Emotional support animals and service animals both play an important role in society, but many people are confused about the difference between the two. So what is an emotional support animal (ESA) and how does it differ from a service animal? ESAs provide crucial companionship to owners who may struggle with anxiety, panic attacks, or similar conditions. Service animals are specially trained to perform tasks for owners who have physical disabilities, think the well-known seeing-eye dog.
If you would like to have an emotional support animal, there are legal issues you should be aware of. You should also understand the ins and outs of owning and caring for an ESA in order to insure that your experience is a positive one.
How to Become Emotional Support Animal
To be legal, ESAs must be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional, such as a therapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist. While dogs are a common emotional support animal, other animals are possible, including cats, horses, and pot-bellied pigs. No special training is required to be an ESA, other of course the love and companionship they provide you!
This is a marked difference from service animals. Exclusively dogs or miniature horses, service animals receive extensive individualized training before they are place with an owner. Then the owner and the animal continue training together. For an ESA, once the need has been determined and you have your ESA Letter from United Support Animals, you can simply pick your pet and begin bonding or continue with the pet you have who is now your ESA.
When you take stock of your own lifestyle and expectations, find a breed that fits your scenario. As an example if you are nature lover and hike and run a lot, think about a working breed who have tons of energy and at the same time take well to training and great in the household. Live in a smaller house or apartment but love dogs, smaller size breeds are ideal in this scenario. All of these factors come into play and should influence your choice of support animal.
Caring For an Emotional Support Animal
Your animal is always there for you; make sure you return the favor. There are basic ESA care protocols every owner should observe.
- Groom your ESA regularly. Dogs and cats need their nails trimmed, teeth brushed, and coat brushed to stay well-groomed and healthy. All animals should have regular baths.
- Offer positive reinforcement. Don’t punish your yell at your ESA, but rather reward it for good behavior.
- Exercise with your animal, particularly if you have a dog.
- Make sure your ESA gets regular checkups with the vet.
- Feed your animal the recommended amount. Select any treats carefully and only use them for positive reinforcement.
- Give your ESA lots of affection and attention. Remember that your ESA is a social being, too, and needs interaction with you or other animals. Buy appropriate toys and go on outings together.
- If your ESA is a cat or dog, be sure to care for their ears and eyes. It’s easy for them to get infections, so keep them clean and well-groomed.
Traveling With an Emotional Support Animal
You are permitted, by law, to fly on airplanes with your ESA. In this regard they are similar to service animals. You will need a letter from a mental health professional to take your animal in the cabin of a plane with you. Airlines are not allowed to charge you a pet fee for this service. You may obtain this letter, your ESA Letter, by contacting United Support Animals and being connected with one of your licensed therapists in a smooth process that is very much tuned to assisting you with all your needs and goals in this regard.
If you choose to travel by train or bus, be aware that the nations largest companies do not recognize Emotional Support Animals and do not allow them on board without a kennel. Smaller regional carriers may have different policies. Be sure to check before you plan your trip.
Living With an Emotional Support Animal
The Federal Housing Authority (FHA) has laws in place that allow you to live with your ESA in housing that is otherwise not pet friendly or has a breed restriction. If your housing has breed restrictions or an outright no-pet policy, you can have those restrictions waived for you and your ESA. Once again, you will need a letter from your ESA Letter from United Support Animals to prove that you need this assistance.
If you feel that an Emotional Support Animal would make a difference in your life, contact United Support Animals and our national network of licensed therapists and mental health advocates will assist you. They can assess your situation and determine that caring for an ESA would be a help to you. Don’t hesitate to take this step towards a fuller, healthier life.