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What is an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)

German SheppardYou know about the peacock. The squirrel. The duck, in fancy clothes with the ridiculous name. Even the tigers—you've heard it all.  All unbelievable tales have probably completely left you completely confused (totally understandably) about what an ESA is. We're here to clear up the bizarre mess that other irresponsible ESA owners have left in their wake and lay out precisely the information you need to know about these animals. If you'd like to learn about the world of totally normal (trust us, they exist) and extremely beneficial ESAs, then you'd better read this article right now!

ESA - What Is That?
You've probably seen this abbreviation bandied about, and you may be wondering, well what exactly is that? ESA simply stands for emotional support animal. These animals occupy the role of supporting the mental health of their owners, in a number of ways. Technically, ESAs can be any type of animal, however, the large majority are either dogs or cats. ESAs are different from service animals and provide a different utility to their owners. We go into a little more detail below.

ESAs Vs Service Animals
It's important to know that ESAs and Service Animals are not the same thing. Service animals and ESAs have different roles, responsibilities and rights.

Service Animals
Service animals are dogs or miniature horses used to give assistance to those with specific needs. These animals are highly skilled, with their training often taking months to complete. The reason that they need to be trained to such a high standard is the importance the tasks that they do have in the lives of their owners. Some duties that service animals are trained to undertake include:

-Assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks.
-Alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds.
-Providing non-violent protection or rescue work.
-Pulling a wheelchair.
-Assisting an individual during a seizure.
-Alerting individuals to the presence of allergens.
-Retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone.
-Providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities.
-Helping individuals with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors.
-Assisting those with autism. 
-Service Animals and the ADA.  Service animals are highly trained animals with specific duties, protected by the American Disability Act (ADA). This protects the rights of service animal owners to have their animal with them at all times.


Emotional Support Animals
Emotional support animals share some characteristics with service animals, however their role is less specific. Emotional support animals do not require any special training. Instead, they provide a generalized emotionally supportive presence to their owners, who may be struggling with mental health issues. Because ESAs do not require special training, this means that they are widely accessible for people struggling with mental health issues. Any pet can become an ESA, making them very easy to obtain for those who need them.

Laws Protecting ESAs
ESAs do not enjoy the same wide protections that service animals do as highly trained animals. However, there are laws that support the rights of owners to live and travel with their emotional support animals. The two laws that protect owners of ESAs are: Fair Housing Act (FHA) and Aircraft Carrier Access Act (ACA).

Fair Housing Act
The FHA protects the rights of all individuals living with mental or physical disabilities to have fair access to accommodation. Those with ESAs are protected by the FHA to be exempt from pet bans and bonds implemented by landlords and cannot be discriminated against on the grounds of owning a pet.

Aircraft Carrier Access Act
The ACA allows those with ESAs to fly with their support animals without paying an extra pet fee. This law is subject to the policy of individual airlines. Recently, many airlines have brought in new laws to stop people from bringing unusual animals aboard. This means that most airlines now only accept dogs and cats flying as ESAs.

What Do Emotional Support Animals Do?
The duty of an emotional support animal is to support their owner in a number of ways, depending on their condition. ESAs provide a generally supportive presence to their owners, giving attention, affection and companionship at all times. This can be an especially important service for those who are socially isolated for any reason. Most of us know the huge part that pets play in our lives, and the idea of emotional support animals uses the natural healing effects of pets to improve mental health and soothe some symptoms that stem from different issues.

Who Are They For?
Emotional support animals provide a valuable service for a huge range of individuals. ESAs are particularly important for those that suffer from mental health problems, as part of their therapy program.  Emotional support animals provide attention on demand for those struggling with isolation, which can be incredibly important for those experiencing depression. They can help to provide a grounding presence for owners struggling with anxiety, helping to avoid panic attacks, or cut them short. They can help to interrupt repetitive and compulsive behaviors by those with obsessive–compulsive disorder. They can even provide a protective presence for those experiencing flashbacks associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. Emotional support animals are a useful and effective therapy for a wide range of mental health problems, and are of course, a completely natural treatment.

How Are They Prescribed?
 Wondering how to ask doctor for emotional support animal? To begin treatment with an ESA, a licensed mental health professional must discuss using an ESA with a patient first. Once a therapist has determined if this is the correct course of treatment for the patient, they will write a letter confirming that their patient needs to use an ESA as part of their treatment. This letter, also known as an ESA letter, is the document a patient needs to prove that their support animal is a legitimate therapy aid.

 Am I Eligible For an ESA?
If you are currently seeing a therapist or are experiencing mental health issues, you may be eligible for an emotional support animal. To find out if you are eligible, ask or speak to a therapist, either in-office or through a more convenient service, such as tele-therapy (speaking to a licensed therapist via phone).
 

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