Unlike other pets, an emotional support animal (or ESA for short) is allowed to accompany its owner in places where normal pets would usually be forbidden. ESAs aren’t like other pets; they are a specialized form of animal that are prescribed as a treatment plan for anyone suffering from a mental health disorder. ESAs are particularly useful in the ongoing fight against depression, anxiety, PTSD and bi-polar disorder; they provide a constant presence which soothes symptoms of these all-too-common afflictions.
ESAs require no special training or conditioning, unlike other therapy animals. The main difference is who they cater for; therapy dogs are brought around by their owners to soothe other people, such as those living in some form of institution, whereas ESAs exist solely to help their owners, who are suffering from a mental disorder.
Because they receive no formal training, emotional support animals are afforded their status by an emotional support animal letter (or ESA letter) prescribed by a licensed medical health professional. They’re also protected by a number of laws which exist to allow an ESA to accompany their owner where other pets can’t.
One of the major provisions allocated to emotional support animals include the freedom to travel with their owners on various modes of transport, including trains, buses, boats and planes. Traveling with an animal can be a stressful experience at the best of times, let alone when you’re dealing with a mental affliction in the middle of it all; luckily we’ve made this handy checklist so you’re prepared for any journey you and your ESA pet might take!
Your ESA Letter
This is all-important. Your ESA letter is the key that unlocks your rights to the Air Carrier Access Act, a crucial bill that allows you to board planes with your animal. In fact, it’s important to present your ESA letter wherever you’re going with your animal, especially if it’s a place that pets aren’t usually allowed in.
It’s most applicable to airline travel however; airline staff must let you on the aircraft if you have informed them you’ll be traveling with an ESA beforehand, and you present a valid ESA letter that has been issued within one year. Remember, the ACAA is there to protect the person with disabilities, not the animal itself, and is triggered by the ESA letter; it’s your responsibility to remember it and present when necessary.
Depending on what species your pet is, a leash is usually a good idea. Bus stations, airports and ferry terminals are often crowded; your ESA can easily get over-stimulated or anxious with all the noise and movement. A leash will ensure that you can maneuver your ESA through the crowds with ease, and won’t lose him in the stressful surrounds of a crammed terminal.
It’s not a pleasant aspect of traveling, but unfortunately, it’s something we all have to go through. You can ease the stress by ensuring that your animal is safe and secure with you at all times.
A Blanket or Bedding
This is especially applicable to long-haul flights; in all the chaos of preparing for a trip, it’s easy to forget about your poor pet, who would probably love the opportunity to bed down and catch a nap during transit. If you’re flying with your animal, this is especially important, as an airplane cabin can be cramped and not hugely comfortable.
Though your ESA should get its own seat if you’ve informed the airline beforehand of your intent to travel with a pet, you can make him much more settled and comfortable if you fluff up his favorite blanket before he sits down.
A Travel Carrier
This seems an obvious one, but if you have a small animal who is used to being out and about with you, this one can easily be overlooked. Not all emotional support animals will need (or can fit in) a travel carrier, but there might be times when you’re pleased you have one on hand.
Traveling is a stressful event for anyone, let alone a pet, who doesn’t understand this new situation he or she is being thrust into. A travel carrier might be a particularly good idea the first few times you travel with your animal, to get him used to the unusual stimulations of an airport or train station.
Something to Clean Up With
Unfortunately, no matter how well-trained your pet is, accidents do happen. It’s unavoidable sometimes, and the stress and anxiety that could come from traveling won’t exactly help the situation. The best thing you can do in this case is follow the Boy Scout’s and ‘be prepared’.
You can’t prevent it, but you can make the clean up as quick and painless as possible. Of course, some animals will happily travel without a bother, and won’t get spooked or stressed at all; however, pets can often surprise their owners at the best of times, so it never hurts to ready yourself for a messy outcome.
Now that you know what to pack, it’s time for you and your emotional support animal to get ready for some awesome adventures!