Have you ever thought about getting an emotional support dog? Well, there may be more than this than meets the eye.
Learn the difference between emotional support animals and service animals. As well as how to get yours properly registered if you feel you have a legitimate reason.
Emotional Support Animals vs Service Animals
An emotional support animal’s job is to emotionally support its human partner with comfort and companionship in everyday life. As emotional support animals, they are commonly used by those who suffer from mental health issues. For example, those with anxiety and depression or perhaps someone going through a distressing life circumstance might benefit from an emotional support animal.1
Service animals, on the other hand, are more complex – and much harder to have approved. Service animals are assistance dogs, trained to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities. So for example, guide dogs don’t just provide comfort for someone who suffers from blindness.
Service dogs are trained to perform tasks for their companions. They act as a helping hand (or paw) for those things that individuals with disabilities are not capable of doing.
For example, some service dogs can be taught to bring objects(such as a phone) to their companion or act as a brace for those with mobility issues.
They can even alert people to future medical issues, like blood sugar crashes. And so, they’re allowed into most public areas without restriction — such as restaurants, bars, and supermarkets. This treatment is often not afforded to emotional support animals (and not legally required to be).
How About Psychiatric Service Dogs?
A psychiatric service dog is one way that you can have an emotional support dog that is fully-qualified as a service dog. But you must meet certain psychological disability
requirements in order to have one.
Though both aim to improve the mental health of their owners, a psychiatric service dog has been trained to both perform special tasks, as well as to detect the beginning of a psychiatric episode and react accordingly.
For example, these dogs may remind their companion to take their medicine, do a room search for someone suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), interrupt self-harm, or prevent a mentally disabled person from walking onto a busy road if they became disoriented.
As defined in the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) the difference is in what the animal is trained to do in response to a dangerous situation that distinguishes them from emotional support animals.2
Can Emotional Support Animals Help With Mental Health?
Emotional support dogs provide love, comfort, and support through affection and companionship. And this makes sense as there have been many studies on how animals can reduce stress and anxiety in humans.
Many studies have shown a reduction in fear and anxiety, and an increase of oxytocin levels (the love hormone) from human-animal bonding. Animals have also been shown to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.
One study found that the sense of security and routine that emotional support pets offer, may positively help with the emotional and social interactions of their owners.3
People may turn to emotional support animals if they are struggling with a mental disability like…
- Mood disorders
- Panic attacks
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Getting An Emotional Support Dog And Emotional Support Animal Letter
An emotional support dog does not qualify as a service animal but they do still need to be approved.
In order to legally be considered an ESA, you will need to have your dog approved by your mental health professional who must determine that an emotional support dog would be in the best interest of your mental health. The mental health professional will then need to write an official emotional support animal certification or “prescription” for your dog.
This emotional support animal letter must include the professional’s type of license, the type of disability you have, and must show that having an ESA is a key part of your mental health treatment.
What Does An Emotional Support Certification Allow You?
ESAs do not have the same legal protections that service animals do. However, they are eligible for several important things.
If you suffer from a mental health disability you and your emotional support animal have rights to fair housing, for example.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) states that “any person with a mental or physical disability cannot be turned away from housing with their certified service animal or emotional support animal.”
The housing provider must make “reasonable accommodation” for both service and emotional support animals.4
Aside from fair housing, animal emotional support is also allowed on most airlines providing you have the correct documentation that’s been filed ahead of time.5 Owners should always carry written proof with them as well.
Public areas like restaurants, hotels, and libraries are not required to allow emotional support animals and they are viewed as simply pets in many of these domains.6
Emotional Disability Assistance Animals: Consult With Your Mental Health Professional
Companion animals may offer positive emotional assistance to individuals with mental health disabilities. But you will need to go through the proper channels in order to legally certify your pet with an emotional support animal letter of certification.
Talk to your mental health professional regarding your disability, your concerns, and your interest in giving an emotional support animal a try.
And, emotional assistance animals aren’t just limited to dogs and cats. Emotional assistance miniature horses are even becoming more common (these are often the size of a dog.)
ESAs should also wear emotional support dog vests that let people know that they’re indeed an ESA. However, any dog can be an emotional support dog for a mental health disability and they do not require any training.7
Finally, it should be noted that more and more people are unfortunately abusing this system today. People without a real disability that just want to be able to take their pet everywhere. The problem with this is that the more they abuse the system, the harder they make it for someone to be taken seriously who has a legitimate need to have their animal nearby.
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