Sometimes in the treatment of physical, psychiatric and intellectual disabilities, medical professionals can only do so much for patients. Prescribing a slew of medications, dictating dietary changes or providing physical rehabilitation may not be enough to resolve certain issues. In instances of chronic or permanent illnesses and diseases, medical professionals may turn to unconventional methods to help ensure the mental health of their patients. One way doctors provide support to patients with disabilities is emotional support animals (ESA).
If you have anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder or any other physical, psychiatric or intellectual disability and you like the sound of an emotional support animal to help you, this is worth a read!
A medical practitioner will decide whether an ESA will benefit a patient based on an assessment of the disability as well as the animal’s ability to improve at least one symptom of that disability. However, this determination is entirely at the discretion of the doctor. In some cases, it may be enough for the animal to provide emotional support but no medical benefit. If your doctor or therapist finds validity in you owning an emotional support animal, you will be provided a doctor’s note stating as such.
This doctor’s note will afford you protection under United States federal law. This includes U.S. federal protection against housing discrimination for mentally disabled persons under two federal statutes: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the federal Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) of 1988. These statutes express that a landlord cannot discriminate against disabled persons in housing, and if a reasonable accommodation will enable a disabled person to equally enjoy and use a rental unit, the landlord must provide the accommodation.
Persons with disabilities are fully within their rights to request a reasonable accommodation, such as a waiver of a ‘no pets’ policy, for any assistance animal, including emotional support animals.
Please note: Emotional support animals do not require any formal training or experience but are required to be under control so that they do not pose a direct threat to others or disrupt the ability of other tenants to enjoy their accommodation through incessant barking or lack of toilet training.
Reasonable accommodation for an emotional support animal may include a doggie door or fenced area of the yard. These modifications to the property are the responsibility of the tenant, and as such, they incur any fees resulting from said modifications. When the individual with the ESA moves, the landlord may charge them a reasonable fee for returning the property to the state it was in before granting the accommodation to have an emotional support animal.
On top of housing rights, emotional support animals can enjoy free airline travel (though this is only applicable to certain ESAs).
You might be wondering why a doctor would prescribe an emotional support animal to a patient with a disability. It can be hard to see how the two are related. However, many studies have shown a whole host of health benefits for those living with pets, ranging from lower cholesterol and blood pressure to reduced stress levels and feelings of loneliness to increased activity and more opportunities to socialize. Furthermore, pets incentivize leaving the house, adding color and meaning to a person’s life. With such a potent grouping of benefits, it’s easy to see how, in many cases, a pet is of great use to people with disabilities.
If you already own a pet, you’ll be aware of the difficulty in finding a property with a landlord who is happy for your pet to live with you. Additionally, pet owners run into many areas where their pets are not welcome, including restaurants, cafes, pubs, shops and forms of transportation. This can prove very problematic for someone who gains emotional support from their pet and makes any necessary venture away from them particularly traumatic and unenjoyable. Emotional support animals allows you all the benefits of a pet while granting the protection of the state, subsequently allowing you to enjoy your pet whenever and wherever you so choose!
It’s easy to see why your therapist may recommend an emotional support animal. With the long list of health benefits as well as federal protection, we recommend them, too! If you decide you want an ESA and a medical practitioner is willing to write a doctor’s note, all that’s left to decide is which animal is the best fit for you.