Getting an Emotional Support Animal in Pennsylvania

By: Kathryn Anderson Updated: September 14, 2021

Pennsylvania skylineAn emotional support animal is a loyal companion animal that can help people with mental and emotional conditions to cope with their day-to-day life. Around the U.S., all states must abide by the same federal laws; however, rules, regulations, exceptions, punishments, and more fall upon to the state’s discretion. If you live in PA, learn about all of this and more and exactly how to get an emotional support animal in Pennslyvania.

Emotional Support Animal in Pennsylvania: Specific protection

There are two main pieces of legislation that will support you in getting an emotional support animal in Pennsylvania: the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act. Americans with Disability applies to the non-discrimination against ESAs but does not apply in the same way as service animals.

The three Acts protect the rights of Americans with disabilities in public places, in rented accommodation, at their place of employment, and while traveling. One of the things that the Acts legislate on, is the right of people with disabilities to bring assistance animals into places where pets are not usually allowed.

An emotional support animal in Pennsylvania is mainly protected under the ACAA and FHA.

Definition of Assistance Animal

Before getting an emotional support animal in Pennsylvania, you’ll need to get to grips with the specific terminology that relates to them.

Firstly, “assistance animal” is a general term to describe any animal that helps individuals with disabilities. There are a number of different types of assistance animal, and each one can help people in different ways. The legislation on assistance animals varies by type, and some laws are specific to different kinds of assistance animal.

Service animal helping a blind man on a pedestrian crossing in Pennsylvania

The first kind of assistance animal in a service animal. Service animals are highly trained to perform tasks for a person with disabilities. These specific tasks can include being guide dogs for people with visual impairments, aiding wheelchair users with mobility-related tasks, and helping to predict fits.

Most service animals are dogs because they are so trainable. Trained service dogs tend to be very expensive, though some people with disabilities find a non-profit organization that will cover the costs.

The second kind of assistance animal is an emotional support animal.

Emotional support animals, also called companion animals, do not require special training. ESAs have a strong human-animal bond with their owners, and this bond allows them to give support to people with a mental, emotional, or psychiatric disability. Emotional support animals can help with all kinds of issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic attacks, depression or a traumatic brain injury.

Any domesticated animal can be an emotional support animal, including dogs, cats, birds, miniature horses, and even pot-bellied pigs! Emotional support dogs are the most common, however.

How to get an Emotional Support Animal in Pennsylvania: CertaPet’s Simple 5 Min Process

Emotional support animal dog in Pennsylvania shakes man's paw

  1. When getting an emotional support animal in Pennsylvania, the first step is to get clued up on what exactly emotional support animals are, what they do, and whether one is for you.
  2. The next step is to see if you qualify for an emotional support animal. CertaPet offers a free 5-minute screening process to help you assess if you are eligible for an emotional support dog.
  3. If you are eligible, Certapet will connect you with a licensed mental health professional in Pennsylvania and you could have your ESA letter within 48 business hours. It’s that simple!

Travel Laws (Air Carrier Access Act)

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) protects people with disabilities from discrimination by commercial airlines. As part of this, it protects the rights of people traveling with assistance animals.

This includes both service animals and emotional support animals. The ACAA allows owners to bring their service dog or ESA into the cabin of a commercial aircraft, even if the airline does not usually allow pets. The service dog or ESA travels free of charge.

An emotional support letter is an official document that proves your need for an ESA. It must be less than a year old and on letterhead paper or a prescription pad from a licensed medical doctor or mental health professional. The ESA letter must state the following:

  • That you have a diagnosed mental health condition or mental health-related disability
  • The emotional support animal accompanying you is necessary for your mental health or treatment
  • The type of animal you have as an ESA, and how many
  • That the issuer of the letter is a licensed medical doctor or mental health professional, and you are under their treatment or care for a mental health disability
  • The issuer’s license number, type of license, the license issue date, and the state or jurisdiction where it was issued.

Many commercial airlines have recently tightened their rules regarding bringing emotional support animals on board. Most carriers now require passengers to supply an ESA letter, and some also require the passenger to submit documentation 48 hours in advance.

Some airlines also request additional medical information from a veterinarian.

Employment Laws

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects individuals with disabilities from workplace discrimination. As part of this, only service dogs must be allowed into the workplace, and employers must make reasonable accommodation to support them.

It is not law for your employer to accept your ESA in your workplace.

Housing Laws (Fair Housing Act)

The Fair Housing Act prevents landlords from discriminating against tenants with disabilities. The Act protects people with disabilities in accessing housing and says that landlords must make reasonable accommodation to support tenants with disabilities.

emotional support animal in Pennsylvania home with esa owner

This includes keeping both emotional support animals and service dogs.

ESA Campus Housing

The Fair Housing Act also covers university campuses, so all university residence halls are applicable. Therefore, students with service animals and emotional support animals are protected against housing discrimination.

Exception to Rules

The Acts discussed above have a few notable exceptions, in which case your emotional support animal may not be allowed in certain places.

Unclean animals or those that are aggressive or disruptive (barking or going to the toilet inside, for example) may be barred. If you’re planning on getting an emotional support animal in Pennsylvania, make sure it knows how to behave properly in public.

Punishment for misrepresenting an assistance animal

Unlike other states (such as Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado), Pennsylvania does not have a lawful punishment for misrepresenting an emotional support animal. However, if you are found to be doing this, you may be asked to leave your place of work or housing.

4 Facts You Need to Know Before Receiving Your ESA

Before getting an emotional support animal in Pennsylvania, be sure that you have read the following facts:

  1. Emotional support animals and service animals are not the same, though they are often confused! Federal legislation treats them differently, and they have different roles. See above for full definitions of both.
  2. An emotional support animal must be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional, who does so by issuing an ESA letter. The LMHP must hold a valid license specific to your state, and they must be treating you as a patient for a mental health-related matter.
  3. The only acceptable proof of your need for an emotional support animal is an ESA letter. Any service that offers to certify or register your emotional support animal is a scam. See below for more information on ESA letters.
  4. ESAs don’t have to wear vests or harnesses that identify them in public, though we strongly recommend getting one for clarity! However, a vest or ID badge alone is not enough to identify an ESA. Only an ESA letter can do that.

Where to Find a Suitable ESA!

Any domesticated animal can be an emotional support animal, but dogs are the most common (though emotional support cats are right behind). Rescue dogs can make excellent emotional support animals, so why not visit the shelter to see if you’ll find your new best friend? Other people prefer to train their emotional support animals up from puppies, but bear in mind this can be a big responsibility.

Where to Take Your Furry Companion Animal in PA

Once you have an ESA, you’ll want to go places together! Although ESAs are not guaranteed access to public places and businesses in the same way that service animals are, there are plenty of places to take your emotional support animal in Pennsylvania that are dog-friendly.

Dog Parks and Dog Runs

Taking your emotional support dog to a dog park is a great way to bond and get some exercise.

  • Mario Lanza Dog Park in Philadelphia
  • Falls Township Park in Levittown
  • Roonie’s Canine Corner at Robert Lambert Park in West Goshen

Dog-friendly restaurants and bars

If all that running around has tired you and your emotional support dog out, why not try one of Pennsylvania’s many dog-friendly restaurants?

  • Four Dogs Tavern in West Chester
  • Isaac’s in Lancaster
  • Redfin Blues in Pittsburgh

Resorts, fitness, and spas

If you want to go further afield with your emotional support dog, Pennsylvania has lots of dog-friendly hotels and resorts.

  • Battlefield Bed & Breakfast Inn in Gettysburg
  • Delaware Water Gap / Pocono Mountain KOA in East Stroudsburg
  • Wrightsville Cabin in Lancaster.


During the spring and summer months, there are lots of dog-friendly events that you can attend with your emotional support dog in Pennsylvania.

Fegley’s Allentown Brew Works in Allentown hosts regular Yappy Hour events in aid of various good causes. Lucky’s in Irwin hosts an annual Dog Festival, and Shelly Park in York hosts an annual Honeyfest.

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

ESAs can bring joy and comfort into your life, if you let them. Countless stories and testimonials have been told about the magic of these little creatures. It’s not a joke – emotional support animals can change lives.

But the most important step to getting an emotional support animal in Pennsylvania is to get an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional. If you qualify, CertaPet can help you to connect with an LMHP in your state soon.

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