Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) provide therapeutic value to people diagnosed with physical and mental disabilities. Symptoms of dementia, depression, PTSD, and other conditions have shown clinical improvement with the help of emotional support animals. ESAs are covered by protections under the Americans With Disabilities Act, ADA, and HUDs Fair Housing Act and qualify for air travel and are permitted to live in any public housing without incurring pet fees or deposits.
ESAs are sometimes confused with service animals. Service animals are trained to specifically compensate for a physical disability and require certification. Seeing eye dogs are the most common service animals. Emotional support animals are not required to complete training or certification.
A letter from a licensed mental health provider is required for air travel with an ESA and a letter is also required when bypassing housing restrictions as defined by HUD. Service animals, by law, must be permitted in public spaces like restaurants, hospitals, courts, and public transportation. However, ESAs do not qualify under federal law for mandatory public access.
Any kind of pet can become an emotional support animal, but domestic pets are the most common ESAs such as dogs, cats, and ferrets.
Dogs are excellent emotional support animals and the most popular by far. Dogs tend to be loyal and provide great company. The friendship of dogs can ease lonliness and depression. Dogs also help reduce social anxiety and provide physical engagement including exercise, which has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Dogs are also a beloved member of most societies and tend to be welcomed in many establishments and settings where other animals may be refused. Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds top the list of the most popular ESAs.
While dogs offer many benefits, they do require a lot of attention and care. Some people with physical and mental disabilities may find caring for a dog too much responsibility, which can exacerbate symptoms of certain conditions such as anxiety or dementia.
Cats also make very suitable ESAs. Their calm demeanor and docile behavior can reduce stress. Some cats are very affectionate which can improve symptoms of depression such as feelings of isolation. Cats are also low maintenance compared to dogs, including lower vet costs, which may appeal to people who can be overwhelmed by the effort required to care for dogs. However, cats have the advantage of being easily transported and can often accompany people to doctor visits or other appointments outside of the house when discreetly secured in a pet carrier. While cats provide a certain level of friendship, they may not provide enough stimulation or engagement for some individuals.
Ferrets may seem like an unlikely choice as an emotional support animal because they sometimes have a reputation for being unruly. However, ferrets are a popular choice for ESAs They are playful, gentle and known for their affectionate personalities. People who suffer with depression often find them to be great companions that can alleviate many of the symptoms associated with depression. Ferrets are also low- maintenance pets and because of their small size, Ferrets are small in size and more affordable to maintain than larger ESAs. Ferrets have also been trained to alert owners before the onset of a seizure, which not only helps individuals prepare for a seizure but significantly reduces anxiety in individuals with epilepsy.
Important points to keep in mind when deciding if an emotional support animal is the right choice may include;
- Caring for an animal is a significant responsibility and may actually bring stress and worry to an individual. Will the ESA require too much attention and care to provide support?
- Keep in mind that emotional support animals are protected under federal laws such as the ADA, or HUDs fair housing laws which designate ESAs the right to travel on airlines and to live with owners in any public housing. However, these federal laws do not require access to public or private spaces.
- Emotionally support animals do not require certification or training. However, a letter from a licensed mental health provider may be required to qualify for airline travel and to qualify your ESA for exceptions to housing restrictions.
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