Moosh - Woman Holding Cat

Bringing a pet into your life can be a daunting prospect, no matter how big or how small the animal is. You are now responsible for the livelihood of that creature, and they depend on you for the rest of their lives. Introducing a pet into your home is not a decision to take lightly, but for some people, it’s more than just a lifestyle choice. For those affected with a wide variety of mental disorders, teaming up with a pet can be a valuable part of their treatment program. When this occurs, as it is doing increasingly across the U.S., this pet is known as an emotional support animal (or ESA for short).

Treating the most common forms of mental disorders, like depression, anxiety, PTSD, autism, and bipolar, is not an exact science. It can be hard to quantify, and in the majority of cases, each patient requires an specialized approach to suit their particular form of the disorder in question. It’s proven, however, that emotional support animals can positively affect some of the most debilitating symptoms of the above diseases, just by their very presence. They don’t require any training or expertise; they simply comfort their owners with their presence, providing a sense of grounding and calm that patients can focus on during the worst bouts of their illness.

An emotional support animal can be a vital and effective form of treatment for many patients with mental illnesses.

Emotional support animals function just like normal pets; a person looking in from the outside wouldn’t know any different. However, they are actually allowed to venture where many other pets cannot – such as into plane cabins and rented accommodation – and for that, their owners/patients require a special document from their doctors or mental health professionals. This is known as an emotional support animal letter, or ESA letter, and is valid for one year. It is an important document that provides official status to the patient and their ESA, allowing them to avail of a number of specific laws provided for the disabled. Without this, your ESA is simply a regular pet in the eyes of the law, so it’s important to keep this with you at all times when you travel around with your emotional support animal.

Although ESAs can be existing pets that are granted ESA status from a doctor, they can also be new animals obtained specifically to aid their owner. In these cases, a patient might not be familiar with keeping an animal, and if so, it pays to keep a few safety-related things in mind as you start your life with your new friend.

1. Make Sure Your Pet Isn’t Aggressive

This is mainly focused on dogs and cats, and not other smaller ESAs like rabbits or guinea pigs. However, as dogs and cats comprise the majority of emotional support animals, it bears repeating: it’s vital that your pet isn’t naturally aggressive. If you are obtaining your pet as a puppy or kitten, then you must bring it up properly to make sure that it’s comfortable around other people and especially you. An aggressive animal will not be allowed on flights as it might cause danger to other passengers, and you will have trouble renting out a home if your pet is obviously agitated and potentially dangerous to others. The good news is that most animals are not this way, and with some simple, effective rearing methods, your ESA will grow up to be friendly and pleasant.

2. Make Sure Your Pet Listens To You

This ties in to tip number one, and is most specifically related to dogs. An unruly ESA is an erratic ESA, which won’t do anything to calm the concerns of neighbors, landlords, or airline staff. Another potential issue is that your emotional support dog can run off on you, causing you stress and anxiety about how and when he or she will return. A calm, well-behaved dog is the optimum ESA.

Moosh - Pug in Blanket
It’s important to know how to care for your ESA and keep them safe and happy at all times.

3. Make Sure You Can Transport Your Pet Safely

This applies to emotional support animals of all shapes and sizes: if you’re going to be travelling with your ESA, then make sure you can transport them safely, cleanly, and comfortably. This means keeping other people safe from your pet potentially breaking out of their carry case, and also serves as a reminder to keep your pet safe as they travel with you. If an animal isn’t comfortable or at ease, they’ll usually let you know, so make sure you do everything possible to ensure a smooth journey for your emotional support animal and your fellow travelers.

4. Make Sure To Animal-Proof Your House

If you’ve never had a pet before, this one can seem daunting, but it’s really just a case of common sense. Depending on the species, breed, and size of your ESA, you’ll have to apply different measures; but largely, you must consider any possible escape routes that might lead your pet outside or leave them stuck, high areas where they might hurt themselves, or any items which might be accessible and dangerous for them to consume.

Follow these simple safety guidelines and you’re all set to have a wonderful life with your emotional support animal!

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