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Emotional Support Animals: The Facts

Just the other day I came across an article about ESA's (emotional support animals) on planes. I found myself scrolling the comments of said article and I became rather disturbed at what I was reading and how many people have misinformation on ESA's. So, here I am, ready to tell you everything I know about supportive fur-friends.

In 2017, I adopted my two fur-babies about 1 month apart. At the time I was on a medication for anxiety and depression and unfortunately had gained about 30 pounds in the span of 4 months. I attribute this weight gain to the medication, mostly. Getting Libby and Cooper allowed me to slowly wean off said medication and begin to live a more normal life without being so dependent on daily pills. ESA's certainly are not for everyone, but getting them certified worked for me.

What is an ESA?

ESA stands for Emotional Support Animal. These are unlike Service Animals, in that they do not need to be trained and they are meant to support their owner with any mental health issues. Namely we see them utilized for people with severe anxiety and depression.

What are the 2 types of ESA letters?

1. ESA Housing Letter - Needed whenever you would like to prevent any red tape in living with your pet. This allows you to take your pet to any new home, apartment complex or condo without your landlord putting up a fuss.

2. ESA Travel Letter - These allow you to travel with your ESA. A common misconception is that all ESA's can travel with their owners. This is false. You need a second letter or for your original letter to stipulate that you also need to be able to travel with your ESA.

How do I get certified?

You need a diagnoses and letter from a licensed doctor or therapist. Once you have the letter you are good to go, that said, the letter must include the name, contact information and license number of the doctor of therapist that has diagnosed you. There are certifications online, but I wouldn't recommend them as some can be scams. It is much better to see you personal doctor or therapist to obtain your ESA letter.

What are my rights?

Under the Fair Housing Act, you are allowed to have an emotional support animal regardless of the building/complex rules, so long as you have a clear reason from your doctor and a verifiable ESA letter. That said, certain buildings are exempt from following this law based on size and lease duration. For example, hotels and motels do not have to allow someone with an ESA housing letter to bring their ESA.

It is important to note that different states do have different laws and certain cities have ordinances that require different licenses. I always recommend you look up any specific laws in your area. For example, some cities require domesticated animals be spayed or neutered unless their owner has special breeding permits. This would apply to an ESA as well, in most cases, and is important to know so that you aren't denied for such a reason.

ESA Housing Letters do not expire. Once you have a signed, verifiable letter you can use that letter as long as necessary. However, keep in mind that some diagnoses do need to be updated as time goes on and you may need to keep up with doctor's visits.

But, how effective are they, really?

In my personal experience, I can say they are very effective. That said, if you want studies and a medical opinion there are a variety of sources. Studies show that interactions with a trusted animal reduces stress levels. Certain types of animals can help to increase physical activity, which in turn reduces anxiety. Studies also show that animals can reduce feelings of loneliness, helping both those with depression and anxiety.

An ESA won't work for everyone, similarly every medication won't work for everyone. The important thing is it does help some people. For me, having an ESA is more effective than being on medication was, but that it not the case for everyone. I'd recommend working with your doctor to figure out what works better for you or whether a combination of medication and an ESA is best.

ESA's are a very broad topic and I plan to go more in depth in the future. For now, I wanted to give anyone that is looking, a base understanding of what an ESA is, what their rights are and what the overall process entails. If you have any specific questions, email me at kaylajdahl@gmail.com.