Before moving to Mexico, I had already had my golden retriever, Mila, for about four years. Our last six months in the US, we had been traveling around California.
It was challenging getting around. I didn’t have a car, and she couldn’t ride on the bus or trains.
The only way we could quickly get around was in Uber or Lyft. It was expensive, especially for traveling long distances.
While traveling in California, we stayed with some friends living in Bakersfield. My friends there suggested I register her as an Emotional Support Dog (ESA) to make traveling easier. (If you have a service or support dog, here is a good resource for finding a good service dog vest).
Initially, I had some reservations because I didn’t think I had the need or deserved it.
I’ve had trouble managing my emotions most of my adult life because of trauma from my childhood. But, I still didn’t think that I was deserving to get certified to have an emotional support dog. And at the time, I didn’t even know what it meant.
Nevertheless, I took my friend’s advice, swallowed my pride, and called the psychiatrist they recommended. We scheduled an appointment for an hour-long phone consultation.
I was in Bakersfield, and the doctor was down in San Diego, and the call was mainly a psychiatric evaluation.
When we started the call, I was a little nervous. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be that vulnerable with someone over the phone. And I was very concerned the psychiatrist was going to recommend medication (I had no interest in going back on pills).
It felt strange, at first, that I was doing all of this so I could travel with my dog. Nevertheless, I spent the next hour pouring out my heart and soul over the phone to the psychiatrist.
After reviewing my entire life, family history, and overall mental health, she approved the prescription to have Mila as an emotional support dog.
Before the end of the call, the doctor told me, “Listen. I’m going to give you your letter. But first, I want you to understand; I think it will be good for your overall emotional well-being to have Mila as an emotional support dog.” I was surprised.
I would soon discover, the psychiatrist was correct.
Preparing for Travel with an Emotional Support Dog
While it was awkward, our first flight was from San Francisco to Phoenix, Arizona. It felt strange walking into the airport.
I felt like everyone was staring at us (little did I know that sensation would only intensify when we traveled in Mexico).
I felt like I was doing something wrong or illegal—but I wasn’t. It was a new experience.
A lot of people were watching us. Most people were amicable and curious. Many people asked, of course, if they could pet her.
They’d ask many questions about having an emotional support dog and flying with her on the plane. Some would ask my reason for having an emotional support dog.
Which, by law, I do not have to explain the specifics to anyone. In the beginning, it was awkward, but I learned to adapt.
Our first flight was to Phoenix to stay with some friends. And as it turns out, they had a second home in Monterrey, Mexico.
Back then, they weren’t going to the house in Monterrey often and needed someone to stay at their home and look after it.
After traveling around California for six months, I already knew I didn’t have the energy to do the whole “Digital Nomad” thing, and I already wanted to find a place to call home.
Traveling around California was expensive, and I was ready for a different kind of adventure. Going to Mexico was the perfect opportunity, and perhaps, it would give Mila and me a place to settle down for a while.
It took a while to get all of our affairs in order, save up the money, and get all the paperwork ready for international travel with Mila. At then, finally, and at the last minute, everything came together.
Mila’s vaccinations were all current, and I got my airplane ticket to Monterrey. It was official; we were heading to Mexico!
Arriving in Mexico with an Emotional Support Dog
Our second flight was from Las Vegas to Monterrey. When we arrived in Mexico, I spoke very little Spanish.
At first, everything was confusing and a little scary, but also exciting and new. It was a unique experience, one I had certainly never had before. And, I was doing it with my dog, Mila! I could hardly wrap my head around what was happening.
Having her in her Emotional Support Animal vest, though not required by law, certainly made everything a lot easier. It was a lot easier not to have to explain every single detail to everyone.
As I would learn, most people at the airports in Mexico had never heard of a “Perro de Apoyo Emocional” before.
From the moment we arrived at the airport, she was terrific!
When we got on the airplane, it was apparent just how truly well trained Mila was.
Per the law, Mila sat at my feet for the duration of the flight.
Luckily for us, the airline was kind enough to move us to the first row behind the bulk-head in coach for her comfort.
When we arrived in Monterrey, I had a hard time understanding what the immigration agent was trying to tell me because of my poor Spanish.
It was a little confusing, but after some translation help, we passed through customs and headed down to the baggage.
Once I got my bags, we headed outside to find a grassy area where she could go to the bathroom and so I could have a cigarette to calm my nerves. Then, I ordered an Uber to take us across town to my friends’ house.
Once the Uber arrived and we got settled in for the hour-long drive across Monterrey, I was immediately in awe and wonder by the city’s scenery out the car window. Mexico was NOTHING like anything I had imagined. It is better!
And there was Mila, gazing up at me with her big smile. For her, it didn’t matter where we were. We were together!
Looking down at her gave me peace. I realized, then, everything was going to be just fine because we had each other.
Fast forward, it’s been over three and a half years since we moved to Mexico. I have my residency now, and we are currently living in Playa del Carmen, about 1½ hours south of Cancun.
I still do not know how much, if any, service dog training Mila had in the past. And unfortunately, I have no way of knowing for sure. But the truth is, it doesn’t matter.
From what little research I have been able to do, I learned one of the breeders in San Diego might have been hers.
When I reached out to them, even though they couldn’t confirm anything, they said they would have provided some level of support training with her if she was theirs.
But, what I can tell you for sure is that in the time we have lived here in Mexico, we’ve had many enriching experiences together, in part because she’s so calm when we travel.
We’ve already explored many places in Mexico together—including Merida, Mexico City (at least five times together), Morelia, Tampico, Tulum, and here in Playa del Carmen.
In most of the bigger cities, especially since they have Uber, it’s relatively easy to get around with Mila.
Life in Playa del Carmen with an Emotional Support Dog
Here in Playa del Carmen, we do not have Uber. And because of the taxi union, it’s unlikely we’ll have the service any time soon.
It’s frustrating without Uber because I either have to negotiate with a taxi driver or call a friend whenever I need to go anywhere with Mila.
Most of the time, transporting Mila in a taxi is usually double or triple the price—even now with my improved Spanish. They see a “gringo con dinero.”
The good news is that it’s not so bad once we get out of Playa del Carmen.
Fortunately, in the three and half years we’ve lived here, we’ve had many adventures together—Mila has even gone with me to a Kundalini Yoga class, a breathwork retreat, and even a two-day ayahuasca ceremony!
Ayahuasca with an Emotional Support Dog
In 2019, Mila and I left Playa del Carmen for a few months to travel around Mexico. We started by heading over to Merida. While in Merida, we stayed at El Tigre de Santiago (formerly Siete Cuatro Guest House).
Throughout our travels, we’d end up staying almost seven weeks at El Tigre de Santiago. It became our home for a short time, and they treated us like family.
Unfortunately, they didn’t know Mila well yet. So, I couldn’t leave her there while I went to the weekend ayahuasca retreat.
So, I contacted the guy organizing the ayahuasca ceremony, and I asked if I could bring her with me. He said, “of course,” and he was excited to have her there.
Initially, I thought we would have a cabana or something where she could stay during the ceremony at night.
As it turns out, when we arrived, we were sleeping outdoors, more or less in an open field surrounded by trees.
There was plenty of free space where I could let her off her leash and be a dog.
At first, all I could think was, what would happen at night? Could she get attacked by jaguars or something?
So, I talked to the organizer and asked him if I should tie her leash up to a tree or something. He replied, “Would you want to be tied up to a tree?” I said no.
Then he said, “She’s a dog. Let her wander around and be free. She may be a little lethargic the next morning because, most likely, she may eat the vomit or human feces” (a normal part of the purging process during ayahuasca).
So, that night, I shared my first ayahuasca experience with Mila. In the beginning, she slept on the ground beside my tent, and she was quite content.
As it turned out, though, most of the night, she was rarely with me—that I was aware of, anyway.
Amazing, during the night, when I did think of her, then, suddenly, she was right there by my side. It was like magic!
Confident she was safe, we both slept the next day restfully. She must have been up the whole night because she was exhausted.
The second night was similar to the first, and again, I let her wander around off her leash.
Beyond my own ayahuasca experience, by the next morning, many of the people who participated came up and said that when they thought of her, she was present for them too.
She ended up helping many of them as well. They adored her, Mila, and thanked me for bringing her.
At the end of the ceremony, the shaman had us sit together in a row of chairs. As he went down the line, blessing each person individually, Mila walked by his side the entire time.
And as he blessed each person, she would wag her tail, tapping each person on the knees as she passed them. When he finished, he went up to the front to talk.
Mila sat down right beside him the whole time. She was looking at me, but she sat beside him until he finished.
It was evident to me that she, having her there, happened for a reason. She ended up helping a lot of people that weekend. It was a beautiful and unique experience.
Before we left, the ceremony organizer and the shaman both came up to me said, “you have an extraordinary dog, and you need to take good care of her.” I exclaimed, “of course!” and that I understood.
When Your Dog Needs an Emotional Support Human
Fireworks are very popular in Mexico. It doesn’t seem to matter the occasion. Unlike in the US, when we have fireworks once a year on the fourth of July, it can be year-round here in Mexico.
About two years ago, we were here in Playa del Carmen on New Year’s Eve. That night our neighbors were shooting off many fireworks until almost 6 AM. They were so loud, Mila was terrified the whole night. It was a very long night for both of us.
And the experience has been the cause of some post-traumatic stress for Mila. Loud noises never used to bother her.
The summer after, while we were traveling, when we would get to the airport or sometimes even at some of the AirBnBs or hotels, she’d get nervous and start shaking until I could calm her down.
On one occasion, when we were leaving Morelia to return to Mexico City, she got so nervous at the counter they almost didn’t let us fly. I didn’t think they were going to allow us to board the plane.
I was getting very concerned. I wasn’t sure how we were going to get on the flight. After about fifteen minutes, I was able to calm Mila down and reassure the ticket agent, everything was fine.
Fortunately for us, the other passengers waiting in line behind us were very patient, kind, and understanding that day.
One young man even helped translate between English and Spanish for me with the ticket agent. I’m not sure we would have made it on the plane without his help.
As we boarded the flight, the attendant asked if Mila could go up in the cockpit for a photo with the pilots. I was not invited, of course, only Mila. I obliged. And she went up in the cockpit and said hi to the pilots.
During the entire flight, I kept thinking, “this doesn’t happen very often,” and how great it would be to share on Instagram. So, when we landed in Mexico City, I waited for everyone else to get off the plane.
Then, I went up and spoke to the same flight attendant and asked if we could go up to the cockpit together so I could take a photo.
It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences! Probably more fun for me than Mila, but still a lot of fun!
Creativity Planning with an Emotional Support Dog
Planning and being prepared, I’ve learned to find creative ways to travel and live here in Mexico with Mila, my emotional support dog possible.
It took a lot of learning and patience, but we’ve found many ways to make it easier and more fun.
Interjet and AeroMexico are my preferred airlines when flying in Mexico with Mila. As long as I have all my documents prepared and ready when we get to the check-in counter, we’ve had minimal problems.
Sometimes going through security can be challenging because they have to check to ensure that Mila and my carry-on are secure.
But, Mila goes through the process calmly, like a pro. As I said, it’s fantastic, because it’s as if she already knows what to do.
I am fortunate because Mila is a tranquil dog, friendly and loveable with everyone. Mila has made many friends all over the country.
If you consider traveling with a pet, getting them registered as an emotional support animal is not a decision you should take lightly. I advise you to do so consciously for your pet’s safety and well-being, yours, and the people around you.
I’ve read online that there have been many problems because many people have taken advantage of the system to bring dogs (or other animals) ill-suited for traveling for long periods on an airplane.
Using common sense, good judgment, and being alert and mindful throughout the travel experience is essential.
By the time we reach our destination and settle in at the Airbnb or pet-friendly hotel, both Mila and I are exhausted.
It takes a lot of energy, patience, and awareness to travel responsibly with an emotional support dog.
Mila and I have a strong bond; it’s a very symbiotic, beautiful, and loving connection.
It’s a real blessing, just having Mila has saved my life.
And if it weren’t for being able to register to have an emotional support dog, I would have never been able to travel here without her.
We have shared many wonderful experiences during our time in Mexico.
Even during a mourning period of a relationship break-up I had here the first year, she’s been here by my side the whole time.
Mila has a great life in Mexico. She’s the only dog I know of who’s swam in the Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico! And, been to an ayahuasca ceremony!
Learning a new language and culture is not easy; it takes patience, awareness, and consistency.
Traveling around Mexico, flying in airplanes and riding in Ubers to swimming at the beach, and sharing many experiences, we have had to learn, grow, and adapt to the occasion.
Creativity is about more than just art, music, or design. It’s how each of us consciously and creatively chooses to problem-solve the challenges in our lives.
With my emotional support dog, Mila, by my side, I have learned to adapt and have had the opportunity to grow—having many experiences of personal transformation, emotional healing, and spiritual growth.
Mila is my angel, my little princess, and my best friend. I am fortunate and blessed to have such a fantastic companion to share this journey with me.
Having her here with me (especially the last year during the COVID pandemic) has been a blessing and privilege. I’m not sure I would have survived without her. I can confidently say she has saved my life.
Living creatively with an emotional support dog in Mexico is not easy, but it is possible! It requires conscious planning, patience, and a little creative ingenuity. And the rewards are immeasurable.
From flying on airplanes, and swimming in the Caribbean ocean, to sharing an ayahuasca ceremony and making many friends along the way, I have the privilege of sharing this adventure with the most wonderful companion by my side.
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