Emotional support dogs aren’t specific with the breed. The attachment and affection they give humans are enough to transcend any breed stereotype, much so if it’s a Pitbull. Emotional support comes in different shapes, sizes, and breeds. However, registering a Pitbull as emotional support animal can be a tumultuous process, especially for some states and countries.
Actually, the American Disabilities Act (ADA) states that any dog breed or animal species can be an emotional support animal (ESA). But as much as the federal law protects the rights of any dog breed, Pitbulls’ fate lies on the Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL) that some states enforce.
To help you in registering your Pitty as an ESA, I’ve discussed here what an ESA is and the process that entails the registration.
What is an emotional support animal?
An emotional support animal is a companion animal that provides emotional and mental comfort to its handler. The ADA states that just about any species can serve as ESA as long as it emotionally supports a person.
ESAs provide therapeutic support to their handlers. Mostly, they are assigned to individuals with PTSD, depression, autism, bipolar disorder, and other emotional instabilities.
But can you register a dog as an emotional support animal without training? ESAs don’t need to undergo any special training, unlike service dogs. Since ESAs are not expected to perform tasks or emergency response, it’s in the owner’s discretion if they want to subject their pet to training.
Before you register your Pitbull as an emotional support animal, you have to know that they don’t enjoy the same law protection as service dogs do. Still, they are protected against any prejudice in terms of housing and travel.
However, this part can get tricky for emotional support animals. States or cities with BSL may defeat the protection that the law provides for ESA. This means that landlords and the area itself can seize or deny the ownership of a Pitbull.
As much as all states and cities in the U.S. respect ESA, some have stricter rules when it comes to the so-called “dangerous” breeds.
For the emotional support animal to enjoy the protection of the law, it should be duly registered as an ESA. Also, you should get an ESA letter from a mental health therapist or qualified physician.
Confused with a service dog, therapy dog, and emotional support dog? Here’s Zak George to discuss it:
Understanding Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL)
BSL or Breed-Specific Legislation is a law that imposes the ban of certain breeds due to its predisposed aggression and possible harm. This includes the “dangerous” breeds like Pitbulls, Dobermans, Rottweilers, and more.
Many localities have been fighting the passage of such law as it discriminates a dog breed based on stereotype. Also, it’s a fact that Pitbulls are who we raise them. If they were raised as discipline dogs, they would be as friendly as other breeds.
Still, states can pass laws that will prohibit the ownership of Pitbull breeds. The good thing, though, is that some cities or states may provide exemption given proper documentation.
Overall, registering a Pitbull as emotional support animal won’t be easy. So before you adopt one, make sure that your locality doesn’t have any laws that may take away your dog.
Laws protecting ESA
Basically, emotional support animals have limited protection from the ADA and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACCA) as well as the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The protections these laws provide don’t guarantee that Pitbulls will be given equal treatment at all times.
The above-mentioned laws only give you the right to live with your Pitbull ESA even if the landlord has breed-specific rules. Also, the ACCA allows you to travel with your dog (in-cabin or not) without any hassle given that the airlines allow so.
On the other hand, the Fair Housing Act gives landlords protection by letting them ask for further documentation of the disability. The person handling the ESA should show an ESA letter and proof of the need to have the emotional support animal. However, such inquiry shouldn’t violate the medical record privacy of the person.
However, you can’t bring your dog to establishments that ban animals. Unlike service dogs, ESAs don’t enjoy this freedom. This makes perfect sense because ESAs aren’t usually trained for obedience and they can be a threat to other people regardless of breed.
The truth about ESA dogs is that they can’t access areas that don’t permit animals. Regardless if you have an ESA letter, it wouldn’t be enough to let your pet in.
Tasks of ESA Pitbulls
Most of the time, ESAs provide companionship to its handlers. Their presence gives emotional support that will improve the quality of life of the person. So can you register a dog as an emotional support animal even if it’s not trained? Yes.
ESAs can be assigned to psychiatric and physically challenged individuals who need emotional support. Overall, these dogs should help in managing emotional breakdowns and anxiety attacks.
Although they aren’t trained to paw, retrieve medicine, or the likes, their companionship should yield benefits.
Just remember that emotional support animals aren’t considered as service animals. Also, ESAs are different from psychiatric service animals. The latter is also called therapy animals.
Psychiatric service animals are trained to perform specific tasks while providing the same companionship of ESAs.
If you want your Pitty to become a psychiatric service animal, it needs to undergo intensive obedience and task training. Also, it can’t live with other dogs in your house.
How to register your Pitbull as an ESA
There’s no official registry for ESA dogs. When registering a Pitbull as emotional support animal, all you need to acquire is an ESA letter from your physician or a licensed therapist. Take note that the letter should be filled out by a professional mental health practitioner. An ESA letter from a family doctor isn’t recognized most of the time.
If you’re worried about the validity of your Pitty’s ESA letter, it’s best to tap the help of a therapist with expertise in animal therapy. This person will provide solid proof that you really need an ESA.
Also, a licensed therapist will identify if you are qualified to have an emotional support dog. Remember, the Pitbull will live with you and you are responsible for its welfare just like a typical dog owner.
What should the ESA letter state?
A legitimate ESA letter should indicate important information about your condition and why you need the Pitbull. Basically, this should be the structure of the ESA letter. You don’t have to worry since most licensed therapists would know about this:
🐕Your complete name
🐕Information about your disability in line with the standards of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders.
🐕Specific federal laws that protect you and the ESA
🐕Proof that you can’t perform a specific daily chore because of the condition
🐕The emotional support dog is prescribed by a licensed mental health practitioner
Make sure that your letter includes all this information. Also, it’s important that your ESA letter isn’t dated a year later than the current date. This is to ensure that your registration is valid and up-to-date.
Here, Dog Paw Blog shares the process of registering a dog as an ESA:
ESA letter vs. ESA registry
Aside from an ESA letter, some websites offer their so-called “ESA registry” where you get to acquire a letter in exchange for a certain fee.
If you happen to encounter this website, don’t bite into their offer. More often than not, these are fraud sites that milk money from the needs of people.
The law doesn’t require you to register on any website or platform. As long as you have a valid ESA letter, it would be enough to prove that your Pitbull is a qualified ESA.
There’s no other way to qualify for an ESA other than securing the necessary letter from a professional therapist. Sure, you may also opt for an ESA card or license but the law doesn’t require these either and is used for convenience alone. Registering a Pitbull as emotional support animal shouldn’t cost you extra fees.
Problems associated with Pitbull ESAs
Usually, there are no issues with emotional support dogs given that you know the limitations of owning one. However, if you own a Pitbull, things would take a drastic turn.
You should know that the following issues may arise in some situations:
The public has grown biased against Pitbulls as they think that these dogs are vicious. However, if trained well, Pitties can be friendly and welcoming. Just to prevent any commotion, make sure that you leash your Pitbull whenever you’re bringing it out. This is also a matter of keeping your dog safe.
🐕Issues with the landlord
Some landlords would still deny accommodation if they knew that you own a Pitbull. When this happens, you can file for an ADA violation given that you have a legitimate ESA letter. Based on the Fair Housing Act, no breed should be discriminated if it’s owned as a service or emotional support dog.
If you’re moving or traveling to another state or city with your Pitbull as an ESA, take the time to check their local legislation. If you happen to bring your pooch in a BSL area, the authorities could seize it even if you have an ESA letter.
This has happened before where the owners are forced to leave the area just to save their Pitbull ESAs.
Some airlines would have strict policies about the “dangerous” breeds. Below, I’ve discussed in length about which airlines don’t allow Pitbulls both in in-cabin and as luggage.
Where are ESAs allowed?
Basically, if the establishment states that they don’t allow pets, your emotional support dog can’t accompany you. This is unless, of course, if they make an exemption.
The good thing with ESAs is that you will enjoy the protection of the FHA and the ACCA. However, that only goes as far as flying in-cabin with your pet and preventing discrimination in your accommodation.
Since ESA Pitbulls don’t usually have proper training, they could pose a threat to the public. For example, if you bring your Pitty inside a restaurant, the food will be an irresistible distraction. In contrast, service animals know how to respond on such a situation which is why they can accompany their handlers inside.
Airlines that ban Pitbulls (even as ESA)
In the U.S., most of the major airline carriers have rules about Pitbulls and other breeds. Here are some of them and what you should know before flying with your ESA:
Delta Airlines is notorious for banning Pitbulls on their flight. Sure, they welcome service dogs and support animals but in July 2023, they officially banned Pitbulls on their flights. A lot of people barked back on Delta Airlines decision, but it remains in effect up until today.
Even American Airlines don’t accept Pitbulls even as a pet or a support/service animal. They reasoned out that Pitties are flat-nosed dogs which are known to be highly sensitive on air pressure changes. At least, they did not label Pitbulls as dangerous dogs.
According to their policies, Alaskan Airlines will accept support and service animals in their flights BUT they also ban Pitbulls and other snub or flat-nosed breeds. Alaskan Airlines also indicated that they won’t ship dangerous animals, though they didn’t refer to Pitties directly.
Airlines that accept Pitbulls
If you’re traveling with your ESA Pitbull, you’re lucky since there are still some airlines that fly with this breed.
As long as your pooch can fit in their crate standard, Allegiant Airlines will likely allow you to fly with your doggo in-cabin.
Like Allegiant Airlines, JetBlue will accept Pitbulls as long as it’s within the size that they permit. Also, the dog should in a crate and that you can present an ESA letter and further documentation.
Registering a Pitbull as emotional support animal is challenging, especially for areas with BSL and restrictions. Still, with the right process and knowledge, you can live with your Pitty.
Regardless of the breed, science has proven that pets can provide comfort and emotional relief to their owners. Although BSL is still a hindrance to some owners, Pitbulls can be a great support dog.
The key here is to check the local legislation and to plan your dog ownership ahead of time if you’re planning to have a Pitbull as ESA.