Emotional support animals (ESA) can provide support to their owners who struggle with mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. However, the recent influx of stories about exotic emotional animals ranging from a duck to a peacock have established a novel interest in ESAs and how they can benefit people’s lives.
Not everyone with a psychological diagnosis requires an emotional support animal, and those who buy false certificates for ESAs online are also not within their bounds to have one. Unfortunately, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people are claiming their pets are being discriminated against when they have a legitimate need for them.
To clarify this, we’ll discuss what an emotional support animal really is, who they benefit and how to get one if you think it would benefit you.
Emotional Support Animals vs. Service Pets
A service dog is professionally trained to perform specific tasks for their handler; emotional support animals do not require professional training, but they do have to be dogs under the ADA. ESAs are also covered under the Federal Fair Housing Act, which permits people with qualifying conditions and disabilities to have a pet in their home even if the property does not typically allow pets.
ESAs need to be prescribed by a doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist via a letter of recommendation. Without this, a cat, dog or other pet is not a registered emotional support animal, and you won’t be granted the same liberties for bringing it in restricted areas.
Who Needs an Emotional Support Animal?
Pets can provide incredible support and love. Their presence is a blessing for many reasons and those who struggle with a psychological condition, learning disability or developmental delay can benefit from them even more. These pets can help ward off anxiety attacks, provide emotional consolation and bring a greater sense of calm and focus to their handlers.
ESA assessments are based on identifying the animal brought. Someone may benefit from having a registered emotional support animal if they experience any of the following.
- Chronic depression
- Anxiety disorders including PTSD, OCD, GAD and social anxiety.
- High stress levels
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- High blood pressure, elevated heart rate and other negative physical symptoms due to psychological distress
- Developmental delays that impact emotional regulation
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
The exact animal and benefit it provides will vary, and the needs for the handler will be considered by the professional as well. In some cases, a service dog may be a better fit than an emotional support animal due to its specialized training. The pet’s behavior will also be taken into consideration; an ESA must have the proper temperament and not pose a risk of being disruptive or dangerous to other people or animals.
The Cons of an Emotional Support Animal
For those who do not understand the difference between an ESA and service animal, there can be serious consequences. Even if they manage to acquire registration, an ESA that is poorly trained or not suited to provide support in a public setting can be a liability. Untrained pets, however calm and normally well-behaved, can become aggressive or run off when they are meant to be providing care to their handler. The handler is then held responsible for the pets behavior and any damages it causes, which could even be serious injury to others in extreme cases.
ESAs are also not designed to provide physical support or detect emotional disturbances like a service dog. The latter are trained to suit their handler’s unique medical conditions and psychological needs; they can give a greater level of personalized care than a non-service animal.
Finding the Right Pet for You
Cats, dogs and other animals can bring much-needed support to your life. If you want to include an animal in your mental health treatment or management, the best thing to do is talk with a professional. Doctors and therapists can assess how an animal can help you, and even make arrangements for you to acquire a service dog or get ESA registration for your pet.