Emotional support animals — whether dogs, pigs or rabbits — are becoming more popular, but what are they exactly, and how do they differ from normal pets and service animals?
Owning an emotional support animal is like owning a pet except that its purpose is to help its owner with any symptoms of an emotional or mental disability. For a pet to be classified as an emotional support animal, you must meet the necessary requirements. For instance, if you suffer from any psychological condition, such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, you can obtain a letter from a licensed mental health professional stating that an emotional support animal will help ease the symptoms of your illness.
There are some benefits associated with having an emotional support animal. They can help alleviate symptoms of psychological illnesses by reducing stress levels and isolation, increasing activity levels, and lowering blood pressure.
There is often some confusion between emotional support animals and service animals. Unlike a service animal, whose sole duty is to help its owner physically perform tasks, an emotional support animal is there to provide comfort and be a companion. Furthermore, emotional support animals don’t require any kind of training, unlike service animals. Overall, there is a very clear and legal difference between the two as their roles are very different.
Now that you know exactly what an emotional support animal is, it is important to also clarify a few common misconceptions.
There Is No Federal Certification Process
First, many people think that obtaining a certification online to confirm that their animal is for emotional support is sufficient; however, many of these companies are fraudulent. In the U.S., no federally recognized certification process exists, and the only way to legally ensure your animal is registered is by going through a mental health professional.
You Aren’t Automatically Eligible
Second, there is the misconception that if you have a mental disorder that you are automatically eligible for an emotional support animal. This is not the case as there is not yet enough evidence of the long-term effectiveness for the treatment of mental issues. It is up to your psychotherapist to determine whether they believe that an emotional support animal will be beneficial to your treatment program and whether to provide you with a letter for air travel and housing.
Emotional Support Animals Can Fly and Live with You
Another common confusion with emotional support animals is where they can accompany their owner. Under the Air Carrier Access Act and the Fair Housing Act, they are allowed to travel on planes free of charge and are also allowed to live in housing without incurring any extra costs. Of course, this is only with proof of a letter from a qualified mental professional. When taking your support animal with you on a flight, you will need to present your letter, and most airlines also require at least 48 hours’ notice. Furthermore, some important things to take note of is that the letter cannot be more than a year old, and it must also be on a professional letterhead and written by a mental health professional.
In terms of housing accommodation, under the Fair Housing Act, landlords cannot charge any deposit or pet fees or require that your emotional support animal is trained. They must provide suitable accommodation; however, they can charge you if there has been any damage to the property by your emotional support animal. If the landlord fails to comply or refuses to provide adequate housing, then the individual must firstly ensure that the landlord is aware of the law and consequences. If this doesn’t resolve the issue, then the situation can be escalated by filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice and even suing the landlord or property manager in the worst-case scenario.
Employers Cannot Discriminate Against Emotional Support Animals
Another misconception with emotional support animals is that they will not be allowed in the workplace. U.S. law state that employers cannot discriminate because of a disability and that they must provide suitable accommodation, and allowing an employee with a disability bring their emotional support animal into the workplace can be classified as accommodation. If the disability of the employee is not obvious, then the employer can ask for documentation as proof that the emotional support animal is necessary to help the individual perform their job. Again, this would be in the form of a letter written by a medical professional.
It is important to know the difference between a pet, a service animal and an emotional support animal as there are different rights regarding each one. Doing your research and ensuring you have the right documents if you have an emotional support animal will not only allow you to make the most of having one but will also ensure convenience when traveling or living in housing accommodation.