It is no secret that pets make us feel better when we are having a tough day. Studies have proved the positive effect that spending time with your pet can have on stress, anxiety and depression. However, there is a wide gap between needing a pet to help you get through day-to-day life and simply enjoying spending time with them. Many people who struggle with emotional disabilities like anxiety can actually be prescribed an emotional support pet as part of their treatment.
What is an emotional support pet?
An emotional support pet can be any animal, not just a dog. Dogs, cats, ferrets, birds, hedgehogs and virtually any other type of animal can be considered an emotional support pet. Legally, your pet must be prescribed to you by a licensed mental health professional to help you with a disabling mental illness. A psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist must give you a prescription to get an emotional support pet because they feel like it is necessary to help your mental condition.
Emotional support pets aren’t trained to do any specific tasks like service dogs are. They help their owner just by being near and being a normal pet. The only training that emotional support pets need to have is to be house-broken and not do anything that would disturb others (like constant barking or any aggression).
Emotional support animals vs. service animals
Service animals are specifically dogs that are trained to perform certain tasks to aid people with disabilities. Emotional support animals do not qualify as service animals since they are not trained to perform any tasks. Service dogs can help deaf or blind people by alerting them to things that they can’t see or hear or bringing certain things to them. Emotional support animals may get close to their owners when they sense anxiety, but that is something that most pets do normally and not something they had to be trained to do.
Psychiatric service dogs
Also considered a service animal, psychiatric service dogs are covered by the American Disabilities Act. They are trained to do certain jobs to help their owner cope with their mental illness. A psychiatric service dog could be trained to remind their owner to take medication or keep them in a safe place if they are in a dissociative episode. Although both an emotional support animal and a psychiatric service dog help owners that have mental or emotional disabilities, the difference is that psychiatric service dogs must be trained to do certain tasks.
Therapy dogs are similar to emotional support animals, except that they provide support to many individuals instead of just one. Therapy dogs go to schools, nursing homes and hospitals to provide therapeutic relief to people who struggle in day-to-day life. Elderly people as well as troubled children or anyone who is ill can benefit from a visit from a therapy dog. Though they have one owner, their job is to be friendly to the people they meet and offer emotional support.
Emotional support animal privileges
Service dogs are generally allowed anywhere the public is allowed, including restaurants, hotels and other places that regular pets aren’t allowed. Emotional support animals are not afforded the same privileges and are not allowed anywhere that regular pets can’t be. ESAs are not allowed to go with their owner into shopping malls or restaurants like service dogs are.
The Air Carrier Access Act does allow emotional support animals to be with their owner in the cabin of an aircraft, though they do require documentation. It is a good idea to call the airline ahead of time if you plan to bring your emotional support animal with you. Make sure you have all the paperwork they need to be able to board smoothly.
The Fair Housing Act also includes emotional support animals in its rule that people can’t be discriminated against for their disability. In other words, if you have an emotional support pet, any rules like no pets, species bans or pet size limitations don’t apply to you. You must be allowed to have your pet live with you and you don’t have to pay the pet deposit.
A letter from a psychiatrist or psychologist stating your need for an emotional support animal is commonly known as an ESA letter. Getting a legitimate ESA letter can improve your life and your pets’ life dramatically if you know that you need an emotional support animal. If you have an ESA letter, your pet can live with you regardless of your landlord’s rules and you don’t have to pay a pet deposit. You can also bring your pet with you when you fly and you don’t have to pay any pet fees. It is important to take an ESA letter very seriously. You shouldn’t try to get a letter just for convenience or to avoid paying fees because it makes it harder for people who truly have emotional issues to be taken seriously.
If you have any questions about care for your Emotional Support Pet, please contact our team at Longview Animal Hospital. We will be happy to provide additional guidance.