Emotional support animals (or ESAs for short) are a family recent phenomenon in the mental health arena. As opposed to traditional therapy dogs, which are specially trained to aid people, especially those confined to institutions such as prisons, nursing homes or hospitals, ESAs require no special training to get their job done, just an emotional support letter – more on that in a second. They are beneficial to their owners by being present in their lives as a source of unconditional companionship, there to unknowingly help them through their various mental disorders.

ESAs can be used to combat and alleviate symptoms of mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, bi-polar, autism, and post traumatic stress disorder. They are available to any person suffering to any sort of degree from any of these afflictions, and have already helped over two million Americans to date, despite being introduced recently. However, as ESAs are not just simply pets but instead are technically a form of prescription, you might be wondering how exactly you go about getting one. They adhere to different rules than other pets, but to do so they must be verified by a therapist or doctor. For those already under the pressure of a mental illness, the task of applying for an emotional support letter can seem a formidable one indeed.

MooshMe - cat

Will you choose an ESA cat or dog when filling out your emotional support letter?

 Well, first of all, the good news is that the laws which govern the supplying and vetting of an ESA and their owner are very loose in defining who exactly qualifies for support. This comes down to the nature of mental illness being very tough to pin down and quantify, as emotional disorders are usually a cluster of symptoms with no harsh definitions. So if you’re suffering from any sort of mental affliction at all, it’s highly unlikely that you wouldn’t qualify for an emotional support animal. The severity of your particular illness is completely unimportant when it comes to applying for your emotional support letter, so don’t worry about being ‘judged’ or ‘appraised’ on how sick you are, or appear to be.

What’s also unimportant is how much you depend on your emotional support animal. Again, this is completely individual and subjective, depending on the nature and toll of your particular illness. Your pet can be constantly at your side, or your can just turn to them when you need that extra bit of comfort or calming. There’s no rules on how often you have to therapeutically avail of your support animal, or how much they alleviate your symptoms. Support animals help people in different ways; for example, a person suffering from depression might gain a sense of purpose from having to look after a pet. Someone with anxiety might be calmed just by knowing their animal is within reach and always there for them. A child suffering from autism might be grounded during an episode by the presence of a large, calm, familiar dog. There are many different ways animals can aid suffers, and none of them are intrinsically ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Even if the sound of a cat purring manages to settle your anxiety a bit, that’s completely valid, and you and your cat are more than deserving of ESA status. It’s just whatever works for you.

MooshMe - ESA dog

Man’s best friend makes an excellent choice for an ESA.

The actually proof of this ESA status comes in the form of a verified letter from your primary health physician or therapist, and is known as an emotional support animal letter, or simply emotional support letter. In order to get this letter, you have to go through a consultation with a licensed mental health professional. Depending on the results of this consultation, they will then recommend or not recommend an ESA for you. If this sounds stress-inducing, don’t worry; it’s a very straightforward procedure and consultations generally only last a few minutes. If you’re truthfully suffering, you’re pretty much guaranteed the all important emotional support letter. If the idea of a consultation is too much to bear, don’t panic! You can also take part in the simple consultation online. After you’re cleared, you’ll receive your letter in a number of days.

And then comes the best part; choosing your animal! Of course, an ESA can also be a pet that you and your doctor have decided can be ‘upgraded’ to ESA status, so if you depend on your cat or dog to alleviate your symptoms, that’s not a problem. But if you’re new to choosing a pet, this can be a fun time! While cats and dogs are the most traditional ESAs, they’re not the only options; in fact, you can choose any animal you want. Even an emotional support ferret if that’s what helps you through the day, though they might draw the line with great white sharks or jaguars. Even though the choice is yours, remember that you are the owner of this animal, and it’s your responsibility to keep it well behaved and focus on its main job -caring for you!