Life can be tough. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that. There’s so much uncertainty in the world right now, so much anxiety and hurt.
That does not mean that you have to face life’s challenges alone. There were an estimated 200,000 emotional support animals (ESA) in the U.S. in 2018, and that number has only increased. And with good reason: having the love and companionship of an ESA can help you reduce stress, prevent depression, combat anxiety, and cope with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
But what is an emotional support animal, exactly, how do you get one, and how might an ESA help you?
What is an ESA?
A lot of people use the terms “service animal,” “emotional support animal,” or “therapy dog” interchangeably. However, legally, they’re not the same, and that means that regulations and protections will differ depending on how your animal is classified.
A service animal, for example, is a dog that has received specialized training to assist people with disabilities in daily activities, from retrieving medications to alerting their humans to an imminent seizure to providing balance support for those with mobility impairments. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals are generally permitted in any public area, including hotels, restaurants, hospitals, and airplanes, provided they are fully vaccinated and properly trained.
However, owners who qualify for ADA protections have the option to train their service animals themselves, according to their particular needs. They’re not required to seek special licensing or registration beyond those applicable to any companion dog, nor can any public facility require proof of registration or certification as a service animal.
An emotional support animal, on the other hand, does not have to be a dog. Any species of domestic animal can qualify as an ESA. An ESA typically does not require any form of specialized training and it typically won’t provide physical assistance as a service animal often does.
Instead, as the name suggests, an ESA is all about providing comfort and companionship, particularly for those living with mental health challenges, such as anxiety or trauma disorders.
While you’re not required to register your ESA, it’s nevertheless a good idea to do so if you want to ensure that you and your animal will always be legally protected. With a legal ESA letter, you and your ESA will not only be protected under the terms of the ADA, but you’ll also enjoy other legal protections, such as those of the Fair Housing Act, which means you and your legal ESA can’t be denied housing, regardless of a property’s pet policies.
How They Help
Anyone who has ever loved a companion animal knows that they’re magic. No matter what the species. No matter how big or small. Pets know when their humans are feeling down. They have an uncanny talent for providing comfort and care.
But an ESA takes that intuition to the next level, particularly for pet parents with particular emotional or mental health needs. ESAs can help their humans who live with phobias, stress disorders, or other psychological challenges reach and sustain a state of calm that would otherwise be impossible for them.
And for patients who are at high risk not only for psychiatric but also for physical illness, the combined effects of physical activity and stress relief that an ESA provides can be immensely beneficial for the patient’s preventative health. These patients can work with their healthcare providers, like a nurse practitioner, to put together a wellness plan that includes exercising with their ESAs. Petting an animal has even been proven to lower blood pressure. Likewise, taking care of them automatically gets you up and moving, and that’s great for physical and mental health alike.
But ESA’s aren’t just rockstars when it comes to making your ordinary days a lot healthier and happier. They’re also superheroes when you’re facing trauma. Legal proceedings, such as arraignments, for example, can be incredibly traumatic, even when you aren’t battling a mental health challenge. If you have a legally-registered ESA, however, you will have the right to bring your animal to court with you, wrapping you in the love and comfort only they can provide.
There is nothing like the love of an animal. But, for those facing trauma or contending with mental health challenges, the love of an emotional support animal can literally save your life. They can assuredly make life worth living. However, if you and your animal are to enjoy all the legal rights and protections you deserve, there are a few steps you need to take. Registering your ESA and obtaining an ESA letter means that you and your companion need never be apart. And that means that you can enjoy the comfort, the reassurance, the stability your ESA provides, no matter what challenges life might bring.