act)

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects people from discrimination of any kind when seeking residential accommodation. A landlord or property owner must make “reasonable accommodation” for a person with an emotional support animal wishing to rent their property. This means they cannot refuse on the basis being an ESA owner, or apply any “no-pet” policies.

A landlord may not charge any additional deposits or fees in advance for someone with an ESA. However, be aware that tenants are responsible for the costs of any damage or spoilage caused by their animal!

ESA Campus Housing

The FHA also applies to on-campus housing at colleges and universities. Individual institutions have their own policies and application processes to follow for ESAs on campus.

If you are thinking about heading off to college or wanting to have an ESA in your dorm with you now, ask the health and disability services about your school’s rules and processes. Most institutions consider student applications to have an ESA on campus on a case-by-case basis.

esa napping in his pittsburgh accommodation

Exceptions to the Rules

Yes, there is legislation to protect your rights with an emotional support animal in Pittsburgh but only in certain situations! There are also provisions for landlord’s rights and remember they, airlines, and workplaces are running businesses where they have to consider the health and safety of many people. This means there are some exceptions to the rules.

  • Air Travel: Always check the policies of individual airline carriers. Many airlines update these on a regular basis. They also have restrictions on the size and type of animals they will accept on a flight. Your animal needs to be well behaved and not pose a danger to other travelers.
  • Housing: A landlord can refuse an ESA if they can prove that the animal is aggressive, or at the first sign of animal abuse!  Some sizes and types of residential rental accommodation are also exempt from the provisions of the Act.

Punishment for Misrepresenting an Assistance Animal

A recent Bill approved in Pennsylvania will introduce laws to make it a punishable offense to misrepresent an assistance animal or trained service dog. The penalty may be a fine of up to $1,000.

Presenting a pet as an ESA to get flights or housing also affects those with mental illnesses or conditions, who really need their ESA with them. Similarly, trying to pass of an emotional support dog as a service dog to take them to public places is not okay.

5 Facts You Need to Know Before Receiving Your ESA

  1. Emotional support animals are assistance animals, but they do not have the same protection as service animals. Knowing the difference helps when you are looking to take your ESA places with you!
  2. An ESA letter must be issued by a licensed mental health professional in your State. Certapet will connect you with someone in your area.
  3. To use an ESA letter to support an application for accommodation or air travel it must be dated within the past 12 months.
  4. There is no ESA animal certification, and the animal does not need to be trained to do specific tasks. They provide you with comfort, so the type of emotional support animal you get is up to you!
  5. If eligible for an ESA, you are not exempt from local by-laws such as dog licensing.

What is an ESA Letter?

An ESA letter is the documentary proof or evidence that an individual has a condition or disability that may benefit from an emotional support animal. The letter will include the following:

  • Confirmation you have a psychological or emotional condition recognized in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)
  • Confirmation you need your emotional support animal with you in your residential accommodation, and/or during air travel and at your destination.
  • Verification that a licensed mental health professional assessed you.

Where to Find a Suitable ESA!

You are likely to know the type and species of emotional support animal that will help you. The next step is where to find your Fido the Dog or Felix the Cat!

Animal shelters, rescue groups, and non-profit organizations are always an excellent start. If you want a particular breed, look for reputable breeders registered with national associations.

Where to Take Your Emotional Support Animal

Pittsburgh is quite a pup-friendly place for those with an emotional support dog or assistance dogs looking to get out and about or stay in public accommodations. Here are a few suggestions to enjoy with your furry  friend:

Dog Parks and Dog Runs

  • Hartwood County Park and Amphitheater
  • White Oak Park
  • Riverview Dog Park

Dog-Friendly Restaurants and Bars

  • Redfin Blues
  • Sunny Jim’s Tavern
  • Gianna Via’s Restaurant and Bar

Resorts, Fitness, and Spas

  • Sheraton Station Hotel at Pittsburgh Square
  • Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel
  • Omni William Penn Hotel


The Pittsburgh Pet Expo

ESAs in Pittsburgh: How to Get Connected with an LMHP in Your State Today!

At Certapet we work with licensed mental health professionals who understand the benefits that emotional support animals can provide. It’s important to find ways to ease and manage symptoms associated with emotional and psychological conditions. Luckily, animals can help with this.

If you’re ready to start looking further into getting an emotional support animal in Pittsburgh, complete our initial pre-screening process. This is free and takes five minutes.

After this, we will ask you if you wish to proceed to be connected to a licensed mental health professional in your area for the full assessment. Getting an emotional support animal in Pittsburgh is not a harrowing process! It’s quite simple!

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