Moosh - owner petting dog

Feel like you’ve been hearing more about emotional support animals (ESAs) lately? Well, that’s probably true – more awareness about the benefits of ESA ownership means they’ve been more present in our society. With increased protections from federal laws and more acceptance from the general public, a growing number of people suffering from mental health issues are relying on an emotional support animal to help with their symptoms. Here’s a breakdown to help you learn more.

What is an emotional support animal?

An emotional support animal is a pet that has been certified to help its owner with mental health symptoms. They can be just about any animal, including more traditional pets like dogs and cats, or more exotic species like pigs, snakes, miniature horses, or hedgehogs. An ESA works to provide companionship and a calming presence and can ease symptoms of anxiety and depression in its owner. They’re also known as “therapy animals” but do not fall under the category of service animals (which help their owner with specific tasks). Emotional support animals are there to offer support and can be great for people who need the structure that is provided when caring for a pet.

Moosh - Best Friends
An ESA can be a “traditional” type of pet like a cat or dog, or even something more exotic.

What kinds of people do they help?

ESA ownership can be beneficial for individuals with a wide variety of mental health issues – everything from depression and anxiety to post-traumatic stress disorder and autism. Pets have shown to help alleviate symptoms of these conditions, as well as help their owners to become more social and more active. For example, it’s common for someone with depression to isolate and stay home all the time – an emotional support animal such as a dog would encourage them to get out of the house to take a walk or go to a dog park, where they can meet new people or at least get some fresh air. Plus, pets have been shown to lower your risk of disease, improve your sleep, and reduce the levels of stress hormones in your system. An ESA can even help ease your fear of flying, which makes them ideal travel companions.

Why has there been an increase in ESA ownership?

It’s true that there’s been a significant increase in ESAs in the U.S. over the past several years. Researchers from the University of California at Davis did a study looking at assistance dogs registered in California between 2000 and 2002, and then again from 2010 to 2012. They found that the number of ESAs increased tenfold (at a growth of almost 1000%!). This was a huge increase, especially compared to assistance dogs for medical or mobility reasons (which increased at a respective 400%and 100%).

The increase in ESAs is due to a variety of factors, including more widespread awareness of the benefits of ESAs and more exposure to some well-known celebrities that own ESAs. Another factor is that ESA owners are now protected by several federal laws, which give them protection against discrimination in housing and travel situations. Because emotional support animals are generally more accepted (by airlines, businesses, etc.), more people have been able to witness how helpful ESAs can be to their owners.

One other important aspect to mention is that mental health in general is being discussed more openly. This means that people who suffer from these conditions are more likely to seek help and to use emotional support animal options as a way to alleviate their symptoms. A growing number of mental health professionals (like therapists and psychiatrists) are recommending ESAs to help make their patients’ lives more manageable.

Moosh - computer
Applying for a letter to validate your ESA ownership is a straightforward process.

How do you apply?

It’s actually a pretty easy process to apply for ESA certification for your pet. You can ask for an ESA letter from a mental health professional who has treated you, stating your need for an emotional support animal. Or you can head to Moosh, where they’ll connect you with a professional who can help you evaluate whether an ESA would be a good fit for your needs. After an online consultation, you’ll receive an official ESA letter and housing and airline forms you can present to landlords or airline employees. Different packages through Moosh also provide you with additional benefits, such as an ID card and an ESA vest for your pet.

How can you make sure you’re getting a legitimate ESA letter?

With Moosh, you’ll be guaranteed to get a valid ESA letter that you can use with absolute peace of mind. However, there are many fraudulent sites out there. These sites often promise instant approval of claims (regardless if someone truly suffers from a mental illness or not), or say that no renewal is needed. In fact, every valid ESA letter needs to be renewed every 12 months to be considered legitimate. To make sure your letter is authentic, it should be written out on a mental health professional’s official letterhead with verifiable contact information. The professional also must be licensed in the same state as you and will offer an expiration date for their license. If you go with Moosh, all of these elements will be included so that you can be completely sure the process is legitimate.

It’s likely that ESA ownership will only continue to grow as more people see the benefits of having an emotional support animal. Just make sure to steer clear of any scam sites, and you’ll be able to obtain a valid certification that will make you an official ESA owner.