Getting an Emotional Support Animal in South Carolina

By: Kathryn Anderson Updated: September 14, 2021

emotional support animal south carolinaAre you thinking about getting an Emotional Support Animal in South Carolina? Does your dog, cat, or miniature pony help you overcome a psychological disorder? From post-traumatic stress syndrome to depression, phobias, or self-harm, many people rely on the presence of their emotional support animal (ESA).

People owning an emotional support animal in South Carolina need to be aware of both state and federal law. The law offers a spectrum of rights for assistance animals, of which emotional support animals are a branch.

With service animals afforded the greatest access to public places, South Carolina law (as does North Carolina) also offers the ESA some concessions with regard to accommodation and air travel.

Emotional Support Animal in South Carolina: Specific Protection

South Carolina is cracking down on bogus claims from people claiming to own therapy dogs or an emotional support animal. However, when you have a legitimate ESA there is no need to worry. Even so, it’s as well to be aware of both the rights and limitations that come with owning an emotional support animal in South Carolina.

Definition of Assistance Animal

An assistance animal is an umbrella term covering both service animals and emotional support animals. Where things get confusing around an assistance dog is that under South Carolina law, service animals and ESA have different rights.

A service animal is defined as an animal trained to perform tasks to assist a mentally or physically disabled person.  As such, the animal has special training that enables them to do the task. Often trained by a non-profit organization, the classic example is a guide dog trained to assist a person with visual impairment.

Service animals accordingly are allowed access to most public places, including restaurants and theatres.

In contrast, an emotional support animal performs no specific work, other than reassuring their owner with their presence. For example, an ESA may give a person with post-traumatic stress disorder the confidence to go outdoors which they might otherwise lack.

Whilst South Carolina law gives an ESA certain rights, but it does not grant them access to public places normally off limits to pets.  

So, for example, veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD can benefit from an ESA for some events (air travel) but not others (visiting the theatre).

Indeed, even psychiatric service dogs trained to prevent self-harm in distressed people, performing a psychiatric service to their owner, does not enjoy the unrestricted access such as a seeing-eye dog is given.

How to get an Emotional Support Animal in the South Carolina: CertaPet’s Simple 5-minute Process

Getting an emotional support animal in Soth Carolina can be a fairly simple process! If you’re ready to get an emotional support animal in South Carolina, then be sure to talk to one of CertaPet‘s representatives to check out if your pet meets the requirements of an ESA.

Here at CertaPet, we start the process by asking you to take a quick, 5-minute free pre-screening, which takes less than five minutes to complete. It assesses your mental health needs and the role of your pet.

Should you be a fit candidate for an ESA letter then CertaPet can put you in contact with a licensed mental health professional. An LMHP will then further advise you on not only your mental illness but also how your ESA letter can help you They are then able to issue a letter and courier it to you within 48 hours.

Travel Laws (Air Carrier Access Act)

A great advantage of owning an emotional support animal in South Carolina is improved rights to travel with your dog or pet.

Whilst the American Disability Act (ADA) does not cover emotional support animals, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) does. The latter grants the right for an emotional support animal to accompany people with disabilities, mental or physical, on a flight.

ESA cat in an airplane looking out a window in South Carolina

However, to qualify the pet must have a letter written by a licensed mental health professional stating the pet’s role as an emotional support animal. This letter must state the area of the LMHP specialism, be written on headed paper, and less than one year old.

In addition, the airline is within their rights to request 48-hours advance notice of a person’s intention to fly accompanied by an ESA.

Employment Laws

South Carolina law does not give an emotional support animal automatic entry into the owner’s workplace. Indeed, the employer reserves the right to assess each employee on a case-by-case basis, to decide for or against an ESA accompanying them to work. Attitudes to emotional support dogs accompanying Americans with disabilities do vary between employers.

However, an employee’s case is strengthened when in possession of proof the dog is indeed an ESA. The employer may look on your request more leniently when they have sight of the letter from a licensed mental health professional, stating the dog is vital to your mental well-being.

Housing Laws (Fair Housing Act)

It can be tricky to find pet-friendly housing with a grassy area for the pet to enjoy. Many landlords refuse to rent their property to pet owners. If your dog is more than a pet and gives you emotional support, then South Carolina law grants you concessions.

The Fair Housing Act states that landlords are not allowed to discriminate against people owning an emotional support animal in South Carolina. This means the landlord must make reasonable accommodation for your needs.

When you have a letter proving the dog is an ESA, the landlord cannot refuse you a contract and must make fair accommodation to your needs. Neither are they permitted to increase the rent, based on the presence of the ESA. However, the landlord can fairly claim for damage to property caused by the emotional support animal.

Also, if the dog has antisocial habits such as barking, chewing, aggression, or soiling, the landlord can issue a warning. If the latter is not heeded, then they are within their rights to evict you.

ESA and Campus Housing

Great news for students with emotional support animals wishing to live either in university housing or public accommodation.

In South Carolina, by law, emotional support animals are allowed to live in on-campus housing.

Exception to Rules

The owner of an ESA has a duty to ensure the assistance animal behaves appropriately. It is not acceptable for an emotional support animal to be a nuisance, either by their behavior or habits. Should this be the case, then the rights of access granted to them can be withdrawn.

Punishment for Misrepresenting an Assistance Animal

Some people use the label ‘assistance animal’ as a means to gain entry to places where pets are not allowed. This is causing an increasing problem, especially for airlines where the number of uncaged animals on flights has grown markedly.

In South Carolina, the law seeks to preserve the rights of people with genuine assistance animals and can be tough on those that make fraudulent claims.

In South Carolina fines for misrepresentation start at $350 – $1,000 for a first offense. Re-offenders can expect a fine up to $3,000 per offense, plus 10 hours community service.

5 Facts You Need to Know Before Receiving Your ESA

  1. An ESA must be Potty Trained: An airline retains the right to stop an animal (regardless of ESA status) boarding a flight if they are not potty trained. The airline has the right to expect the animal won’t soil for the duration of the flight.
  2. An ESA must not be Disruptive: A landlord can issue a warning and potentially evict an owner whose ESA has antisocial behavior. This includes barking, aggression, or destructive behaviors.
  3. There’s no ESA Register or Certificate:  Be aware there’s no such thing as a register of emotional support animals. An organization is fraudulent if they offer to register or certify an ESA.
  4. Service Dogs and an ESA are Different: Whereas a service dog can enter places where food is served, an ESA cannot
  5. ESA Rights: The principal benefits of having an ESA letter are the right to access air flight and that a landlord cannot refuse to rent on the basis of the tenant owning an ESA

Where to Find a Suitable ESA!

The special thing about an emotional support animal is the bond between you. This is a psychological link, rather than one founded on special training. Thus, you can find a suitable ESA wherever you see a pet that you bond with.

An animal shelter or not-for-profit rescue caring for animals are excellent starting points. Whether it’s an emotional support dog, emotional support cat, or miniature pony, there are animals in desperate need of a loving home. Thus, not only do you benefit from the animal’s support but you could save their life – literally!

Where to Take your Emotional Support Animal

ESA dog with a ball lying on a grass in a park in South Carolina

Bearing in mind your assistance animal doesn’t have automatic rights to all public places, it pays to plan ahead. Owning an emotional support animal in South Carolina, check out the following places that welcome dogs.

Dog Parks and Dog Runs

Myrtle Beach

James Island Country Park

Dog-friendly Restaurants and Bars

Fuel, Charleston

Parson Jack’s Cafe

Resorts, Fitness, and Spas

Ocean Park Resort

Staybridge Suites, Myrtle Beach West


Puppies and Patriots Memorial Day Run, Clemson

Astro Kennels Mock Diving Yappy Hour, Clemson

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

Life can be tough when you suffer from post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, depression, or anxiety disorders. The very fact you rely on an emotional support animal means you may struggle with life. Add into the mix the need to find a licensed mental health professional and this can seem an insurmountable hurdle.

But there is a stress-free way to get connected with an LMHP in South Carolina. Certapet has a simple five-minute pre-screening which helps you iron out the wrinkles. You will quickly find out if your dog qualifies as an emotional support animal.

If the answer is “Yes” then Certapet puts you in contact with a licensed mental health professional in your area.

This makes the whole process seamless and stress-free, and that much-need proof of your pet’s status can be with you in as little as 48 hours.

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