Have you ever seen a pet and owner out in a store and thought, “I’d feel much better if my pet were here, too.” It’s no surprise that pet owners are happier than non-pet owners. But does that mean you can bring your pet wherever you go?
For many people, their pets are more than just animals that live with them. They are companions that help them get through the day.
Maybe you feel that your pet is helping you through a difficult season of your life. Your favorite four-legged friend might be that presence you need to stay calm from anxiety. Your pet could help you stay focused and positive while living with depression.
If you’ve found comfort and emotional benefits from your pet, you may want to get them ESA certified. What can an ESA certification do for you and your pet? Keep reading to find out.
What is an ESA?
According to the American Kennel Club, an Emotional Support Animal is a pet that provides emotional support and comfort that helps them deal with challenges that might otherwise compromise their quality of life.
Emotional support animals can provide comfort, ease anxiety, or help people regain focus through difficult circumstances. An ESA offers companionship and can help alleviate negative emotions. ESAs offer encouragement to those in recovery as well.
An emotional support animal does not have any extra training. Other than being well behaved in public, the animal doesn’t require a program for certification. There’s no test to pass.
Who Benefits from Emotional Support Animals?
Almost 1 in 5 Americans live with a mental illness. Emotional support animals can help calm individuals with anxiety disorders. They can also help those with depression regain focus and make day-to-day life more manageable.
Individuals recovering from addiction can also benefit from the companionship of an ESA. Stroke and brain trauma survivors find encouragement through their ESAs.
An ESA improves its owner’s life with its existence. Here are the differences between and ESA and other kinds of service animals.
ESA vs. Therapy Animals
Therapy animals are trained to help, comfort, and improve the lives of others. They’re often used in hospitals, schools, or nursing homes. Therapy dogs can be any breed or pedigree and must be at least one year old.
They must pass certification training to ensure they are well-mannered for the population they serve. For example, a dog who is in a nursing home should be comfortable with wheelchairs and walkers. If mobility assistance makes the animal nervous, it won’t be a suitable therapy dog.
Certified evaluators determine whether an animal is fit to be a therapy animal. Therapy animals are not required by law to accompany their owners at all times. Therapy animals may not be allowed on airplanes, public transportation, and other public venues.
Emotional support animals are not the same as therapy animals. ESAs are not required to pass a test or perform at a certain level in order to have an ESA certification.
ESA vs. Service Animals
Service animals must pass rigorous processes before their certification. They are specifically trained to complete tasks their owners aren’t able to do. Service animals can push wheelchairs and reach items off store shelves or cupboards.
Seeing-eye dogs help those who are vision-impaired. Other service dogs can be trained to alert others if their owner is going to have a seizure or encounter a serious allergy.
Almost all venues are required to allow service animals to accompany their owners. Most individuals who have a service animal rely on their animal for activities of daily living.
Emotional support animals are not service animals. While they do improve their owners’ lives, they don’t help with any life skills or activities of daily living.
How Can My Pet Become ESA Certified?
Wondering how to get your pet ESA certified? The process is pretty simple. Any animal you consider your pet could be ESA certified. Here’s a list of some types of ESAs others have registered.
Even horses can be ESA certified as long as they meet these requirements:
- 100 lbs or lighter
- 34″ tall or shorter
- Easily controllable
The presence of your pet is a large part of what makes them emotionally supportive. It makes sense that each unique person’s needs are met by different types of animals.
Is It Legal?
Before you run out and adopt those emotional support chickens, check your city’s rules. Each area of the country has regulations regarding legal pets. Some cities won’t allow certain breeds or species to be kept as pets.
Remember, if you can’t have it as a pet, you can’t have it as an ESA. Governments are not required to allow ESAs, and they are treated the same as any other pet in their eyes.
Your state or city websites should have more information about legal pet ownership in your area.
Step One: Visit Your Doctor
The first thing you’ll want to do is visit your doctor. A mental health professional will be able to determine if your meet the criteria to qualify for having an emotional support animal.
Step Two: Get a Letter
Ask your mental health professional to write a letter on your behalf. This letter serves as proof that you have an emotional disability. Your therapist’s letter also proves your animal provides you with the support you need to go about your daily life.
Legally, you have one year to complete your pet’s ESA certification before the ESA letter expires. Make sure your therapist signs the letter on their official letterhead as well.
The letter needs to include your name and a description of your disability. It should also highlight the most important activity or activities you can’t complete without your ESA.
Step Three: Get Your Certificate
Websites like https://my.americanservicepets.com/sa/esa-certification-texas/ allow you to get ESA certificates online. Submit your letter, name, pet’s photo, pet’s name, and breed.
You should receive a certificate proving your favorite animal is an ESA. You can use this certificate as proof when you travel or search for housing.
Keep the certificate with your animal at all times. Many places offer vests your ESA can wear that have storage for their papers. You can even buy registration kits that come with everything you need to register your animal.
Enjoy Benefits of an ESA Certification
Some websites streamline this process by providing you with a letter or verifying your ESA letter. Regulations may differ with each state, so verify that the process you’re using is valid in your state.
Can I Fly With My ESA?
Airlines are not required to allow ESAs on board. Your ESA will be treated as any other pet when flying the friendly skies with you. As of 2020, ESAs are no longer considered to be service animals when on a flight.
It’s best to expect no extra accommodations when flying with your ESA. Be prepared to pay any extra fees or follow airline regulations you would with any other pet.
Can Stores Deny My ESA Entry?
The answer to this depends on the state. In Texas, for example, ESAs are not allowed in public venues unless specifically allowed by ownership.
If you’re planning to take your ESA to a restaurant, ownership can legally deny you entry. Some states may even have laws prohibiting animals anywhere food is prepared and served. The only exception to this law would be service animals, not ESAs.
Can My ESA Live in a No-Pet Rental Home?
Under the Fair Housing Act, property owners should make reasonable ESA provisions for their tenants. This means landlords cannot deny you rental rights because you have an ESA. It also means you shouldn’t have to pay extra pet fees if your ESA lives with you.
Landlords may legally require extra paperwork for tenants who have an ESA. Under the Fair Housing Act, tenants with ESAs are protected from paying for damages caused by their ESA.
When An ESA May Not Be Helpful
Pet and rescue purchases skyrocketed during COVID-19 pandemic lockdown periods. Individuals and families were craving four-legged companionship. Many concerned pet enthusiasts feared this would end in mass rehoming of cats and dogs once stay-at-home recommendations ended.
A May 2021 study showed 90% of pandemic puppies and 85% of comfort kittens are still in their homes. This pet retention rate solidifies the claim that our pets provide valuable companionship.
The overly-concerned animal enthusiasts may have a point, though. What happens when that pet you thought you’d love requires more than you have? Pets come with added costs and responsibilities. Here are some important factors to consider before running out and buying that ESA.
Like any other family member, pets add costs to your budget. The ASPCA estimates the annual cost to own a dog is $1,391. Cats cost their owners an average of $1,149 every year.
In addition to annual fees, there are one-time expenses that come with owning your pet. Dog adoption, veterinary, and accessories cost just over $1,000 and cats cost about $400.
If finances are already tight, adding an animal to your life may add stress, not take it away.
Some animals just need to run around. You should think about whether your current living situation is conducive for an animal.
If you’re thinking of a fish or bird, do you have enough room for the cage or aquarium?
If a pet’s accessories or home will infringe on people’s space, it might not be the best time for an ESA at your home.
Some animals require more attention than others. The truth is, all animals take some level of your time. If you’re not going to be available to let the dog out during the day, don’t get the dog.
If your lifestyle involves a lot of travel, consider that when adopting a pet. Some animals travel very well with their owners. Others will be stressed out and difficult with an on-the-go lifestyle.
Remember, you can’t expect special flight accommodations for your ESA.
How do others in your home or building feel about the addition of an animal? If adding a pet to your life will strain other relationships, it might be best to hold off on that adoption.
Try to repair relationships with other humans before adding a barking dog or animal to your home. If you have a good rapport with those around you, talk to them about your plans to adopt a pet. Address any concerns they may have with a well-thought-out plan.
ESAs should add comfort and positivity to their owners’ lives. If your current situation doesn’t allow that, it may be best to wait until circumstances are better for that ESA adoption.
Enjoying Life With Your ESA
Pets can help calm and regulate their owners’ emotions. They encourage people in their recovery. Almost any pet can be ESA certified, but the most common pets are cats and dogs. Even mini ponies and micro pigs can earn an ESA certification.
Know Your ESA Rights
Public venue rules about ESAs are subject to the owners’ discretion. It’s best to call ahead and ask if a business allows ESAs before going. Keep in mind, ESA owners are not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
When flying, expect your ESA to be treated like any other pet. This means you may be allowed to store a pet and carrier in a luggage rack, but don’t expect your ESA to get their own seat.
Tenants and renters with ESA-certified animals are protected under the Fair Housing Act. They cannot be denied housing or charged extra fees for having an ESA-certified pet live with them.
ESA Certified or Not, We Love Our Pets!
Emotional support animals are different from therapy and service animals. However, they still play an important role in supporting their owners’ emotional health.
Want to read more about the animals we love? Check out our blog for more info about common and uncommon pets.