Getting an Emotional Support Animal in Rhode Island

By: Kathryn Anderson Updated: September 16, 2021

emotional support animal in rhode islandLooking at, or wondering about getting an emotional support animal in Rhode Island? Read on! Emotional support animals, aka ESAs, are a type of assistance animal. They can provide therapeutic benefits to people with many types of emotional or psychological conditions or disability.

Under US federal legislation, people assessed with a disability as being able to benefit from having ESA have some protections. These are around having an emotional support animal with them in rental housing or accommodation and during air travel.

There are parallels between ESAs, trained service animals or therapy animals, but there are also important differences that you need to know. These all apply to get an emotional support animal in Rhode Island.

Emotional Support Animal in Rhode Island: Specific protection

In the United States as a whole, federal laws protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination in their daily lives. This includes any person who has qualified for having an emotional support animal for emotional or psychological reasons.

This is considered a disability, and an emotional support animal has been “prescribed” to be of assistance to that person.

Above view of senior woman holding photograph with ESA dog in Rhode Island

For a person with an ESA, the federal laws provide specific protection for discrimination in situations where are in rented housing and/or traveling by air.

Rhode Island’s Human Rights legislation supports the federal legislation for assistance animals. It is important to know the differences between assistance animals in terms of emotional support animals versus service animals. Emotional support animals are not the same as trained service animals.

This means that your emotional support animal is not allowed in certain public places, as a service animal for someone with a different type of disability would be.

Definition of Assistance Animal

For getting an emotional support animal in Rhode Island, learn the differences in types of animals that people may have for assistance so you refer to your ESA correctly. The animal’s purpose does affect where you may have your animal in public, along with your rights and protection under both federal and state legislation, including the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA).

  • Service Animals:  Service animals are trained specifically to perform tasks for persons with disabilities. This includes animals like guide dogs that help visually impaired, psychiatric service dogs trained to recognize risks for those with a psychiatric disability, and even miniature horses that might be used to assist with movement and mobility aids!
  • Emotional Support Animals: The main purpose of emotional support animals is to provide companionship. The animal itself does not require any specific training. An ESA may be approved for a person with any one of a number of conditions. These include, but are not limited to mood disorders, depression, stress, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental disability or illnesses that affect emotional well-being.
  • Therapy Animals:  Therapy animals spend time with multiple people in group situations. They are not technically considered assistance animals because they do not ‘belong’ to one person.

How to get an Emotional Support Animal in the Rhode Island: CertaPet’s simple 5 min process

Certapet’s process for establishing whether you may qualify for getting an emotional support animal in Rhode Island is simple to do.

  • First, you complete our confidential free confidential pre-screening. This takes a couple of minutes to do online.
  • If you have a psychological or emotional condition or disability that qualifies you for an ESA, will be given the opportunity to connect directly with one of our Licensed Mental Health Professionals (LMHP).
  • ESA letters for people qualifying are usually completed within 48 business hours.

Travel Laws (Air Carrier Access Act)

The Air Carrier Access Act does give people with emotional support animals the right to take their animal with them on aircraft. You cannot just rock up to the check-3`in desk with your ESA though! Airlines need documentation confirming your situation in advance. The key points on air travel with an ESA are:

  • Always check an individual airline’s policies. There have been incidents in recent years with ESA and passengers on flights, so many airlines have very specific and/or additional requirements to take care of the health and safety for everyone on the flight and providing accessible seating.
  • You must notify an airline you intend to fly on with an ESA at least 48 hours in advance.
  • Documentation will be required. This will include having an emotional support letter no older than 12 months old signed by a licensed mental health professional or medical doctor. The letter will confirm you personally qualify for an ESA. Airlines may also ask you for certification from a veterinarian that your ESA is healthy and well.

Employment Laws

Employment laws do not give you the right to have your ESA with you at your workplace.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employer cannot discriminate against anyone based on a disability, but in this instance, an emotional support animal is not considered necessary in a workplace. The ADA does allow people with a disability who qualify for a service animal, such as a seeing-eye dog, to have their animal at work as they are needed to do specific tasks.

Nonetheless, it can be worth asking your boss! Many employers want to offer flexible working conditions and you may be able to come to an arrangement between yourselves.

Housing Laws (Fair Housing Act)

You do have the right to have an emotional support animal in Rhode Island with you in rental accommodation under the Fair Housing Act. Under this Act, even if a property is not normally “pet-friendly housing”, then a landlord or property owner must make “reasonable accommodation” for anyone with disabilities who has an ESA.

There are exceptions to the rules listed below, but in general, this means a person cannot be refused accommodation or charged any additional fees or deposits in advance for housing because they have an ESA.

Property managers or landlords can ask for written verification, such as an ESA letter, confirming that your condition qualifies for an ESA, and recover costs from you if an ESA causes any damage.

ESA Campus Housing

It is a big move, literally and physically into the on-campus housing when you are considering furthering your education at college or university. As housing providers, the “reasonable accommodation” provisions under the Fair Housing Act do apply to universities for their dorms and student housing.

However, each institution does have their own policies and procedures for emotional support animals in residential accommodation.

ESA dog lying on a bed with owner in a college dorm in Rhode Island

Some welcome them, while others, have limitations around species and locations on campus they are allowed and make the decision on a case-by-case basis.

University policies will state the specific documentation they need to process your application to have an ESA in campus accommodation. This will include the documentation needed to support and confirm your mental impairment and reasons you have an ESA.

Exception to Rules

There are exceptions to the rules around housing and travel that apply if:

  • A property manager, or airline, can prove that an ESA is a risk to health and safety and may cause damage or injury to property or other people.
  • An ESA would affect the fundamental nature of a property owner’s business operations or cause them any administrative or financial burden.
  • Your ESA does cause damage to someone else’s property. You can be charged for any damage they cause.
  • You misrepresent your animal as anything other than an emotional support animal.

Punishment for misrepresenting an assistance animal

Yes, if you misrepresent your assistance animal, you can be punished! Always take care to refer to your emotional support animal correctly when you are making any kinds of applications or requests to have it with you anywhere. This means not trying to pass off any emotional support animals as dogs or guide dogs.

In Rhode Island, there is currently a Bill before Senate for legislation around any misrepresentation of pets, companion animals, and ESAs as service dogs to include additional fines and public community service.

4 Facts You Need to Know Before Receiving Your ESA

  1. There are many types of mental health conditions that can benefit from an ESA. A qualified health professional makes that call. They must complete the necessary documentation for it to be official.
  2. ESAs are most often dogs but can also be emotional support cats, as they do not require specific training. The most important factor is that they provide a form of comfort to the person and can help with a person’s sense of well-being.
  3. Emotional support animals are not trained service animals. Unless a place such as a bar, restaurant, or mall, allows pets, you cannot take them into public places.
  4. You do have protection under federal laws for having your ESA in rental accommodation and during air travel if you apply to do so.

Where to Find a Suitable ESA!

You can find a suitable ESA anywhere! The choice is yours. If you already have a preference for an animal type, start there to finding one that you bond with. There are many rescue centers, pet shelters and non-profit organizations hat rehome animals in Rhode Island, along with breeders of cats and dogs if you want a particular pedigree.

Also check for any veterinary care required for particular types of animals, including vaccinations and spay/neuter needs.

Where to Take your Emotional Support Animal in Rhode Island

Emotional support dog with owner spend a day at the park in Rhode Island

Time for some fun! Even though there are restrictions on having your ESA in public places, there are also many pet-friendly locations too. Here are some from around Rhode Island that welcome emotional support dogs:

Dog Parks and Dog Runs

  • South Kingston Dog Park, Wakefield, RI
  • Fort Adams State Park, Newport, RI
  • Chase Farms, Lincoln, RI

Dog-friendly restaurants and bars

  • The Landing, Newport, RI
  • BLU on the Water, East Greenwich RI
  • The National Hotel Tap and Grill, Block Island, RI

Resorts, fitness, and spas

  • Residence Inn by Marriott Newport, Middleton, RI
  • Gansett Cruises, Newport, RI
  • East Bay Bicycle Path, Riverside, RI


  • Bark in the Park, Pawtucket, RI

An Emotional Support Animal in Rhode Island: How to Get Connected with an LMHP in Your State Today!

If you are looking to get connected with a Licensed Medical Health Professional (LMHP) in Rhode Island, we can help! We will connect with an LMHP in your area following completion of our free 5-minute and confidential pre-screening. This gets you underway with establishing whether you have a condition or disability that can be helped by having an emotional support animal in your life.

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