Emotional Support Animal

Getting an emotional support animal or ESA is a wise decision if you are:

  • looking for unconditional love and support;
  • tired of vague judgments about your problems; and
  • yearning for loyal companionship

Janelle Nimar and Brad Lundahl from the University of Utah conducted a meta-analysis in 2017 that summarized several studies. The analysis concluded that an emotional support dog can support the treatment of traumatized patients, reduce depressive symptoms, and improve mood. The mere presence of a dog alleviated the symptoms of anxiety.

Psychiatrists and mental health professionals may recommend the companionship of an emotional support animal for alleviating mental and emotional health concerns such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

What is an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal is an untrained animal that helps and supports an individual suffering from emotional and mental disorders.

Essentially, ESAs are prescribed to individuals suffering from mental disabilities like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or other conditions that are enlisted in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. The American Psychiatric Association publishes the DSM to help mental health professionals all over the world establish a reliable diagnosis.

With their natural tendency to exhibit love and warmth without conditions attached, emotional support animals protect you from falling into a worse mental state. Sometimes, just holding your ESA calms you down and stimulates stress relief.

Emotional Support Animals are recognized under the Rehabilitation Act and Fair Housing Act. They do not have specific training or licensing requirements and can accompany their owners in reasonable housing arrangements.

If you are considering air travel with your ESA, note that they are no longer considered service animals as per the Air Carrier Access Act regulations and Department of Transportation Guidance Concerning Service Animals in Air Transportation. So, the airlines may apply the same rules as pets for your emotional support animal.

ESA Letter

An ESA Letter or Emotional Support Animal Letter is a document produced by a licensed mental health professional to recommend the presence of an emotional support animal to an individual going through a mental health condition.

If you are suffering from a mental or emotional disability, such as anxiety or depression, your mental health practitioner may prescribe the assistance of an emotional support animal. If you already own a pet, you can also make it your emotional support animal. In both cases, your mental health practitioner will issue an official prescription, also called the ESA Letter.

The ESA letter ascertains that you have a legitimate need for the animal as a part of your treatment plan. It will also entitle the companion animal to housing and accommodation rights under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). This letter serves as confirmation that your therapeutic relationship with the animal will help you gain emotional comfort and ease your mental health concerns.

How to get an ESA Letter?

If you think that the presence of an emotional support animal can alleviate your symptoms, you should reach out to a licensed mental health professional, such as a therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, or online psychiatrist, and discuss the need for an ESA as a part of your treatment plan.

Your mental health professional may question you about your condition to deeply examine your:

  • Medical history
  • Previous traumatic experiences, and
  • Current emotional and mental health symptoms, including how they affect your daily life and how long you have had them

These insights will help them gain a better understanding of the present state of your mental health and, therefore, determine whether you might benefit from the companionship of an emotional support animal. If they think you will, they will pursue the issuance of a formal letter (also called an ESA letter) recommending the presence of an ESA to help you with your present condition.

It is important to understand that the mental health practitioner may take more than one interaction to determine whether you need an ESA, and finally issue an ESA letter.

If you already have a pet, it may also qualify to be recommended as your emotional support animal, as long as it comforts you and aids your healing process.

Who Can Write an ESA Letter?

Preferably, a licensed mental health professional should sign the ESA letter. It should be drafted on the licensed professional’s letterhead, which includes their necessary licensing information.

The prescribing professional should also sign and assign a date to the ESA letter. The letter should clearly state that the person has a confirmed disability and that the presence of the emotional support animal will support the treatment process.

Emotional Support Animal Registration

You may come across heaps of misleading information about the official ESA registry on the web. But the truth is that there is no officially mandated or recognized emotional support animal registration in the United States.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not pose any such requirement.

The only document required to designate your pet as an emotional support animal is an ESA letter signed by a licensed mental health professional.

The letter will help you leverage your rights under the Fair Housing Act, which protects you and your ESA in seeking and maintaining housing arrangements.

The internet is flooded with ESA scams and fraudulent websites that claim to offer this service. It is crucial to stay protected from such traps when you are in genuine need of an ESA letter. You should be well aware of how to obtain a legitimate letter.

The federal law recognizes a legitimate ESA letter to help you receive your entitlements, such as reasonable accommodation from housing providers.

What Kind of Animals Can Be Emotional Support Animals?

Since there is no specific rule describing the specific characteristics of an emotional support animal, any animal that can be domesticated can qualify as an ESA. It can be an animal of any species.

While dogs and cats are the most common emotional support animals, people also keep:

  • Rabbits
  • Guinea pigs
  • Hamsters
  • Birds
  • Rats and mice
  • Hedgehogs
  • Minipigs
  • Ponies
  • Mini horses
  • Ferrets
  • Chickens
  • Sheep and goats
  • Alpacas and llamas

Many individuals have made headlines by carrying unusual species of animals as their ESAs. For example, a passenger was once denied taking his peacock to a United Airlines flight, despite it being his ESA. There have been other unusual instances where individuals accompanied ducks, monkeys, and turkeys.

Benefits of Emotional Support Animals

Individuals who live in proximity to animals can feel happier, calmer, and more fulfilled. Research suggests that animals provide significant mental health benefits to their humans. Owning a pet, therefore, is an important part of many people’s lives.

Your bond with your pet or emotional support animal may grow up to be as strong as your relationship with a loved one. That’s because animals reciprocate with unconditional affection and help you develop emotional connectivity.

Below are some reasons why mental health professionals recommend having an emotional support animal by your side if you are going through a mental health condition:

  • Reduce Stress and Anxiety:

    Emotional support animals help you deal with stress and anxiety by elevating your mood and creating a relaxation response. Petting an animal encourages the brain’s natural release of happiness chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, and simultaneously reduces the release of stress hormone cortisol.

  • Learn Mindfulness Naturally:

    Animals are the best teachers when it comes to living in the moment. When you see puppies teasing each other amicably, or a cat soaking itself in sunshine, these animals are neither worrying about the future nor questioning their past. Living with an emotional support animal will teach you how to practice mindfulness, which is yet another boon for your mental and physical health.

  • Achieve a Sense of Purpose:

    When you take the responsibility of caring for an animal, it gives you a purpose. You will begin to rise above the feelings of being unloved, hopeless, and isolated. An emotional support animal starts becoming your confidant, thus making you embrace companionship. It will also revive your belief in yourself and give you the strength to overcome your health concerns.

  • Elevate Social Engagement:

    Owning a pet brings you the opportunity to bond with like-minded people. You may meet more pet owners while you are walking your dog in the garden, or during pet visits. Such small but significant social interactions help you manage the isolation you might experience due to your psychological symptoms.

What is the difference between an Emotional Support Animal and a Pet?

Any animal domesticated affectionately for companionship is called a pet. However, emotional support animals are different from pet animals in the sense that they serve the purpose of supporting you to alleviate at least one aspect of disability.

To consider an animal an ESA, a licensed mental health professional has to prescribe its presence to the patient. The licensed therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist must determine that the animal’s presence is crucial for the patient’s well-being.

Like pets, ESAs should undergo preventive medicine compliance such as appropriate vaccination, infectious disease and health screening, and parasite control. This helps mitigate the possible health risks of having an animal as a companion.

What is a Therapy Animal?

A therapy animal is trained to play a specific role in a treatment plan for an emotional or physical disability. It may be a dog assisting in cognitive engagements for residents of a nursing home, or a horse aiding the process of muscle tone development for a rider.

Therapy animals usually belong to private owners or companies that train them to help patients in hospitals or clients of medical providers. Therapy animals may play many roles and travel to multiple places to service various communities, as per the need.

Some of the most common examples of therapy animals are therapy dogs and cats providing emotional support in nursing homes and therapy horses in therapy riding. In rare cases, snakes and other reptiles have also been used for therapy because caring for such creatures requires focus. It also distracts the person from physical or emotional difficulties.

What is the difference between an Emotional Support Animal and a Therapy Animal?

Unlike emotional support animals, therapy animals are trained to perform many roles in a treatment plan. While ESAs feel like companion animals, therapy animals are inclined towards providing services.

An organization, such as a hospital or medical provider may require therapy animals for its patients. It will find the one that fulfills its requirements and come to a deal with the animal’s owner. Therapy animals may also need to travel to different places to serve their purpose.

An animal-assisted intervention organization usually registers or certifies such animals. They also go through successful training and veterinary evaluation. However, they do not enjoy any special legal rights or protections.

What is a Service Animal?

A service animal is an animal (usually a dog or miniature horse) specifically trained to assist a person with a physical, psychiatric, sensory, mental, or intellectual disability. Unlike pets, therapy animals, and emotional support animals, service animals are legally protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The Department of Justice enforces the ADA.

As per the regulations, the service animal should be trained to perform a specific job that provides physical or cognitive aid to its owner. Animals that simply provide emotional comfort are not considered service animals. For example, an individual who is visually impaired can have a service dog guide him to identify obstacles in his way. Someone suffering from PTSD can use his service dog to provide pressure during a panic attack. Service animals can also:

  • Alert a person about a sound
  • Press an elevator button
  • Guide a person along a street
  • Guard a person who is experiencing a seizure
  • Remind a person to take medications

Service dogs specifically designated to assist people with mental health disabilities are known as psychiatric service dogs.

What is the difference between an Emotional Support Animal and a Service Animal?

Unlike emotional support animals, service animals are individually trained to assist their owners so that they can lead a normal life. Service animals have permission to go everywhere with their humans, including places like restaurants, shopping malls, and even airlines, according to the Air Carrier Access Act.

According to the ADA, animals that provide only emotional support do not qualify as service animals. While emotional support animals would react to situations instinctively, service animals have been given special training and have passed ophthalmic or orthopedic exams to respond to difficult situations and extend their support to help their owners.

Should I get an Emotional Support Animal?

If you are going through a mental health condition and feel that the presence of a loving, non-judgmental, and loyal companion can make you feel better, you should consider the thought of getting an emotional support animal.

In some cases, your mental health professional might suggest you pet an ESA, considering its therapeutic benefits for your mental health.

While some people embrace an innate connection with animals and love their company, others may be new to the concept of living with an animal. No matter what, getting an emotional support animal brings along the significant responsibility of managing a living being, who is also an individual with needs and emotions.

Before making a decision, find answers to these questions:

  • Do you have enough resources to feed, accommodate, and handle an animal?
  • Are you capable of arranging medical aid for the animal, if need be?
  • Do you understand that this is a long-term responsibility?
  • Will you be able to spend enough time with the animal?
  • If you wish to discontinue companionship, would you find alternate homes for the animal, by asking friends, relatives, neighbors, or acquaintances?

If you can answer most or all of these questions affirmatively, you may be ready to take on the responsibility of owning an emotional support animal. In the journey of healing yourself with the support of your ESA, it is necessary to acknowledge its needs and wants. Support and companionship are two-way forces!

How to Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal?

If you have a mental or emotional disability enlisted in the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (DSM), and closeness to an emotional support animal can help you with your symptoms, you are legally qualified to get one.

Emotional support animals can be helpful for individuals suffering from:

Amongst other psychiatric disorders.

They can also be helpful for the elderly, and those suffering from isolation due to immobility or physical disability.

To learn more about our services and seek help, visit www.gabapsychiatrist.com.

Emotional Support Animals FAQs

Are emotional support dogs the same as psychiatric service dogs?

No, psychiatric service dogs fall in the category of service animals, which are specifically trained to work with people suffering from psychiatric disabilities. If the mere presence of a dog is helping the person cope, then it would not be considered as a psychiatric service dog.

Psychiatric service dogs receive extensive training to perform tasks like performing room searches, reminding the owner to take medications, and keeping a mentally disoriented person away from hazardous situations.

What rights do emotional support animals have?

ESAs are protected under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), a law that protects emotionally and mentally disabled people from housing discrimination. The law gives ESAs the right to live with their owners and be exempt from pet fees and restrictions. So, your landlord is obligated to make suitable accommodation arrangements for your animal if you present an ESA letter.

Earlier, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) protected emotional support animals. It allowed them to board flights and travel with their owners. However, an amendment in 2021 excluded ESAs from this entitlement. Now, only service animals have protections for air travel.

Can emotional support animals go everywhere?

No, there is no law granting ESAs the right to be accommodated everywhere. Allowing your emotional support animal to enter with you into hotels, restaurants, malls, stores, etc. is at the discretion of the respective business.

Some business owners, however, are generous enough to allow your ESA into their premises, understanding that its companionship is crucial to your well-being.

Do emotional support animals qualify for tax deductions?

No, ESAs are not tax deductible in the United States.

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