If you are struggling with a mental or emotional condition, such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD, you might benefit from having an emotional support animal (ESA). An ESA is not just a pet, but a companion that provides comfort and relief to you through their presence. Unlike service dogs, ESAs do not need to be trained to perform specific tasks related to your disability. They just need to be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional who can attest that you need the animal for your well-being.
What Are the Benefits of Having an ESA?
- Reducing stress and anxiety levels
- Providing social support and companionship
- Enhancing self-esteem and confidence
- Improving mood and motivation
- Encouraging physical activity and exercise
- Creating a sense of purpose and responsibility
Research has shown that interacting with animals can have positive effects on our physical and mental health. For example, petting an animal can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels2. Animals can also stimulate the release of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes bonding and trust2. Furthermore, animals can provide emotional support by listening without judgment, offering unconditional love, and distracting us from negative thoughts and feelings2.
What Are the Requirements for Having an ESA?
To qualify for having an ESA, you need to have a diagnosed mental or emotional disability that significantly limits your ability to function normally in daily life. You also need to obtain a letter from a licensed mental health professional (such as a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist) that states that you need the animal for your mental health. The letter should include the following information3:
- The professional’s name, license number, and contact information
- The date of the letter and its expiration (usually one year)
- A confirmation that you have a disability under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)
- A statement that the animal is necessary for your treatment or well-being
- A description of how the animal helps you cope with your condition
You may need to present this letter to your landlord, airline, or other entity that requires proof of your need for an ESA. However, you do not need to disclose your specific diagnosis or personal details to anyone.
What Are the Rules for Having an ESA?
Unlike service dogs, ESAs are not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which means they do not have the same rights and privileges as service dogs. However, there are some federal laws that protect ESAs in certain situations.
One of them is the Fair Housing Act (FHA), which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in housing. Under the FHA, landlords must make reasonable accommodations for people with ESAs, such as waiving pet fees or allowing pets in no-pet policies3. However, landlords can still deny ESAs if they pose a threat to the health or safety of others, cause significant damage to the property, or create an undue burden on the landlord3.
Another law is the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), which allows people with disabilities to travel with their ESAs on flights. However, as of January 11th 2021, airlines are no longer required to accommodate ESAs as service animalsAd1. Instead, they can treat them as pets and charge fees or impose restrictions on themAd1. Therefore, it is important to check with your airline before flying with your ESA.
How to Choose an ESA?
There are no specific rules or criteria for choosing an ESA. The most important thing is that the animal is compatible with your lifestyle, personality, and needs. You should also consider the following factors:
- The type of animal: ESAs can be any type of pet, such as dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, or even reptiles4. However, some animals may be more suitable than others depending on your preferences and circumstances. For example, dogs tend to be more social and active than cats, but they also require more training and care. Cats tend to be more independent and low-maintenance than dogs, but they may not be as affectionate or responsive.
- The breed of animal: If you choose a dog or a cat as your ESA, you should research different breeds and their characteristics. Some breeds may be more friendly, calm, or adaptable than others. For example, Labrador Retrievers are known for being loyal, gentle, and easy-going; Poodles are known for being intelligent, hypoallergenic, and versatile; Persian cats are known for being quiet, sweet, and cuddly; Siamese cats are known for being vocal, playful, and curious.
- The temperament of animal: Each animal has its own personality and behavior, regardless of its type or breed. You should look for an animal that matches your energy level, mood, and expectations. For example, if you are looking for a calm and quiet companion, you may not want a hyperactive or noisy animal. If you are looking for a playful and adventurous partner, you may not want a shy or timid animal.
- The health of animal: You should make sure that the animal you choose is healthy and well-cared for. You should take the animal to a veterinarian for a check-up, vaccinations, and spaying/neutering. You should also provide the animal with a balanced diet, regular exercise, and proper grooming. A healthy and happy animal will be more likely to provide you with emotional support and comfort.
How to Care for Your ESA?
Having an ESA is not only a privilege, but also a responsibility. You should treat your ESA with respect, kindness, and love. You should also follow these tips to care for your ESA:
- Provide a safe and comfortable environment for your ESA. Make sure they have enough space, water, food, toys, and bedding. Keep them away from potential hazards, such as toxic plants, chemicals, or wires.
- Train your ESA to behave well and follow basic commands. Use positive reinforcement, such as praise, treats, or toys, to reward good behavior. Avoid using punishment, such as yelling, hitting, or scolding, to correct bad behavior. Be consistent and patient with your training.
- Socialize your ESA with other people and animals. Expose them to different situations, sounds, and smells. Help them overcome their fears and anxieties. Teach them how to be polite and friendly with others.
- Respect the rights and feelings of others. Do not force your ESA on people who are allergic, afraid, or uncomfortable with animals. Do not let your ESA disturb or harm others or their property. Clean up after your ESA and dispose of their waste properly.
- Follow the rules and regulations regarding ESAs. Obtain a valid letter from a licensed mental health professional that confirms your need for an ESA. Present the letter to your landlord, airline, or other entity that requires proof of your ESA. Check with local laws and policies before bringing your ESA to public places.
An emotional support animal can be a great source of comfort and relief for people with mental or emotional disabilities. However, having an ESA also comes with certain requirements and responsibilities. You should consult with a licensed mental health professional to determine if you qualify for an ESA and how to obtain one. You should also choose an animal that suits your needs and personality and take good care of them. By doing so, you can enjoy the benefits of having an ESA and improve your quality of life.
Ad1: Everything You Need to Know About Emotional Support Animals – American Kennel Club 3: Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals | ADA National Network 4: Emotional support animal – Wikipedia 2: Emotional Support Animals: How to Get One, Mental Health Benefits