The Facts About Emotional Support Animals

Most people have heard of service animals, but emotional support animals are becoming more and more common these days. Before reaching college, I had never heard of such a thing. However, as an advocate for those suffering from mental illnesses, I loved that such “medicine” exists in the modern world.

Here’s the lowdown on everything you need to know about emotional support animals!

What is an emotional support animal?

Usually in the form of a dog, ESAs provide comfort and companionship for those who may suffer from mental or emotional conditions. However, animals like cats, snakes, and ducks have been used as ESAs.

Do ESA’s have special training?

Unlike service animals, ESA’s do not have to complete specific physical tasks other than provide emotional stability for their owner, therefore they do not need specialized training. That being said, they should be well behaved especially when their handlers take them to public places.

Where are ESA’s allowed to go?

Similar to a service animal, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) must comply with Fair Housing Act and allow residents to keep their emotional support animal. Additionally, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) mandates that airlines allow people with mental health issues be permitted to fly with their ESA. However, that’s where the similarities to service animals ends when it comes to access rights. Unlike service animals, ESA’s cannot go into any and all public places. If you plan on bringing your ESA somewhere with you, call ahead and check with the business first to ensure they will allow your ESA.

Who qualifies for an ESA?

In order to qualify your pet as an ESA, the option must be psychiatric recommended. According to Michigan State University College of Law, ESAs can assist people with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other emotional and psychiatric disabilities.

How can you verify your ESA is legitimate?

In order to verify to landlords and airlines that your ESA is legitimate, you need a letter dated within the last year from a mental health care professional that explains how the “reasonable accommodation” of your animal assists with your disability. According to federal law, whether it be a service animal or ESA, you do not have a vest to prove your dog’s status nor do you have to disclose your disability.

Why do ESA’s get a bad reputation?

When I first heard about ESAs, I wanted to find out the quickest way to receive a certification. However, after researching the topic, I found this tactic gives ESAs a bad reputation. One simple Google search can enable someone to find multiple websites that will provide a recommendation from a health care “professional” for a one time fee. This scam is pulled frequently to avoid apartment fees for pets, gain access to housing that doesn’t permit pets, to to keep pets in the cabin of the planes, or to avoid extra fees when traveling by plane with a pet. We’ve all heard the horror stories of bad ESA behavior on planes. More often than not, it’s because people took a shortcut to get their pet ESA status even though they don’t necessarily qualify for an ESA.

Why should people avoid paying to get their pets ESA status online?

If you were healthy and your friend was sick and there was only enough cold medication in the house for one person, would you take it, forcing your friend to go to the store to get the medication they need? Of course not! This logic applies to ESAs. Due to the bad reputation animals who shouldn’t be ESAs create, the hoops that people who actually need an ESA have to jump through are getting more stringent. Airlines in particular are starting to tighten their policies on ESAs. By bypassing the appropriate methods to get your pet certified and actually making sure you need an ESA, it makes it harder for the people who have actually done things by the book and legitimately need an ESA. If you don’t need an ESA, please don’t go online to get your pet certified just because you want easier access to housing or you want to take your pet with you on your next vacation.

Why are ESA’s beneficial for people with mental disorders?

When it comes to mental disorders, many people shy away from getting help. As someone who personally struggles with anxiety, I never knew all my options to take control of my illness. While I do not like being put on medication for my anxiety, an ESA can be a great alternative. In the end, handlers of ESAs gain a companion to help them as much as they need.

If you or someone you know are in a similar situation, take the time to consider your options thoroughly and speak with a mental health professional to determine if an ESA is a good option for you.

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