An emotional support animal (ESA) is not just a pet. It is a full-fledged family member and companion that will be near at times of need. Many ESA owners perceive their animals not only as pets providing emotional support but as silent psychiatrists who are always ready to listen to their “patients”. The presence of an animal nearby makes people more open and sociable. Pet owners change old habits faster, integrate into society, and make new friends.
Why are emotional support animals so popular?
Recently, more and more humans are talking about animals as a source of nonphysical backing. Such therapy is used for many psychological frustrations and diseases of the human nervous system. For example, ESAs are most commonly used to treat depression, psychological or professional burnout, eating disorders, and a host of other psychological maladies.
Endorphins are released in our bodies when we contact animals. These same substances reduce stress and anxiety levels, soothe and lift your mood. Contact with animals also normalizes high blood pressure and improves cardiovascular function.
Observing animals distracts from our own problems and aids to divert attention. Contact with animals is communication that succors to overcome a sense of isolation in patients with mental maladies and saves the elderly from loneliness.
They are not service animals
Nowadays, animals are widely used in medicine as a therapy for mental disorders and to help men with inabilities. With the growing demand for animal-assisted therapy, there are many misunderstandings and questions about the distinction between emotional support animals and service animals.
Service animals are specifically trained to perform specific tasks. They grant physical assistance to their handlers and aid them to cope with daily tasks. In fact, the main task of service animals is to ensure the normal life of a person so that he or she does not feel cut off from society and useless. Predominantly service animals succor people with physical or sensory dysfunctions.
However, there is a special type of service dog which is called a psychiatric service dog. The main task of these creatures is to help humans with mental disorders. At the same time, they not only provide the necessary backing and love but also perform complete physical tasks. In addition to helping with household chores, a psychiatric service dog makes sure that the handler takes the necessary medications on time and even knows how to provide first aid in case of a threat to the owner’s health.
Emotional support animals, in turn, do not undergo particular taming. Their main function is to be a friend to their owners, who is always ready to lend a helping paw. These are loving and friendly animals that surround a person with warmth and care, bringing him peace and relaxation. Emotional support animals are ideal as adjunctive therapy for a variety of psychic maladies.
How to get an ESA?
In fact, any animal that helps its owner cope with difficult crisis situations in life can be called an emotional support animal. It is scientifically proven that playing with pets will help us relax, relieve stress and anxiety, and become more cheerful. You don’t need any documents to gain prop-up from your pet.
Nevertheless, if you want to get an emotional support animal officially, you need to steer a few simple steps. Firstly, you need to visit a therapist or mental health professional and check if your frustration qualifies for an ESA. If you do, you will have to decide what animal is the best option for you. These can be rabbits, cats, dogs, or other more unusual pets.
In addition, you need to prepare for the stay of the animal in the house. It is substantial to provide enough space for your pet, as well as to choose high-quality food, equipment, and accessories.
Also to avoid misunderstandings we recommend issuing a special ID card that will confirm that you have Registered Emotional Support Animal. In addition on MyServiceAnimal you can buy a special ESA harness, service tag and fill out all the necessary forms.
General requirements to qualify for an ESA
Mental and intellectual disabilities greatly affect the quality of life of the person suffering from them. First of all, they impose restrictions because of which a person often feels inferior or cut off from society. In such cases, the help of emotional support animals is simply irreplaceable. Although these creatures are not psychiatrists, they can have a very positive effect on the psycho-emotional state of a man. The mental or emotional endorsement that a human gets from the animal gives self-confidence and helps fight fears and stresses.
Among the most spread frustrations that qualify you for an ESA are depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, PTSD, social and antisocial disorders. If the patient suffers from mild forms of these maladies and does not require constant supervision of doctors, the ESA can be an adjunctive therapy in the treatment.
Moreover, an emotional support animal can be helpful for those who suffer from intellectual or learning incapabilities. Often such frustrations are associated with distracted attention and lack of concentration. These symptoms provoke fear and panic. Emotional support animals succor you to calm down and concentrate. Also, playing with animals develops human emotional intelligence.
One of the most prevalent mental illnesses among ESA handlers is depression. Now a very large number of humans suffer from this disorder. Its main manifestations are a bad mood, lack of interest in anything, and suicidal thoughts. People with depression often feel that they have not been fulfilled as individuals and consider themselves unworthy. An emotional support dog gives such men the opportunity to see the world in a different way. ESA owners are more active, spend more time outdoors walking with their pets, discover new hobbies and make new friends.
Another quite spread mental illness that can be cured by the emotional support animal is a post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is often associated with anxiety and panic attacks. An ESA aids its owner to calm down and recover faster. Thanks to the pet, panic attacks gradually disappear. Also, animals help fight fears and phobias. A person feels protected and less vulnerable around an emotional support dog.
Moreover, emotional support animals are able to feel the change in the state of the host during sleep. Rapid heart rate and rapid breathing are often indicative of nightmares. At such moments, the animal wakes up its owner and helps him to gain a connection with reality and get rid of bad thoughts faster.
Do a research
Even after consulting a specialist, it is momentous to realize the concept of “emotional support animal” yourself. Therefore, you should carefully study all the functions of the ESA and be aware of what benefits having an emotional support animal will have for you. You also need to be ready that the dog requires constant care, grooming, combing, and training.
If you already have a pet, pay attention to how you feel while playing with it. If you feel peace, peace, and happiness around your pet, probably it is already serving as an emotional support animal. Therefore, if you are sure that the animal will aid you to cope with your emotional state or get out of depression quickly, contact a therapist for advice and an ESA letter.
Do not forget that the presence of allergies to animals is a contraindication to getting an emotional support animal. No therapist will write you an ESA letter for allergies. Therefore, if you are not yet aware of the presence of such a contraindication, it is better to visit a doctor and do the necessary tests in advance.
Visit your therapist
An equally important step is visiting your therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. First of all, only a licensed mental health professional can state that you have a mental disorder. And knowing about the presence of a problem, you can correctly approach the treatment.
Any treatment and medication should be supervised by specialists. If you have been diagnosed with psychic frustration, you need to understand that it will not go anywhere on its own. Furthermore, the lack of proper treatment can make the situation much worse.
Regular consultation with a specialist is an integral part of any therapy. The doctor will be able to monitor your condition and progress in treatment, and adjust therapy as needed. Moreover, only a qualified doctor will be able to determine whether treatment with the emotional support animal is right for you, and only specialists can write out the ESA letters.
Choose an animal
Another important step is choosing the right animal. You need to weigh the pros and cons and determine which type of animal is best for you. The most extended ESAs are dogs, cats, and rabbits. If you want a small, quiet animal that will not be inconvenient and will not affect your established routine, we advise you to get a rabbit. These cute animals are very loving and love to spend time with their owner, building a certain bond with him.
Cats are more freedom-loving and independent. They are difficult to train, although some breeds are highly trainable. A cat is an animal that adapts perfectly to the situation. These creatures can be wayward, but still, get along well with people. At the same time, they can remain alone for quite a long time, which is suitable for people who often stay late at work.
The most well-known emotional support animal is dogs. Dogs get along well with all people, including children and elders. They are friendly and caring creatures who love to spend time and play with their owners. Emotional support dogs usually are highly trainable, so with the right approach and regular exercise, the dog will become not just a pet, but also a full-fledged helper for you.
In addition, we advise you to pay attention to the choice of the breed and study its characteristics in detail. The degree of learning of the animal, its temperament, and character will depend on the chosen breed. Also, the breed often determines the health and necessary care of the animal. For example, some dog breeds are allergic to definite foods, while other breeds shed heavily and require more careful grooming.
An ESA letter
The ESA letter is, in fact, the only document confirming the legitimacy of an animal of emotional support. The ESA letter must be written by your therapist, mental health professional, or social worker. This paper must include all the basic information about your mental illness, confirmation of the need for the constant presence of an animal of emotional support, as well as information about the specialist who wrote out this document.
Having an ESA letter gives you many benefits. First of all, this concerns the housing field and the settlement of any possible conflicts with the landlord. In addition, the letter will help to avoid as much as possible all kinds of discrimination against a person due to his mental state or the constant presence of an animal nearby.
To resolve any conflict situations, you can contact the Department of Justice, provide an ESA letter and fill out a complaint in order to involve the government in resolving the dispute.
Getting the letter
There are two ways to obtain an ESA letter. First, you can make an appointment with a licensed mental health professional, where you can discuss the possibility of using an emotional support animal for the treatment of your mental malady.
Secondly, you can use one of the online services. Such services offer a person to fill out a special questionnaire regarding his psychological and emotional state. The data from this questionnaire is transmitted to psychologists and psychiatrists who designate whether a human qualifies for an ESA.
If you qualify for the emotional support animal, you will get an ESA letter as soon as possible. Don’t forget to keep up with an ESA letter from year to year to continue enjoying all the benefits that it gives to you and your pet.
Benefits of the official ESA status
Service animal freedoms are regulated and protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Thanks to this law, assistance animals can freely follow their owner wherever he or she goes. Yet, emotional support animals are not service ones. Therefore, this law doesn’t apply to ESA. For instance, an emotional support animal cannot follow the handler to public places with the exception of pet-friendly ones.
The basic freedoms for emotional support animals are enshrined in the Fair Housing Act. Thanks to the FHA, the emotional support animal can live with its owner at no additional cost. If the tenant has a letter from the ESA, which confirms the need for the presence of the animal nearby, the landlord has no right to refuse or demand payment for the animal. Also, providers cannot evict tenants with ESA without objective reasons. To have such privilege, the animal should be calm, obey its owner and not harm people and the landlord’s property.
In addition to federal laws, there are also local and state laws. Specific laws toward ESA apply in California, New York, and Florida. However, these laws also apply to the housing field. Some institutions may independently set the rights of the ESA. For example, colleges and universities are not required to allow an emotional support animal to accompany its owner to the classroom. Nevertheless, such a situation is still possible with the permission of the director of the institution.