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What is An Emotional Support Animal?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017
By David Haupt

dog with owner

Emotional support animals have become more and more popular, and for good reason. Animals can be incredibly soothing and therapeutic, and provide a lot of value, comfort, and health to someone who needs emotional support. We know that our beloved best friends provide an emotional value that few people can.

Despite the rise in emotional support animals, businesses seem unsure as to what rights these animals have, and parents of emotional support animals are often confused or given misinformation. Because of this, it’s important for all of us to be well-informed about what an emotional support animal is, and how to handle emotional support animal registration if you or a loved one may need one. Here’s everything you need to know.

What is an emotional support animal?

An emotional support animal is exactly what it sounds like: an animal that supports its person emotionally. Most people with emotional support animals suffer from depression, anxiety, or PTSD, though other impairments, such as severe phobias or panic attacks, are also common reasons to get an animal. Any kind of mental health disability or struggle can be reason to get an emotional support animal.

How is an emotional support animal different from a service animal?

While a service animal helps those with physical disabilities, an emotional support animal is strictly for mental health. Because of this, emotional support animals require no training, as they are strictly for comfort and emotional guidance.

Emotional support animals are also not limited by species. While dogs are far and away the most common type of emotional service animals, any domestic pet is allowed – it’s whatever is comforting to the owner (by contrast, only dogs and miniature horses can legally be service animals).

What rights does an emotional support animal have?

While emotional support animals have more rights than your average dog, they have fewer rights than service animals. Legally, emotional support animals are allowed in all homes, due to the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act. Even if the apartment or home that is being rented does not allow pets, they are legally required to allow emotional support animals, and the renter cannot be charged an extra fee or deposit (however, they can still be charged for any damage created by the animal).

Emotional support animals are also allowed on airplanes, courtesy of the Air Carrier Access Act. Emotional support animals do not need to be crated in airplanes, and the parent cannot be charged an extra fee. However, if the animal is in any way disruptive, the airline is allowed to deny it entry, or ask it to be crated.

Unlike service animals, emotional support animals are not legally required entry anywhere else, such as restaurants and stores. However, many business owners are accommodating of those with mental health needs, and are willing to let emotional support animals in; others businesses are unaware of this law, and will let an emotional support animal in regardless.

The benefits of emotional support animals

Emotional Stability and Comfort: The presence of an ESA can significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Their unconditional love and companionship provide a sense of security and comfort that can help regulate emotions.

Improved Physical Health: Interaction with animals can lower blood pressure, reduce stress levels, and improve heart health. Regular activities like walking a dog can also encourage physical exercise, which benefits overall well-being.

Social Interaction: ESAs can help alleviate feelings of isolation by promoting social interactions. Walking a dog or visiting pet-friendly places often leads to conversations with others, helping to build a sense of community.

Routine and Responsibility: Caring for an ESA instills a sense of routine and responsibility. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals struggling with depression, as it encourages daily activities and a structured schedule.

The process of getting an emotional support animal

To qualify for an ESA, an individual must have a diagnosed mental or emotional condition, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, or a similar disorder. A licensed mental health professional must prescribe the ESA, providing a letter that outlines the need for the animal for the individual's well-being.

This letter should include:

  • The professional’s license details.
  • Confirmation of the patient's mental health condition.
  • The necessity of the ESA for the individual's treatment.

Choosing the right emotional support animal

Choosing the right emotional support animal involves considering the person's lifestyle, preferences, and specific emotional needs. While dogs are the most common ESAs due to their loyal and affectionate nature, cats, rabbits, and birds can also provide substantial comfort and support. The key is to select an animal that complements the individual's personality and lifestyle.

Understanding the emotional bond

The bond between an ESA and its parent is unique and profound. These animals provide more than just companionship; they offer a lifeline to those struggling with emotional and mental health issues. The simple act of petting a dog can release endorphins, the body's natural stress relievers, creating a calming effect and fostering a deep emotional connection.

If you or anyone you know may be in need of an emotional support animal, pay a visit to a mental health professional for an evaluation. There are a ton of wonderful programs connecting adoptable dogs with humans in need of their companionship, should you determine you may need one.

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