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Emotional support animals (ESA) help individuals to overcome mental health challenges. Other people may only see a pet, but an emotional support animal fulfills the valuable role of supporting the handler in mastering life’s challenges that others might take for granted.

Is an Emotional Support Animal for you?

If you have a mental disability — such as depression, anxiety, or other psychological disorder — you may qualify for an emotional support animal. It is well documented that ESAs provide a therapeutic benefit through comfort and companionship. To qualify for an emotional support animal, you need to obtain an ESA letter. Talk to your licensed health care professional or, if your therapist is unavailable or out of state, connect with one through an online service, such as ESA Doctors.

Pets versus Emotional Support Animals 

On a general level, pets provide a special beneficial relationship. The Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) has collected scientific evidence, which shows how pets positively influence human lives. Pets can encourage social interaction. Pet owners are more likely to get to know their neighbors and have positive relationships than individuals who don’t own a pet. Pets can contribute to a healthy life by improving physical health, decreasing stress levels, and providing companionship.

Emotional support animals, however, have a very specific and essential task. 

Difference between service dogs, emotional support animals, and therapy dogs. An Emotional Support Animal is More Than a Pet

More than pets, ESAs are required to serve a vital therapeutic purpose. ESAs allow people with emotional and mental health challenges to accomplish life activities that they would otherwise be unable to do. But, as opposed to a psychiatric service dog, an emotional support animal is not trained to perform a specific task.

Given the importance of the human-animal bond, it’s not hard to imagine how emotional support animals can improve the quality of life for a person suffering from a mental health issue or disability. 

Emotional support animals serve a particular therapeutic purpose by helping with emotional and mental health issues.

Mental Health Help

Before the value of emotional support animals can be explained, the importance of a person’s healthy mental well-being needs to be recognized. Mental health affects a person’s life as a whole. Not addressing these mental health concerns can cause problems at work, school, with friends, or even with family. Ignoring mental health issues can also compromise physical health in the long run by raising blood pressure, increasing heart rate, and causing muscle tension. 

Inadequate mental health can leave a person feeling lonely, drained, and defeated, unable to perform daily tasks that others take for granted. For example, a person may experience anxiety, making them unable to travel or be in social situations. Illnesses such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can cause insomnia, causing someone to be unable to obtain adequate sleep. Mental concerns can have a sweeping negative impact on a person’s life.

Emotional Support Dog helps to keep a positive outlook on life. Benefits of an Emotional Support Animal

For people trying to overcome mental health issues, every little triumph can help on the way to recovery. Emotional support animals can offer support on the path to healing. 

Numerous studies have documented how ESAs can be part of the wellness plan for mental health issues and other disorders. Emotional support animals have been essential in helping people manage disorders such as:

Anxiety Depression Post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) Agoraphobia (fear of being outside of the home) Aerophobia (fear of flying) General Anxiety Disorder Stress-induced situations Social shyness.

Get the Love and Support you deserve!

Anxiety and PTSD

Anxiety can be difficult to overcome without assistance. For those whose anxieties include phobias, anxiety can make everyday tasks impossible to accomplish. Emotional support animals are useful for anxiety and specific phobias. The ESAs provide a sense of comfort and safety, enabling patients to face and overcome those phobias. For instances:

Individuals who tend to have anxiety attacks when traveling often feel calmer in the presence of an Emotional Support Animal. Hospitalized patients with serious medical diagnoses have been shown to experience a decrease in anxiety when able to interact with an ESA. In courtrooms, Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals are used to provide victims some security while they are testifying against their alleged assailant.

Many therapists utilize Emotional Support Animals for veterans who have PTSD. A Pairing Assistance-Dogs with Soldiers (PAWS) study demonstrated that dogs significantly reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress in veterans. Veterans with Service or Emotional Support Dogs reported improved interpersonal relationships with others, fewer instances of depression, and fewer instances of substance abuse than veterans without dogs.  

An emotional support cat offers comfort and healing. Depression

In the case of depression, emotional support dogs can save a life. In instances of severe depression, a person may be unable to perform daily activities, or they may have feelings of suicide. There is scientific evidence that a human-animal bond can be a protective factor against suicide and depression. An ESA for depression can improve mood, increase sociability, and promote responsiveness to others in cases of depression.

Beyond Priceless

An emotional support animal — a dog, cat, or any other animal — serves a specific and valuable service for the people they accompany. More than pets, ESAs serve a particular therapeutic purpose by helping deal with emotional and mental health issues. Understanding the therapeutic value of emotional support animals can lead to their increased acceptance into society.

What Is an Emotional Support Dog?

Anyone who has owned a dog knows the unconditional love and support they give.  There’s nothing like coming home from a bad day at work and waiting for you at the door is your furry friend waiting to give you all the love you need and turn your day around. 

Because of their ability to provide support and unconditional love, the mental health profession has begun using dogs (and other animals) as emotional support for individuals with varying mental health issues.  Emotional support dogs have been shown to help individuals suffering from the following:

Agoraphobia (the fear of leaving the home) Anxiety Depression General Anxiety Disorder PTSD Social Shyness Stress-Induced Situations

With the help of emotional support dogs, those suffering from the above disorders have been able to begin recovering and regaining the confidence and freedom with the help of their emotional support dog.

How Can I Make My Dog An Emotional Support Dog? Get an ESA letter from a licensed medical healthcare provider. Provide your ESA letter to your landlord. Get your ESA identification card and register your Emotional Support Dog. Enjoy living with your Emotional Support Dog.

In order to receive the rights under the laws afforded to emotional support dogs, the dog must be prescribed by a mental health professional for an individual who is suffering from a disabling mental illness. 

Emotional support dogs do not have to be licensed or registered, but you do need to have an ESA letter written by a mental health professional (on their letterhead) that states that you are suffering from an emotional disability and the emotional support dog is vital to your wellbeing. 

The letter must be signed, dated, and include the mental health professional’s license number and the date and place where their license was issued. It is important to note that the letter prescribed by your mental health professional is only valid for one year. 

Emotional support dogs do not require any specific training and the only difference between them and a pet is a letter from the prescribing mental health professional. While emotional support dogs are not required to be registered many individuals choose to register their support dog and carry an identification card and have their dog wear an ESA (emotional support animal) vest because it makes it easier to travel with their emotional support dog.

Click Here to Qualify for Your ESA Letter

What Rights Do Emotional Support Dogs Have?

Emotional support animals do not have the same rights as service dogs and psychiatric service dogs under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Service dogs have been specifically trained to help perform tasks for individuals with disabilities and have the right to accompany them into any place the normal public has access to. 

Because service dogs are trained and are needed by a disabled individual to perform tasks like pulling a wheelchair, alerting an individual they are about to have a seizure, or assisting a visually impaired individual across the street they are afforded more rights than are emotional support dogs. 

There is also a difference between psychiatric service dogs and emotional support dogs as again they are specifically trained to help assist individuals suffering from a disabling mental illness. Psychiatric service dogs are trained to detect and recognize the beginning of a psychiatric episode and then help to ease the effects of that psychiatric episode, once again because they are specially trained and licensed they are afforded more rights than emotional support dogs. 

When out in public establishments including restaurants, theaters, stores, etc. have the right to ask two questions:

Do you need the animal because of a disability? What work or tasks has the animal been trained to perform?

If an individual is unable to answer these two questions then they do not have a service animal that is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the establishment has the right to refuse to allow the animal on their premises.

Emotional support dogs do not have the same public access rights as service dogs under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, ESAs are protected under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Under this federal housing law individuals with emotional support animals are allowed to have them in their residence even if there is a no-pet rule in effect. Emotional support animals owner are protected against discrimination and property managers are required to make reasonable accommodations for them.

Conclusion

While emotional support dogs provide an essential service to many individuals suffering from certain mental health issues, because they do not require any specialized training, registration, or licensing they are not afforded the same rights as service dogs are. 

Having said this, ESA owners are protected against discrimination under federal and state housing laws, so you can live with your emotional support dog even if you can’t take them to the local restaurant with you. 

Since qualifying for an emotional support dog only require a letter from your mental health professional you can receive the benefits from your own animal saving you time and money searching for a dog that provides you with the emotional support you need.

Step by Step Guide – How to Get an ESA Letter for Flying

Have you seen dogs in the airport and wonder why they are allowed to fly? Chances are, they are emotional support animals. Below we will address steps to qualify for an ESA Letter so you may travel with your dog.

Step #1 – Understand and identify your disability Do you qualify for an ESA letter?

You can be eligible for an ESA letter if you have disabilities, as noted in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). A few examples are:

Depression Social Anxiety Disorder Anxiety Disorder Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Panic Attacks What is an Emotional Support Animal?

An Emotional Support Animal is a pet that provides comfort and love to their handler. An ESA can be any type of animal through an Emotional Support Dog is the most common choice.

Unlike a Service Dog, an Emotional Support Dog does not require special training but does have to be well behaved.

Step #2 – Understand your rights Are Emotional Support Animals allowed to fly? A few airlines allow you to fly on an airplane with an Emotional Support Animal.

On January 11, 2021, rules by the U.S. Department of Transportation went into effect, giving airlines the option to no longer recognize emotional support animals. As a result, many airlines are no longer accepting emotional support animals on flights. A few airlines still allow ESAs into the cabin of the airplane at no extra cost, but their rules and policies may be adjusted at any time.

Please check with your airline prior to booking a flight to confirm their current policy for ESAs as it may change. It is better to contact the airline ahead of time to feel confident that you have all the required documentation needed for your trip.

If you’re flying with an airline that no longer has an ESA program, your animal must meet the airline’s requirements for regular pets.

Step #3 – Qualify for a Legitimate ESA letter How to qualify your dog as an Emotional Support Animal?

If you feel that you may qualify for an Emotional Support Animal, you may contact your therapist for support. If your therapist is unaware of ESA regulations, you may refer to a legitimate online referral company. It is important that you work with a therapist who believes in animal therapy and understands the regulations as the ESA letter requires specific language.

Click here to qualify for your ESA letter

If you qualify for an Emotional Support Animal and have an ESA letter, we recommend that you submit your ESA letter to the participating airline ahead of time for approval. Each airline has their policy and procedure, so it’s best to inquire about their requirements as soon as possible not to run into any problems at the airport.

You are not required to register your Emotional Support Animal – only an ESA letter from a licensed therapist may make your pet an official Emotional Support Animal.

Step #4 – Train your ESA to be a “good citizen”

Although an Emotional Support Animal does not require special training, they need to be well behaved. If you plan on taking your ESA onto an airplane, the participating airlines has the right to deny you access if they determine that your ESA may cause harm to others. 

Examples of good citizen behavior are:

Walking with you and within the leash length; not pulling or lunging Ignoring food on the floor or in other passenger’s hands Not barking or lunging Sitting and staying on command Step #5 – Prepare your ESA for success Exercise and prepare for your ESA’s flight

As mentioned earlier, inquire with your airline regarding their assistance animals policy well in advance. We recommend contacting the airline as soon as you book your flight and submit any required documentation at least 48 hours before departure.

Here are some helpful tips for travelling with your ESA:

Do not give your ESA food or water 3-4 hours before the flight. Make sure they have ample opportunity to relieve themselves before the flight. Prepare treats for good behavior in the airport. This is an excellent opportunity to reward them for positive behavior and enforce it for the next trip. Your ESA should associate the airport as a fun place where they get tons of treats in return for behaving well. Make sure your ESA exercises 1-2 hours before the flight. This will help them get rid of excess energy. Outfit your ESA with an easily identifiable vest. Although not required by law, accessories like vests and tags make identifying your dog as an ESA easier and may prevent unnecessary confrontations. You may also choose to give your ESA Dramamine for motion sickness or Benadryl to help them sleep. Each animal is different; please consult your veterinarian before giving your ESA medicine.

See if you qualify for an Emotional Support Animal letter from ESA Doctors by clicking the link below.

More articles that you may find helpful: Emotional Support Animal Laws What to do if Your Landlord Does Not Accept Your ESA