How to get an emotional support animal in California

How to Get an Emotional Support Animal in California

The "Golden State" offers many ideal running areas for dogs, and surveys agree: California cities received high grades for their access to dog parks, walking areas, veterinarians, and pet-friendliness. If you'd like to bring your dog to a restaurant or other public place, California has many dog-friendly businesses. All these benefits make California a great place to get and live with an emotional support animal.

Have you considered having your pet become an emotional support animal for anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges you may face? If you live in California or plan to move here, the following information should be helpful in your decision-making process.

Here are the top three cities and towns in California for getting or having an emotional support animal:

  1. Los Angeles, CA

  2. San Diego, CA

  3. San Jose, CA

Your pet can legally become an emotional support animal

Because emotional support animals (ESA) do not require specific training, a person's pet can qualify as an ESA without jumping through any hoops. The animal's presence is what is therapeutic and helpful to a person with emotional/mental impairments. It doesn't matter if your pet is a puppy, kitten, hedgehog, goldfish, miniature pig, rabbit, or a bird. All domestic pets qualify. There are no age or breed restrictions, either, so even if a city bans pit bulls or rottweilers, yours will qualify!

Places to adopt an emotional support animal in California

If you don't already have a pet, we recommend considering adopting the right one from an adoption center or an SPCA in one of many communities throughout California. Check out the following list:

In Los Angeles, CA:

  • No Kill Los Angeles - This great facility in West Los Angeles is "an initiative led by Best Friends Animal Society that brings together passionate individuals, city shelters and an entire coalition of animal welfare organizations to end the killing of dogs and cats in shelters throughout Los Angeles." Adoption fees range from $25-125 for cats and $100-350 for dogs, depending upon the age of the pet you select as your emotional support animal. No Kill Los Angeles | (424) 208-8840 | 1845 Pontius Ave - Los Angeles, CA 90025
  • SPCALA - Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles (SPCALA) is an independent, nonprofit animal welfare organization serving Southern California since 1877. The Adoption fees range from $115-125 for cats and $140-255 for dogs with various smaller fees for other kinds of animals like rabbits and birds that also make great emotional support animals. spcaLA | (323) 730-5300 | 5026 W. Jefferson Blvd. - Los Angeles, CA 90016

In San Diego, CA:

  • San Diego Humane Society - This center is "an open-admission shelter, is creating a more humane world by inspiring compassion and advancing the welfare of animals and people", while also having helped San Diego become "the largest city in the U.S. to keep healthy and treatable animals from being euthanized." Adoption fees range from $65-130 for cats and $30-200 for dogs with several discount programs available for those looking for a more affordable emotional support animal. San Diego Humane Society | (619) 299-7012 | 5500 Gaines St. - San Diego, CA 92110
  • Helen Woodward Animal Center - This historic facility just north of San Diego on 12 acres of ranch property is a unique nonprofit organization that "benefits the community by providing educational and therapeutic programs for people, as well as humane care and adoption for homeless animals." Please give them a call to discuss potential fees in the adoption of an emotional support animal. Helen Woodward Animal Center | (858) 756-4117 | 6461 El Apajo Road - Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92067

In San Jose, CA:

  • Humane Society Silicon Valley - Established in 1929, Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV) offers "quality adoptions, affordable spaying/neutering, vaccinations and microchipping services, pet care services and education programs to enhance the human-animal bond," making them an ideal choice in the selection of an emotional support animal. Adoption fees range from $10-175 for cats and $175-375 for dogs with lots of special programs available. Humane Society Silicon Valley | (408) 262-2133 | 901 Ames Ave. - Milpitas, CA 95035

The benefits of having an emotional support animal

Aside from the calming, stabilizing effects that an emotional support animal provides to its owner, there are specific rights and protections afforded to the ESA and emotionally disabled owner.

Flying with your emotional support animal

Flying with your emotional support animal

Note: Rules may change January 11, 2021

The bottom line is, it's a breeze for you to fly the friendly skies with your emotional support animal if you live in California! If you have your dogs in a row, that is. By that we mean you'll just need a few things to enjoy smooth sailing, based on the Air Carrier Access Act and recommendations of USA-based airline companies.

The Air Carrier Access Act requires airline companies to allow for physically/emotionally impaired persons to be accompanied in the cabin of the aircraft with an emotional support animal and not be charged a fee. The disabled passenger will need to contact the airline in advance to eliminate any last-minute problems or denials.

Here's What You Need to Know

You'll need a letter from your doctor or therapist that verifies your need for an emotional support animal. This needs to be submitted to the airline company in advance of your flight. Although it's not required by law, airlines recommend that you have identifying patches, a vest on your dog (or its crate, if it's kept in one), and a service leash.

Places you can take your emotional support animal for exercise before a flight

In California, before a long flight or trip, an emotional support animal needs to be relieved. It's important to avoid "accidents" on the plane. Some airports have "Pet Relief Areas", but in case they do not, you'll need to find other places to take your dog before a flight. It's helpful for your emotional support animal to stretch his or her legs before a flight, too. In fact, if you can provide your emotional support dog with vigorous exercise just before a flight, he or she will usually be much calmer during the check-in, security checkpoint and flying process. The following are top-rated dog parks near these major California airports:

Near Los Angeles, CA - Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

  • Inside airport: There is one indoor animal relief station for your emotional support animal currently installed at Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT), and is located to the South (left) just before you enter the great hall, next to the bridge taking passengers to Terminal Four.
  • Longwood Dog Park - 13077 Villosa Pl, Playa Vista, CA 90094
  • Bluff Creek Dog Park - 12604 Bluff Creek Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90094

Near San Diego, CA - San Diego International Airport (SAN)

  • Inside airport: There is an indoor, post-security animal relief area in Terminal 2 West next to the human bathrooms between Gates 46 and 47 with many amenities for both you and your emotional support animal.
  • Little Italy Dog Park - 254 W Date St, San Diego, CA 92101
  • Nate's Point Dog Park - 2500 Balboa Dr, San Diego, CA 92103

Near San Jose, CA - Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC)

  • Inside airport: A pet relief area for your emotional support animal is located outside, north of ticketing area; post-security in passenger walkway between Gates 16 and 17.
  • Hart's Dog Park - 194 W Santa Clara St, San Jose, CA 95113
  • Discovery Dog Park - 410 Park Ave, San Jose, CA 95110

Living with Your Emotional support animal in No-Pet Housing

Living with your emotional support animal in no-pet housing

The Fair Housing Act requires that emotional support animals must be allowed to live with their disabled handlers, regardless of pet policies. In California, the dogs should be able to accompany them to all general access areas of a residential complex, unless that would impose "undue financial and administrative burden or would fundamentally alter the nature of the housing provider's services." Moreover, the disabled tenant cannot be charged pet fees or deposits.

The handler must request accommodation from the housing provider, and they must typically submit appropriate documentation verifying the need for an emotional support animal. No limitations regarding breed, size, or weight may be applied by the housing provider.

Best apartments and condominiums for your emotional support animal

If you live in California or have considered moving here, there are apartment complexes and condominiums for every budget and lifestyle. Remember, rental/leased housing complexes can't legally deny you, based on the fact that you have a dog, cat, or other animal that is a legal emotional support animal — even when their policies prohibit pets. Check out these examples of places to live in popular California cities for owners of emotional support animals:

In Los Angeles, CA:

  • Modest price: 756 S Normandie - While a simple but affordable studio, it's location in central LA in the Koreatown neighborhood makes it perfect for a young professional and their emotional support animal. Also has great appliances, nice hardwood, and gorgeous backsplash design. Units start at $1,350+ for a studio. Location: 756 S Normandie Ave, Los Angeles CA 90005
  • High end: The Highland - At this luxurious complex, you can enjoy "a lavish lifestyle in one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Los Angeles." It offers boutique architecture, high-end amenities, and close proximity to many entertainment hot spots in Hollywood for you and your emotional support animal to enjoy! Units start at $2,497+ for a two bedroom. Location: 1411 N Highland Ave, Hollywood, CA 90028

In San Diego, CA:

  • Modest price: AEON Euclid - An affordable option in the heart of San Diego that doesn't have to compromise on quality for you and your emotional support animal's comfort given its great hardwood flooring, high-end appliances, and included washer/dryer. Units start at $1,075+ for a studio apartment. Location: 4153-4159 Euclid Ave, San Diego, CA 92105
  • High end: Pinnacle on the Park - Upscale residence that provides the "ideal East Village San Diego living experience" for an emotional support animal owner. Incredible on-site amenities like a lap pool and private park. Units start at $2,550+ for a two bedroom. Location: 424 15th St, San Diego, CA 92101

In San Jose:

  • Modest price: Misora - Despite being the most affordable in the area, this complex still packs a ton of benefits that make the higher price tag worth it to any emotional support animal owner. Incredible interior design, high-end appliances, and top-notch amenities like a rooftop dog park! Units start at $2,280 for a studio. Location: 388 Santana Row, San Jose, CA 95128
  • High end: Nineteen800 - For those looking for the highest class possible or families with emotional support animals, this complex is the ideal choice with its quartz countertops, European-style cabinetry, hardwood-style flooring, and jaw dropping amenities like a deck pet park with a pet shower. Units start at $4,744+ for a three bedroom. Location: 19700 Vallco Pkwy, Cupertino, CA 95014

Get an ESA Letter

For a person to legally qualify for an emotional support animal (ESA), he/she must be considered emotionally disabled by a licensed mental health professional (therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, etc.), as evidenced by a properly formatted prescription letter. Some airlines and property managers will accept a verification form completed by a family doctor, however.

If you're not currently working with a licensed mental health professional, our network of licensed mental health professional are legitimate and highly accredited who specialize in writing these letters for airlines and property managers.

Register Your Pet as an Emotional Support Animal

Registration is voluntary in California, not a legal requirement. Registering your pet as an ESA, however, not only legitimizes your ESA (making him/her look official), but helps eliminate the hassles and confrontation you'll encounter without it. That's the purpose of National Service Animal Registry: To make life easier for disabled persons who travel in public with emotional support animals. Register with National Service Animal Registry.