If you have any emotional or psychological stressors or diagnoses in your life, you may have wondered how you can get an Emotional Support Animal, or an ESA. With the rise of multiple social media platforms, interest in ESAs and how to acquire one has risen significantly. Unfortunately, so has misinformation surrounding ESAs. Let’s talk more about the importance of ESAs, how you can adopt an Emotional Support dog, and how to turn your own pet into an ESA if needed.
What is an Emotional Support Animal?
An ESA is an animal that does not have special training to perform tasks to support its human, but its presence is a source of comfort and stress relief for people with certain emotional disabilities and mental illnesses, like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and manic-depressive disorder. Science has shown us that pets can provide a level of emotional support in our lives, but for people with certain diagnoses, the presence of an animal can be irreplaceable.
An ESA is not the same thing as a Service Animal and is not provided the same protections that Service Animals are provided, like entry to places like hospitals, restaurants, and grocery stores. However, the Fair Housing Act does create housing provisions for ESAs, allowing people to keep their ESA with them even in housing that doesn’t allow pets. Any domesticated animal can become an ESA, including cats, dogs, birds, guinea pigs, rats, ferrets, and more.
How Do I Get an Emotional Support Animal?
1. Choose a pet.
If you already have a pet before you further pursue getting ESAs documentation, it will likely be easier for you. However, if your current living situation doesn’t allow you to have a pet, you’ll need to pick your pet as the last step.
Since ESAs don’t require special training to perform tasks, you won’t need a pet that can be specially trained. It is strongly recommended that you choose a pet that can be trained to at least behave properly. This will give you the best chance at a stress-free transition in your living situation. Make sure to check local animal shelters and rescues for animals that need to be adopted, but carefully choose an animal suitable to your lifestyle.
2. Talk to your doctor.
If you are experiencing emotional distress, talk to your doctor, therapist, or other medical professional who functions as part of your care team. If you do not have a diagnosis of an emotional disability or mental illness, you will not be eligible for an ESA.
There are multiple options for treating illnesses and multiple things you can try to maintain your mental and emotional health other than just by getting a pet. A pet is a major commitment to more than your health, so make sure you are fully prepared for the time and money requirements of having a pet of any kind.
3. Get documentation from your doctor.
To have an ESA, you must have a letter from your doctor explaining that you have a mental or emotional need for an ESA, and they must explain how your life will benefit from keeping an ESA. The letter will be your coverage for keeping your ESA in housing that doesn’t allow pets and certain other privileges allowed by keeping an ESA. You cannot register your pet online as an ESA unless it is through an organization that provides the proper ESA documentation after you have received a diagnosis through them or your personal medical provider. Companies that advertise payment for ESA registration are a scam as there is no certified registry for ESA.
Most types of pets can be kept as ESA, but there are steps you must follow to be in compliance with the laws surrounding ESA. Only pursue having your doctor write you an ESA letter for your pet if you genuinely need one. Fake ESA and Service Animals can be harmful to people who need the support of these types of animals. If you feel like you need the support of an ESA, talk to your doctor or therapist to get further instructions and help you get set up on a plan of care beyond just the support of an ESA.
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