Emotional support animal (ESA) is a companion animal or an assistance animal typically a dog or cat and in some cases, another animal is a companion assigned to individuals suffering from emotional or mental disabilities to alleviate some or all of their symptoms.
Emotional support animals have proven to be beneficial in calming down and providing comfort just by being with the ESA owner because they are not trained to assist them with specific tasks.
It isn’t uncommon for people to feel relieved and stress-free when they come home to their pets, so imagine the joy an emotional support animal will bring someone suffering from depression/anxiety or any other mental illness for that matter.
Dogs are most common to be used as support animal; they are a man’s best friend after all. But not everyone is a dog-lover, and people have found their best friend in other pets too, typically cats.
Other animals such as miniature horses, ducks and rabbits have been recognized as emotional support animals as well.
Not just these but other wild and exotic animals like snakes, guinea pigs have proven to have ameliorative effects on their owners’ disabilities. But the majority of emotional support animals are either dogs or cats.
Are they the same as service animals?
Emotional support animals do not have training to perform any special task; their training is the same as any other pet or animal of their kind. This is how they differ from your typical service animals, where each animal is individually trained to perform specific tasks.
Emotional support for animals
Individuals who are deaf, blind or restricted to wheelchair use these animals to help with their disabilities, for instance:
These animals are mostly service dogs or miniature horses. Emotional support dogs are not trained and therefore, display unwanted behaviours in public such as growling at people or biting them.
There have been cases where people have tried to pass off their poorly trained pets as emotional support animals. Poorly trained support animals and pets being passed off as emotional support animals are a cause of threat to people and other trained service animals.
One of the cases that made headline was when a peacock was declined entrance to a United Airline flight, although the owner said that it was his emotional support animal.
Although, there are quite few restrictions, but such animals are denied the letter due to common logic.
Am I qualified for an ESA?
To qualify as an emotional support animal owner first, you must have an emotional/mental disability and an emotional support animal letter.
Obtaining an ESA letter is quite simple and it can be done from your home if you suffer from anxiety and avoid leaving the comforts of your home. The process is short and non-invasive and requires a few minutes. First, you will be asked to fill out a questionnaire describing your condition.
Then your online consultation with a licensed mental health professional will begin. After assessing your mental and emotional state, if you are suitable for an emotional support animal, you will be told right then and there, and your letter will be sent out within a few days.
You can ask any other licensed mental health care provider such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or a licensed therapist to write an ESA letter. Your family doctor or any other doctor who isn’t a mental health professional is not authorized for certifying an ESA letter.
An individual suffering from any of the following mental and emotional disabilities is applicable to an ESA letter:
Emotional support animals should not be confused with traditional pets since they do tend to become a part of an ESA owner’s family. Because there are specific laws made when it comes to the usage of emotional support animals.
Emotional Support Animal Laws
There are several federal laws applicable to ESA and their owner’s; the main two are the Fair housing act and the air carrier access act. Your ESA letter will enable you with the following legal protections regarding your emotional support animal.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA)
It isn't easy for ESA owners to find pet housing societies; under the Federal Fair Housing Act 1988, commonly known as FHA, landlords are required to make accommodations in their home for an emotional support animal for people with emotional disabilities.
Landlords who have a no pet policy, are legally required to allow emotional support animals by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
A landlord must not discriminate, this means that a person with an ESA letter cannot be denied housing due to their need for an ESA, similar to how a person with a physical disability (person restricted to wheelchair) cannot be declined housing because of their condition.
The landlord is allowed to ask for your ESA letter but is, therefore not legally allowed to ask for a person’s medical records and details regarding their disability.
In addition to that, landlords cannot ask an ESA owner that their animal goes through specific training or use a harness or a collar. And they cannot impose restrictions on the size/breed/type of animal.
Under this act, housing landlords cannot ask the tenants for an advance deposit or ask them to pay extra money as their pet fee. But it is the ESA owner’s job to ensure no property damage or other significant damage is being done.
In that case, the owner will be held responsible and will be made to pay. And the owner can’t ask the landlord for unreasonable changes and put them in a financially hard spot. For example, the request to put grass in the backyard instead of concrete so an ESA dog can play around can be denied by the owner.
Americans with Disability Act (ADA) allows an ESA owner to keep their ESA animals with them during all time and even the places with no pet policy. This allows a support animal to accompany their owner to all public places.
Air carrier access act
The air carrier access act of 1986 was passed to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities, allowing them to travel by air with their emotional support animal.
Under the air carrier access act, the airlines cannot ask these individuals with disabilities for prior notice, except for the cases where accommodations such as medical equipments are needed.
Airlines are prohibited to ask a disabled person to pay extra charges for their emotional support animal. And cannot ask disabled people to sit in specific spots unless their animal is bigger in size and will cause hindrance.
However, an ESA owner is required to ensure that his/her ESA is well-behaved and won’t create disturbance for the other passengers.
These federal laws also allow an individual suffering from mental or emotional disabilities to take their emotional support animal to their educational institution and workplace.
Do I need to register my dog as an emotional support animal?
You are not required to register your support animal; various sites mislead the people and claim that you need to register your animal in their database. This is simply a way to exploit people and misguide them.
ESA registration is not a real thing; all you need to live and travel with your ESA is an authentic and valid ESA letter.
Can I get an ESA letter for my pet dog?
If you are someone who suffers from some kind of an emotional disability and have a pet that provides you with the comfort and companionship that you need, you can apply for an ESA letter.
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