As we know, there are various ways to treat emotional issues or mental illnesses. In addition to traditional treatments like medications and psychotherapy, there is one creative method that has grown rapidly in recent decades: Emotional Support Animals (ESAs). Research has shown that ESA therapy can improve people’s health through invisible performance: constant companionship. This must be a joy for animal lovers struggling with mental health problems. However, whether or not an emotional support animal is the right option for you depends on certain requirements and practical conditions. Read on to find out if you qualify for such a provider of psychosocial care.
In this article
What is an ESA?
First and foremost, be aware that emotional support animals are not trained to perform complicated tasks like service dogs. ESAs can bring lots of therapeutic benefits such as alleviating the symptoms of mental health problems and eliminating depression. However, they only act as a familiar companion. Any animal species that gives you a sense of comfort can be an emotional support animal, including normal pets (cats and dogs) and other unusual animals (birds, pigs, lizards, snakes, sheep, etc.)
Under the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act, emotional support animals are entitled to live in “No pets” accommodation and to travel with the owner in the aircraft cabin. Apart from these, ESAs might be denied access by private companies, restaurants, stores, hospitals, and schools as they have no right to enter other public areas.
Health problems that could benefit from an ESA
Normally, people can figure out how to handle the normal ups and downs of life and bring the mind back to a healthy level. However, if someone has had an accident or has had horrible experiences, but could not handle it or had not received immediate treatment, he or she may experience severe depression and cyclical panic for a relatively long period, resulting in severe psychological problems and affecting daily activities.
In some cases, people find that they can face the fears and feel comforted when they stay close to their pet. The pet alleviates the panic and controls the behavior during the attacks, but also encourages a positive attitude to life’s difficulties. The benefits of having an animal companion deserve to be classified as an emotional support.
There are some legitimate health conditions that have been shown to benefit from emotional support animals.
In addition to accidents and attacks, some physical problems are another major factor that causes psychiatric illnesses. Patients with life-threatening physical problems such as chronic pain or cancer are prone to anxiety or depression. Some of the potentially debilitating psychiatric conditions for which ESAs are prescribed include:
• Physical health problems
• Social Anxiety
• Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
• Personality disorder
• Mood disorders
• Borderline personality disorder
The presence of ESAs allows sufferers to change behaviors and get rid of their previous prior condition. For example, an active dog may cause the kid with autism to perceive the beauty of the outside world because it needs daily walks.
Can your pet qualify as an ESA?
If you have one of the health conditions mentioned above, having a legitimate emotional support animal must be a great option for you. However, does your pet fulfill the qualification of an ESA? Let’s take a look at this together.
1. Medical reason. First, it is necessary to have a medical reason for an ESA. You should have a consistent relationship with your therapist who will suggest that you get an ESA as a part of your treatment.
2. An ESA letter. Your therapist will provide you with a mental health diagnosis that generalizes your symptoms. However, it will be a private document, rather than a required proof of an ESA. Actually, the letter from a qualified mental care professional is an important document while getting an ESA. It includes the assessment of whether an ESA is really needed and helpful for your mental health. The letter may apply to two main situations: traveling with your ESA in the cabin of an aircraft and moving into a “No Pets” apartment. Remember, you need to keep up to date with the letter every year.
3. Training. Unlike service dogs, emotional support animals are not required to undergo special and time-consuming training because they heal your “heart” through their selfless love and companionship rather than performing complicated tasks. However, you should ensure that your pet is obedient and well-behaved since it will stay with you in the house. Any destructive or aggressive behavior may create hassles for you and affect your neighbors. Especially if you get an ESA dog, a good socializing ability during your daily walks is very important. Additionally, it is recommended that you familiarize your emotional support dog with some simple skills to calm your symptoms quickly.
Read more: How to Train Your Emotional Support Dog
4. Age and breed. There is no age, species, weight, and breed restrictions for the emotional support animal. However, keep in mind the pet rules if you plan to travel with unusual emotional support animals like birds or lizards.
5. More than one ESA. Some people are granted to get more than one emotional support animal for different therapeutic purposes. For example, an ESA cat will cling to your lap or cuddles with you on the bed, greatly improving your quality of sleep. An ESA dog would calmly stay under your seat when traveling by plane. This is a great option to prevent anxiety, airsickness, and other mental disorders during the flight.
Steps to get an emotional support animal
Here are simple steps to get an emotional support animal：
1. Find out what kind of mental disorder you are suffering from.
2. Choose an ESA candidate. If you do not currently have a pet, there are some ways to get one such as buying from a reputable breeder or adopting from an animal shelter or a rescue center. Once you have chosen the ESA candidate, you need to help it adapt to your living environment and build a close bond with you as soon as possible.
3. Basic training is optional, but it helps to shape your ESA’s manners. Most landlords and airport staff would be likely to accept an obedient emotional support animal.
4. Apply for an ESA letter or ESA certificate, and use it properly in various situations.
Why and How is an ESA certified
A certified ESA is eligible to live with the owner in housing with a “no pets” policy and to travel with the owner in the cabin of an aircraft at no additional charge. However, a prerequisite is that your emotional support will not cause undue dangers, destructions and financial burden on landlords or airlines.
There is no law forcing owners to certify their emotional support animal. However, many cases imply that people without ESA documents like ESA certification, ESA card, or ESA letter are more likely to be rejected by landlords or airlines. The search for a pet-friendly apartment takes a long time and there are additional costs for transporting an ESA as cargo in the airplane. Therefore, the ESA certification is well worth the time as well as the money.
There are many ways to complete the certification process, but the most convenient method is online registration.
Since the requirements of emotional support animals are simpler than for service dogs, people with mild emotional issues will benefit a lot from these assistance helpers.