Moosh - Dog Lying on the Floor

For people with certain disabilities or impairments, an emotional support animal (ESA) is a great therapeutic option. Having an animal there to comfort you and help alleviate some of the effects of your condition can be a boon to your mental and physical health. If you’re new to the world of emotional support animals, there’s a lot to know. At Moosh, we’ve got you covered with this guide to ESA ownership.

What is an emotional support animal?

An emotional support animal isn’t to be confused with a service animal. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, ESAs don’t have to meet any training requirements for their designation. They’re there to offer the owner comfort, but are not trained to recognize any symptoms or help you deal with them when they arise.

How emotional support animals can help

Emotional support animals are recommended by a doctor or other licensed health care provider to provide emotional support to their owner. A wide range of animals can be ESAs and can help their owners work through issues such as anxiety, phobias, depression, and other psychological or emotional conditions.

Several studies have shown that pets can improve your mental health. Animals have been found to help improve anxiety levels, reduce stress, and even lower blood pressure and heart rate.

How to get an ESA

If you think you’d benefit from having an emotional support animal, then you need a special letter to verify that an ESA would be helpful to your health and wellbeing. An ESA letter is normally issued by a doctor or mental health professional and written on an official letterhead.

You can get an ESA letter online by connecting with a licensed professional over the internet to evaluate your needs. You’ll then have your ESA letter emailed to you.

What kind of ESA is best?

Just about any domesticated animal can qualify as an emotional support animal, but an ESA that isn’t a dog or a cat may be scrutinized by mental health professionals without clear evidence that the animal benefits you. That’s why most people have a dog or a cat as their ESA.

Moosh - dog and cat
What kind of animal suits you best as an ESA?

People are unique and so are animals, so there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to finding the right ESA. Before choosing an emotional support animal, you should think about your lifestyle and what you hope an animal can give you. Try to be realistic and honest with your expectations to help you settle on the right animal for you.

A few things you should also remember are that emotional support animals need to be:

  • Clean and house-trained. An ESA can be refused entry somewhere, even housing and airplanes, if they’re not properly trained and housebroken. If they are deemed unclean or give off a bad odor, then they can be rejected too. Needless to say, an emotional support skunk may not be a good option!
  • Well-behaved. Any ESA needs to be under its owner’s control at all times. They can’t bark, run, jump, or show any type of aggressive behavior.
  • Calm. Even in stressful situations, ESAs need to stay calm. A nervous animal can cause more stress than it can help prevent.
  • Bonded. One of the most important things about ESAs is that you have a bond with yours. That’s how this animal will help you to alleviate symptoms and improve your wellbeing.

If you’re considering an emotional support animal and you don’t have a pet already, then think about finding an adult animal at a shelter. Shelters are full of incredible pets who have a lot of love to give and are looking for a safe home.

The laws

One of the most complicated things about ESA ownership is navigating the laws surrounding them. It’s important to know your rights as well as your limitations.

Housing

The Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act states that it is illegal to discriminate against a person with a recognized impairment. This law protects your right to an emotional support animal, too.

Essentially, housing rights must be given to someone with an ESA, even if the property has a “no pets” policy. Any potential housing you need must make reasonable accommodations for your ESA, whether you live in a college dorm, public housing, or some other living situation.

It should be noted that this law will not override existing health codes. If you live in a state that prohibits dogs in certain situations due to existing health laws, then you and your ESA can be denied entry.

Moosh - Kitten on Windowsill
Make sure you know all the relevant housing laws before you get an emotional support animal.

Travel

When you travel with your ESA, you have rights as well. Some airlines do not allow pets, but most emotional support animals should be allowed to fly with you. It is against the law not to allow disabled people access to flights as long as you can provide documentation, according to the Air Carrier Access Act. Come prepared with your documents before you travel and always check with the airline you plan to use beforehand so you can make a plan and not encounter any surprises.

If you plan to stay in a hotel with your ESA, there are further laws you need to be aware of. Motels and hotels do not fall under the umbrella of the Fair Housing Amendment Act. That means they are not required to accept your emotional support animal during your stay. If you need to travel with your ESA, then you need to contact the manager at the hotel you want to stay before you leave to inquire if they have any restrictions regarding ESAs. These policies differ from hotel to hotel, and there are some chains that are known to be pet-friendly. Just make sure things are good to go before you get there.

Getting an ESA can be one of the best choices you ever make, but it’s important to know all you can before you go forward. Put this ESA ownership guide to good use and you’ll be one step closer to a happier life with your ESA!