Dec 5, 2016
There are plenty of things you might not have realized about emotional support animals (ESAs), even if you’re familiar with the basics. These wonderful companions can bring a great deal of joy and relief to the lives of those who struggle with a wide variety of issues from ADHD to panic attacks.
Here are ten things that you didn’t know about emotional support animals.
1 - A letter from a licensed therapist is needed
Many people don’t realize that emotional support animals are part of a licensing process. In order to qualify, a licensed therapist must submit a letter that details the condition of the individual. A diagnosis that’s defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V) must be detailed in the letter. There are a myriad of conditions that can qualify an individual for an emotional support animal, including depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and many more. Often individuals who suffer from these conditions don’t have a formal diagnosis, but working with a licensed clinician can help to clarify the process and to get treatment with an emotional support animal off the ground.
2 - All kind of animals can be emotional support animals
Though dogs are the most popular form of ESA, they are by no means the only kind of animal that can qualify an individual. An ESA can be a cat, bird, hamster, rabbit, hedgehog, pig, or in fact any kind of animal that’s reasonably sized and has the temperament for the job. There are still some reasonable limits to what kind of animals can be ESAs. For example, a tarantula or scorpion are challenging to qualify.
3 - ESAs must comply with import regulations like quarantine laws
Though emotional support animals are able to go on planes or trains in many instances, they must still respect the regulations of the states or countries that they are crossing into through that transportation. Some countries require that any animal be boarded for a period of time before crossing the border, or that certain vaccinations must have been completed. There’s often critical paperwork to be filed out before crossing into a country. Always ensure to investigate regulations before attempting to cross any border.
4 - Emotional support animals are part of a larger treatment plan
Just as medication or therapy are part of a treatment plan for psychological illness, so too are emotional support animals part of the treatment process. In many cases, people find that these companions are critical to their progress in moving forward with life. These creatures aren’t a cure all, but they do provide critical comfort and support for those who need them and can be part of the cure.
Many people who use ESAs believe that they are more effective than even medication as they work through anxiety, depression, or other mental illness. Recovery from psychological illness complex and can be intense. An emotional support animal can help.
5 - The Fair Housing Act provides for ESAs
Even individuals who live in housing that otherwise has a “no pets” policy can keep an emotional support animal thanks to the Fair Housing Act. This piece of federal legislation provides that housing cannot be limited based on a series of factors including race, color, national origin, and disability. It’s that last provision that makes emotional support animals part of the equation.
Tenants must have documentation from a licensed medical practitioner in order to pursue this accommodation. It’s unlawful for a landlord to discriminate against an individual due to a mental disability, and they have to offer a rental as a reasonable accommodation.
6 - College students can qualify for an ESA
Dorms often must comply with the FHA just as other landlords. Many college students have mental health challenges that can be eased with the companionship of an emotional support animal. Given the increased stress that university life can bring, an ESA is a reasonable accommodation for many individuals.
The process for an ESA in the college setting is the same as it is for any other setting, involving documentation from a licensed mental health professional. For many students, an ESA is the difference between success and failure in the college setting.
7 - ESAs do not require pet deposits
Though many housing providers require deposits for pets, they’re waived for emotional support animals. That goes for any additional fees that are associated with pets, as emotional service animals are associated with a disability and therefore not subject to fees.
8 - There are limitations to ESAs
Though emotional support animals can go most anywhere with their owners, there are still limitations on where they can be. It’s important that those who own emotional support animals know their rights under the current laws and advocate for themselves. For instance, in regards to housing, certain types of landlords, such as those who own fewer than three rental units, are not required to accommodate emotional support animals per FHA guidelines.
9 - Emotional support animals do not need special training
The thrust of the difference between service animals and emotional support animals is that ESAs don’t require any special training. There has been a court ruling stating that emotional service animals must facilitate the individual’s ability to function with regards to their disability, but that does not necessarily entail any special training.
10 - It’s not required that you disclose the nature of your disability
Though various places that and ESA might go can legally require you to provide documentation of the disability that’s the reason for the emotional support animal, they may not ask you about the nature of your disability. Privacy is legally guaranteed in the case of individuals with any kind of disability, including those that would require the use of an ESA. The details of the disability that is associated with an ESA is only between an individual and their care provider.