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The COVID-19 pandemic proved people’s lives can be improved by the presence of a furry little friend. During the lockdowns and months of isolation, pet adoption rates skyrocketed as people who felt lonely and anxious were looking for a spot of sunshine in their life. 

But emotional support animals (ESAs) are not just about getting some exercise on your daily dog walk or having a warm, fuzzy soul to pet at night. An ESA is a special type of pet (not necessarily a dog or a cat) that is crucial for the mental well-being of the owner.

girl holding a dog

Sometimes, people with mental or emotional conditions are encouraged by their doctor to choose a pet that will become their anchor to reality. To these people, the presence of a dog, cat, bird, or reptile (and ESA can be any type of animal) is crucial to function normally on a daily basis. The comfort and support provided by the pet come as an addition to their treatment and helps improve their quality of life.  

Still, there are a few things that often get confused when it comes to ESAs. So, if you want to understand the role of an emotional support animal and why they get special treatment, here is what you need to know. 

An ESA Needs Certification

All ESAs are pets but not all pets are ESAs.

In order to be officially recognized as an emotional support animal, your pet needs to be included by a mental health professional in your treatment scheme. Also, if you think your pet can help reduce your anxiety and keep your emotions from going into overdrive in certain situations, you have to talk to a medical professional. 

girl playing with pets

They will recommend going through the emotional support animal registration process, which will produce an official letter stating that your pet is an ESA. This letter needs to be approved by a licensed mental health professional or physician in your state.

Not a Service Animal

Some people consider ESAs the same as service animals, but there is a huge difference between the two categories. Service animals are trained to perform tasks for their owners and recognize signs of a seizure or other health problems and ask for help. That’s why most service animals are dogs (certain breeds).

ESAs, on the other hand, can be any type of animal, and their role is to provide emotional support and comfort. This (sadly) means they don’t have the same access rights as service animals, but some companies, restaurants, and public organizations are a bit more tolerant if you have the certification.

cat pet licking

No Need for Special IDs

Another difference from service animals is that ESAs don’t need any special ID tags. Still, if you want to take them in the cabin with you during a flight, you will have to submit the ESA letter to the airline. 

You May Encounter Resistance

Some people have trouble perceiving any other animal than a dog as an ESA. That’s because cats, birds, and reptiles are not the mainstream, and people who haven’t been in contact with them can’t understand how they can be comforting. 

playing with a pet

But studies show that any type of pet can show affection. So if pet birds show affection different from a dog it doesn’t mean they can’t become an ESA. However, not everyone understands this aspect or why you may need your pet by your side at all times. 

Housing Accommodations Benefits

According to the Fair Housing Act, emotional support animals are considered assistance animals. This means they cannot be banned even in buildings with a strong no-pets policy. Also, the owners cannot be charged a pet deposit if they choose to live with an ESA. Landlords and building owners who don’t respect these rules are seen as discriminating against an individual with disabilities, which is not accepted.

In Summary

An ESA is a blessing for so many individuals suffering from mental health illnesses, but it is also an added responsibility. Plus, your new friend will not always be welcome in public or privately own spaces such as companies, restaurants, or stores. Since ESAs don’t have the same rights as service animals, you need to be prepared to deal with difficult situations with tact and diplomacy. 

Overall, while society may be a little judgy, your pet will never see you with critical eyes. In the end, it is worth it to have your wordless friend registered as an ESA.