Emotional Support Animals: What You Need to Know
I have had my emotional support animal, Lily, for almost seven years. I cannot imagine my life without her. She’s a seven-pound Chihuahua. I have chronic pain and she takes good care of me; especially on my bad days. Lily is amazingly in tune with me and my body, and oftentimes she knows I’m becoming sick before I do! For example, she’ll hop onto my lap (no matter what I am doing) and won’t leave my side until I stop whatever it is I am doing, and take care of myself. She keeps me grounded. Oftentimes, I am asked by others how Lily became my Emotional Support Animal (Or, ESA for short). What is the difference between an ESA and a service dog? Is an ESA a service dog? These are all good questions, and I will be answering them in this brief article.
How does one get an emotional support animal?
An emotional support animal is basically an animal that fulfills an emotional need. To be honest, it can be any animal who loves you and provides you with support on a deep emotional level. For instance, if you are living with a chronic medical condition (whether it’s physical or psychiatric in nature) it might be a good idea to either get one (adopt or buy from a breeder; more on this topic later) or, use a beloved pet that you already have. It doesn’t have to be a dog (for example, it can be also be a cat) but this post will be about dogs. It’s important to realize that your ESA, no matter what breed or type of animal, must be well behaved and well controlled by you. If you are just starting out, and are thinking about getting a dog, check into the breed that is most appropriate for your lifestyle! For example, I love huskies. However, they require too much space and energy for me; so that wouldn’t be the wisest choice.
If you want an ESA, all you need is a letter from your physician or therapist. In this letter, your healthcare provider will document your disability and state why they think you would benefit from the unconditional love and support of a domesticated animal, such as a dog or cat. That is all you need. I do know that some states have different laws than others, so if you don’t reside in California, please check with the laws of your state.
After you obtain this letter from your doctor or therapist, it will be good for one year. If you want to live in pet-free housing, show this letter to your landlord/property manager. According to law, they will have to allow your ESA to live with you. If pets are allowed at your property, your monthly pet-rent fee will be waived. That is the law.
Your ESA can also fly with you, in-cabin and without the need of a kennel. If your dog is small enough, he can sit on your lap with you. If you have a larger dog who needs more space, he/she will be able to sit beside you in-flight; as long as he doesn’t block the aisle. Some prefer to purchase a vest for their ESA when flying; that is fine, however unnecessary. When I boarded Lily on a flight to San Diego, she did not need a vest. However, it would be wise to check with your airline; as many now have their own guidelines when it comes to boarding ESA’s. For instance when flying with Lily, I also had to bring documentation from her veterinarian; clearing her of any health issues. Again, when flying, check with your air carrier for more information.
Also, I have found many websites that “claim” to issue a letter for you on your behalf; without the need to see a doctor in person and as long as you pay them a hefty fee. Stay away from these sites, they are scams.
What is the difference between an ESA and a service dog?
There is a lot of confusion behind this question, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t know the answer. Seven years ago, I didn’t know the answer. Here’s the difference between an Emotional Support Animal and a Service Dog:
A service dog requires formal training. A service dog is trained to specialize and assist in certain tasks. For instance there are service dogs trained to detect seizures, blood sugar spikes, as well as assisting the blind, deaf/hard of hearing, and those with developmental disabilities. These dogs have spent many years of formal training in order to perform those specialized tasks. Your emotional support animal provides you with much needed comfort, love, affection, and well, emotional support. Your ESA may have basic training but is not trained to help you with specific tasks (such as assisting you with paying a cashier in the grocery store, for example) or to detect an oncoming seizure, or blood sugar spike.
Is an ESA a service dog?
Well, that answer depends on who you ask. Lily provides me with all the love and companionship in the world, and while living alone, that doesn’t always come easily for me. She helps me feel better, and I depend on her for her loyalty and love. To me, in my eyes, she is providing me with a service. However, the law says she isn’t a service dog in the most literal sense. She was never in any formal training to help me with any specific task, so therefore she’s not a service animal. Remember, service animals usually are required to wear a vest to let us know who they are and that they’re “working” on their handler’s behalf. My little ESA does not. Service animals can accompany their handler/owner anywhere. This includes restaurants, movie theaters, grocery stores, hospitals, and schools for instance. Emotional support animals are only allowed to live in pet-free housing and fly for free and in-cabin with you. ESA’s are not formally trained to perform a specific task. A service dog requires extensive training, which usually starts during puppyhood. To get an ESA all you’ll need is to find a dog that is suitable to your living standards and (of course) provides you with comfort and emotional support; along with a letter from your healthcare provider. Occasionally you might also need a letter from your dog’s veterinarian as well.
That is the main difference between the two!
It is important to note that dogs really are highly intuitive pets. Establish a bond with one and you’ll have a companion who can intuitively gauge your moods and feelings. This comes from literally millions of years from being domesticated by humans. I believe dogs are biologically “hardwired” to form a deep attachment to us; the reverse is also true. When researching on the breed for you, choose wisely. Whether you decide to adopt a senior or purchase a puppy is a personal choice only you can make. No matter how you choose to obtain your dog, make sure you are ready for a lifetime commitment.
Contact Core3 Harmony & Wellness Services
via email at [email protected] or call/text at 888-203-0113
we’d love to assist you along your journey of finding an ESA animal and offer our support via counseling as well!