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What You Need To Know About Emotional Support Animals

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What You Need To Know About Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)

The terms “Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)” and “Service Animals” are being heard more frequently now than ever before. This confirms what many pet parents already knew; that dogs and other pets improve the lives of people in so many ways. Though these terms are becoming more common place, not everyone is able to qualify for ESAs and service animals. This article will help you understand basic facts you need to know about ESAs.

woman holding chihuahua

Are Emotional Support Animals Considered Service Animals?

Even though some service dogs do provide assistance to individuals with psychiatric conditions, NO, Emotional Support Animals are NOT considered service animals. They are not the same as psychiatric service dogs.

A service dog allows a disabled person to function with independence because of their specialized training, while an ESA has no specialized training and is not a crucial part of an individual’s ability to function on a daily basis and or live independently in the eyes of the law.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal is trained specifically to perform tasks for an individual with a disability, for example, pushing elevator buttons, picking up dropped items, pulling a wheel chair, alerting handlers of an impending seizure, etc.

ESAs do not have any specialized training like service dogs do. They do what dogs do naturally; they offer unconditional love and companionship. Mental health professionals do prescribe ESAs to offer emotional support important to individuals with certain conditions as a part of their medical treatment plan. However, they do not require specialized training to fulfill this role.

ESAs are prescribed to offer companionship, alleviate loneliness, and give patients a sense of purpose caring for another creature. Though these things are important contributions towards positive mental health, it is very different from what a service dog does.

What Are The Emotional Benefits Of Having An Emotional Support Animal?

Man holding chihuahua dog

According to Counseling Today, “Animals are an excellent source of nurturance and companionship. Creating additional yet responsible opportunities for human-animal interaction enhances people’s lives.”

Most pet parents know that there are many benefits to having a pet, even if they are not an ESA or a service animal. For individuals who need an ESA, there are so many more benefits, such as:

  • Unconditional love and constant companionship help alleviate the negative effects of depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.
  • Having an animal to care for can give someone who feels hopeless a purpose.
  • The comforting presence of an animal may benefit someone who suffers from anxiety or phobias.

What Is The Process Of Getting Your Dog To Become An Emotional Support Animal?

The process of a dog becoming an ESA is a much simpler than the process of becoming a service dog. A licensed mental health professional would prescribe an ESA to a patient as a part of their mental health treatment. Any age or breed of dog may qualify to be an ESA. They do not require special training; simply a letter from the prescribing mental health professional, to begin fulfilling this role in an official capacity.

Keep in mind that not every dog will be able to qualify become an ESA; a pet becoming an ESA is dependent upon the owner’s need for the support, not the owner’s desire for their dog to become an ESA. Individuals who are receiving mental health treatment are the most likely candidates to qualify for their pets becoming Emotional Support Animals.

How Do I Register My Dog As An Emotional Support Animal?

Though this varies by state and local laws, since ESAs are not protected by the same laws as service animals, registration is usually not required, just documentation. The most official document that owners of ESAs usually receive is a letter from their licensed mental health professional prescribing an animal as their ESA.

Organizations such as US Service Animals offers registration for ESAs, however, you should research if registration is required in your state and ask your licensed mental health professional if they recommend registration with any organization.

How Do I Qualify For An Emotion Support Animal?

Individuals who have an emotional or mental health diagnosis that is benefitted by the companionship of an animal may qualify for ESAs. According to US Service Animals, a licensed mental health professional may prescribe an ESA as a result of an emotional or psychological condition to be a part of their patient’s mental health treatment plan.

Generally speaking, this “prescription” is in the form of a letter which may be presented to verify the legitimacy of an ESA.

Where Can I Take My Emotional Support Animal?

older woman holding chihuahua

While most pet parents would love the ability to bring their dogs with them everywhere they go, getting a dog to become an ESA does not make that happen.

Emotional Support Animals are not protected in the same ways that Service Animals are protected by the law, and as such, they do not have special permission to enter places that pets are not permitted to enter. Generally speaking, ESAs are allowed to go the same places that regular pets are permitted to be.

However, there is one area wherein your dog being an ESA may offer some special considerations: housing. If you are renting and unable to have a dog or pet due to the terms of your lease, or required to pay a deposit for a pet living in the rented residence with you, the letter from your mental health professional recommending that your dog be an ESA may allow you to have a dog or waive or reduce the pet fee.

Again, since ESAs are not protected legally as service animals are, this is not a guarantee, simply a possibility.

The places that dogs are permitted varies by local laws, so research the law where you live to find out where you can bring your dog. Most states share the same restrictions in this area, but you may discover a new place that you can take your dog as a result of your research.

Conclusion

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are prescribed by licensed mental health professionals as a part of an individual’s treatment plan for psychiatric conditions. They are not considered service dogs because they receive no formal training and they do not perform functions that individuals with a disability could not.

Though it is wonderful to see the benefits of ESAs and Service Animals in people’s lives, sadly, these titles are often abused. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), misrepresenting a dog as a service dog or ESA when they are not negatively impacts the individuals who have a legitimately true need for these animals.

Have you gone through the process of making your dog an ESA? We’d love to hear your experiences.

Cathy

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