Statistics indicate that 1 in 4 Americans are living with a physical or mental disability. It can be difficult for these people to manage simple tasks, including things like coping with stress, picking and finding items, and navigating independently. One of the methods for helping emotionally deprived people involves keeping an emotional support animal (ESA). ESAs help people relieve loneliness by providing companionship and can also help with anxiety, depression, and certain phobias.
But before you get an emotional support animal for yourself, here’s what you need to know:
1. Do proper research about ESAs
Emotional support animals aren’t like usual pets. While owning pet animals is a big decision in itself, ESAs require owners to be more cautious. Unlike domestic pets, owners must get an ESA letter, which is a legal document that differentiates an emotional support or assistance animal from a regular pet. This letter also serves as proof of a person’s emotional or mental disability and that the pet is a part of the treatment. Though most people prefer owning dogs, you can also choose cats, fish, frogs, or other animals.
2. Get a licensed professional’s approval
You must contact a licensed mental health professional to review your case and complete the ESA letter needed to get an emotional support animal. Ensure that the LMHP is licensed to practice in your state. For example, if you live in Arizona, you must find a licensed practitioner within the state to complete your ESA letter and application and specify details of ESAs and service pets you want. You can contact the following mental health practitioners to get your ESA letter:
- A Psychiatrist
- A Psychologist
- A licensed nurse practitioner
- A licensed clinical social Worker (LCSW)
- A licensed marriage and family therapist
3. ESAs are not service animals
While ESAs provide much-needed emotional support, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t regard these pets as service animals. Unlike ESAs, which are primarily there for emotional support, service pets are always needed by their owners to perform essential medical services, such as licking a PTSD patient’s hand to inform them of an upcoming panic attack or finding medication. The Department of Transportation also considers ESAs domestic pets, so they may not be allowed in places where only service animals are allowed. This may also include some travel restrictions.
4. ESAs usually don’t need special training
One of the major differences between service animals and ESAs is that the former are trained to help people with specific disabilities. For instance, dogs are the most popular choice for service animals and are trained to help differently-abled people overcome a physical disability such as trouble while walking or seeing. Emotional support animals, however, help the person merely by being there; their presence helps overcome stress, anxiety, and loneliness. So, ESAs are not extensively trained to perform highly specific tasks.
5. Ensure the animal isn’t bothersome
You must ensure your ESA isn’t a nuisance to anyone in public spaces. While landlords can’t legally deny ESAs entry into a building nor evict you for owning one, they can still take legal action if the animal bothers other tenants, which may eventually lead to eviction. As the owner, you’re responsible for your pet’s behavior. If your emotional support dog starts barking and lunging at another person, you may get in trouble. So try not to make your ESA a problem for other people.
6. Ensure the ESA is friendly with other pets
Getting an ESA also involves making necessary adjustments if you own other pets. For instance, you must ensure the ESA is friendly with other domestic pets in the house and doesn’t attack them. If you have an emotional support dog, it may want to be the alpha in the house. Hence you must ascertain there’s no conflict between it and another pet dog living in your home. These adjustments are necessary for your continued health as well as the well-being of your ESA and other pets.
7. You’re responsible for the ESA’s well-being
The relationship you share with your ESA is symbiotic; taking care of it will also contribute to your health. Ensure the pet gets enough exercise, a wholesome diet, and regular medical checkups to ensure it is fit and healthy and able to provide you with the support you need. Keep your ESA groomed and clean to avoid catching other infections and breathing problems from it. If you can’t physically do it yourself, ensure someone does the needful for you; you owe it to a living creature that is an integral part of your emotional support system.
8. ESA letters are mostly valid nationally
Since the Department of Transportation’s updated rulings, ESAs are no longer considered service animals. So, you must rely on individual airlines’ unique policies on traveling with pets and other types of support animals. Many airlines no longer consider ESAs as service pets, so contact the airline’s customer service before booking your flight to clear any ambiguities. If you’re traveling internationally, your country’s ESA letter may not be valid. International airlines may use different terms to classify pets and sometimes verify the details on your ESA letter to make exceptions.
9. There’s no need for vests
Although there’s no legal requirement to do so, it’s still recommended to have your ESA wear a vest to give you and others around you an extra sense of security. This will help people around you be more aware of your condition and realize that your pet is a part of your treatment.
If you feel stressed, anxious, or depressed, you can improve your mental well-being by adopting an emotional support animal. Having an ESA in your life will uplift your mood and make you feel good about yourself. Contact a licensed mental health professional to help you get an ESA letter. This letter will be valid nationally and let you live/travel with your ESA. However, you’ll have to make some adjustments and ensure this animal isn’t bothersome in public spaces.