How Do I Register My Cat as an Emotional Support Animal?
Science has proven time and time again the positive impact that pets can have on our mental health. A pet can be a lifesaver for many people with mental illness and emotional distress. Thankfully, Emotional Support Animals, or ESA, are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), providing certain protections to these animals.1
Due to the rise of social media platforms, people are becoming more and more aware of the presence of ESA and the potential for getting their own. Unfortunately, this is also something that is abused by some people. It’s important to talk about all aspects of ESAs before you attempt to register your cat as an ESA, though. If you want to register your cat as an emotional support animal, you should talk to your doctor. Keep reading to learn more!
Who Can Benefit from an ESA?
While most people can benefit from the companionship of a pet, there are far fewer people who require the support of an ESA. People who can benefit from their cat as an ESA are those who have been professionally diagnosed with a disorder or illness that causes some level of emotional disability. The diagnosis should come from a psychologist, psychiatrist, medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or another medical professional who is allowed to diagnose under the parameters of their licensure.
People who have been diagnosed with disorders like PTSD, clinical depression, anxiety, manic depressive disorder, and even ADHD. Some people benefit from an ESA and not just a companion animal because ESAs are offered protections under the ADA that companion animals are not offered.
What Protections Does the ADA Extend to ESA?
It’s important to differentiate between the animals that are offered protections under the ADA. ESA are not extended the same protections that service animals are given. Service animals are given allowances for housing and are allowed in places that pets are not, like grocery stores and hospitals. Service Animals are trained to perform specific tasks to support people with disabilities. Some service animals may support people with emotional disabilities but they are trained to intervene when issues like panic attacks arise.
ESAs are not the same thing as a service animal, and it’s extremely important that you never attempt to pass off a companion pet or ESA as a service animal, as this hurts people who have a legitimate need for a service animal. According to the ADA, cats cannot be service animals, so your cat can only potentially be an ESA for you. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) does allow protections to ESA, allowing you to get housing with your ESA, even if the landlord doesn’t allow pets. If the landlord refuses access to your ESA, you can file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that you believe you are being discriminated against, and they will investigate the claim.
How Do I Register My Cat as an ESA?
There is no registration body for ESA (or service animals, for that matter). Any website or organization that is selling registrations for ESA is simply a money grab that will not benefit you or your cat in any way.
If you feel you need an ESA, you don’t just need a diagnosis from a medical professional. You must have a letter from your doctor or therapist explaining that you have an emotional disability and how the presence of your ESA can help you manage that disability. You will need to provide this letter to your landlord for FHA coverage.
It’s also recommended that you provide your landlord with a letter stating that you are requesting a “reasonable accommodation to keep a pet that functions as an assistance animal”. Reasonable accommodation is covered under the FHA, so this statement may serve no other function than to let the landlord know that you are familiar with the FHA protections for your ESA.
What Protections Do ESA Lack?
ESA are not service animals, so they lack all the protections given to service animals except for housing allowances. Your ESA is not legally allowed to go places like grocery stores, restaurants, and hospitals. There are legal fines associated with attempting to pass off an ESA as a service animal since fake service animals do a lot of harm to people with disabilities who require service animal assistance. Since cats are not able to be service animals, you should definitely not risk attempting to pass your cat off as a service animal.
ESA can be a really beneficial addition to the lives of some people. Unfortunately, this is something that is abused by many, which in turn hurts people who require the support of an ESA. If you have a diagnosed emotional disability that you feel would benefit from your cat being an ESA, then you should talk to your doctor or therapist about your options. If they agree that it could be beneficial to you, then they can provide you with a letter that provides you FHA protections.
See also: Can You Have More Than One Emotional Support Animal?
Featured Image Credit: Marlia Boiko, Shutterstock