(AscendHealthy.com) – There’s a lot of false information out there about emotional support animals (ESAs), but they are legitimate needs for some people, and it is possible to go through the emotional support animal registration process. ESA registration requires a letter from a physician on letterhead that states the physician’s license number, name, address, the patient’s name, and the reason or condition for the ESA need.
While various conditions may qualify a person for an ESA, anxiety and depression (sometimes tied to loss, loneliness, or grief) as well as the emotional effects of physical pain are common reasons for ESA registration. However, ESAs are not service animals.
What Is an Emotional Support Animal?
An emotional support animal is an animal required to provide a specific person with mental health support. An ESA provides a positive benefit to a person with mental health needs. The emotional connection humans can have with animals can create support for an individual living with trauma, anxiety, depression, abandonment, or loneliness. In addition, animal companionship can aid in physical health improvement, such as giving a person a reason to go for a walk with their emotional support animal.
What Are ESA Accommodations?
If a person has an ESA, they cannot be charged extra rent for the animal, nor can they be denied housing based on their need for an animal (even if the property doesn’t typically permit animals). These accommodations are legal requirements. However, airlines do not have to permit ESA companions to fly, due to a change in legislation.
What’s the Difference Between an ESA and a Service Animal?
Emotional support animals are allowed everywhere non-ESA pets are allowed. The only time they get special access treatment is in a needs-based housing situation (see above) or a potential work accommodation. Emotional support animals are not permitted in all locations open to service animals.
Service animals receive specific training required to assist with medical needs. Examples include dogs that can detect seizures and warn their owners, seeing eye dogs to help blind individuals, and dogs that can fetch items that a paralyzed person could not otherwise access, such as keys that have been dropped.
Other types of animal helpers include comfort animals and therapy animals.
How to Register an ESA
There is no official form or registration required to have an ESA. However, to obtain housing in a property that does not normally accept animals, or to attempt to take an ESA dog to work, the individual with an ESA must have a note from a doctor regarding treatment (as stated above). This official note should also be placed on file with the pet’s veterinarian for record-keeping.
While a note from a physician, such as a primary care physician, is standard for ESA paperwork, not everyone has affordable access to healthcare in the United States. There are services that can help a person in need obtain ESA paperwork without health insurance or other doctor access. If the patient does have health insurance, it is likely less expensive to schedule a medical visit and get their doctor to provide the requisite paperwork.
Note that communities, neighborhoods, counties, states, and other governing bodies may have specific rules and procedures about ESAs. Like most pets, canine and feline ESAs (as well as service dogs) are still required to get licensed by the county and must receive a rabies shot. Generally, the license is issued with proof of rabies shot.
Due to the confusion about the difference between an ESA and a service animal, it is likely that someone with an ESA will be mocked or ridiculed, even though their ESA need is legitimate. When this occurs, the person should be armed with the above facts about ESAs and understand their legal rights regarding both harassment protection and ESAs.
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