An emotional support animal (ESA) is not your average pet. This is a companion animal that supplies therapeutic benefit to a person suffering with a mental or psychiatric disorder. In order for an individual to be paired with an emotional support animal, they must have an emotional disability verified by a psychologist, therapist, psychiatrist or other certified mental health professional.
Here’s a list of the disorders emotional support animals assist with:
- Learning disorders.
- Attention Deficit Disorder also known as ADD.
- Sexual disorder.
- Mental retardation.
- Tic disorders.
- Motor skills disorders.
- Bipolar disorder.
- Gender identity.
- Substance-related disorder (alcohol and/or narcotics).
- Cognitive disorders.
Under the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, these animals are considered a “reasonable accommodation” to any housing communities that have a “no pets” policy and for air travel. This puts emotional support animals in the same category as wheel chairs for the physically disabled.
As of 2013, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development declared that public universities are required to comply with the Fair Housing Act. That means college dormitories and residence halls have to allow emotional support animals. As of 2015, colleges in the United States including, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, have accommodated students with a documented need for emotional support animals.
ESAs are different than service animals. Service dog is specially trained to help a person with physical disabilities through their everyday lives, e.g. a dog that guides a visually impaired person. Service dogs are also granted more access privileges in public places such as on planes, and in restaurants.
Moving forward to getting an emotional support animal, to verify the emotional disability, it should be presented in a formal and appropriately formatted letter. The letter must be written on the mental health professional’s letterhead, include his or her license type, date of license, license number, the state in which issued the license, and the date the letter was written (letters expire after one year). There a plenty of sample letters on the web for reference.
The content of the letter will need to have some details that will inform the recipient that you are:
- A current patient of your mental health professional
- Substantially limited ability participating in at least one of life’s major activities because of your disability
- Being prescribed an emotional support animal as an integral part for the treatment of your disability
Unlike service animals, emotional support animals are not required to train in order to perform physical services for their handlers. An emotional support animal provides emotional support for their handlers and can qualify as long as the animal does not cause a disturbance or excessive hardship for a landlord or property manager.
Emotional support animals are typically, but not limited to, dogs or cats. Mini pigs, mice, birds, snakes, rats, hedgehogs, rabbits and ferrets can qualify! Any age is welcome, so your brand new puppy can even do the job. That and any dog breed will work perfectly fine!
If you’re interested in registered your pet as one check out: http://usdogregistry.org/registration/register-emotional-support-dog/