For individuals with mental or emotional disabilities or illnesses, an emotional support animal (ESA) can provide the support that they need for living a full and independent life. Read on to find out more about what exactly an ESA (learn more) is and how to get an ESA.
What is an ESA?
An ESA, or emotional support animal, is a pet that serves as a companion animal for its owner. Several studies have shown the beneficial effects of human-animal interactions. People who have pets or who come into regular contact with animals tend to be less stressed, less depressed, and bounce back quickly from hard times.
Who Needs an ESA?
Dogs, cats, and other pets come with a built-in ability to make us happy. We can all do with the tongue-lolling, smiley faces and the tail-wagging greetings after a long day. Yet, individuals suffering with mental or emotional issues, can do with that help a little more than most. Emotional support animals are recommended as part of the treatment protocol for the following people:
- Individuals suffering from depression: seasonal depression, bipolar disorder, depression.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers.
- Those who struggle with phobias, such as aviophobia (fear of flying) and agoraphobia (fear of places that could cause embarrassment, helplessness, and/or panic).
- People with anxiety, social anxiety, or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
- Autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
Furry Friend with Benefits! What Can Your ESA do for You?
1. Spending time with and petting your ESA may help to increase dopamine levels in your body. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with feeling pleasure. Some studies show that even the simple act of looking in your dog’s eyes may increase dopamine levels.
2. Pets are a super source of unconditional love. For people who are feeling a bit disconnected, having that love and affection from an ESA can be a stepping stone to forming other meaningful relationships.
3. An ESA can help to stabilize intense emotions. Feeling low, anxious, fearful, or agitated? The steadiness and neutral support of a canine companion can help to divert attention from the situation. Ctrl, alt, delete and start over.
4. Fear of flying? Having an ESA on board with you on a flight can be a huge help in calming and shifting your focus to something less stressful.
5. ESAs can help to regulate daily feelings. For people with a diagnosis of psychological or emotional illness, managing the day-to-day can be as significant as dealing with single high-stress moments.
6. Life Purpose. Your emotional support pet will also add to your life’s purpose and your daily routine. A reason to get up in the mornings. A reason to add structure and routine to your day. Animals like to eat at the same times each day. If you have a dog that wants to go for a walk or to go outside for a potty break, there can be even more structure and routine in your day.
7. An emotional support animal can provide social support. If you regard your pet as family, this is especially true. Pets may help to improve mental and emotional well-being as much as human friends or family. These connections and good feels are in turn important for physical health too. The feel-good hormones released in the body because of happy emotions and connectedness help to improve immune functioning, and cardiovascular and endocrine health.
8. Exercise = happy hormones. Having someone around demanding a walk every day will be great for your mental and physical health! Exercise and fresh air lead to an increase in feel-good hormones. This in turn will ease depressions or anxieties and help you to sleep better.
What Kind of Four-Legged Friend is for You?
The type of pet that you choose to be your ESA is entirely up to you. Are you a dog person? Or, are you a cat person? Whatever makes you happiest, will be the best for you.
There are some points to consider when choosing an ESA. How much time do you have on your hands for training or going for walks? Are you a couch-surfer who loves to binge watch series after series? Or are you the outdoorsy type; hiking and adventuring every weekend? How much space do you have? Do you live in a place with a garden, or in an apartment 23 floors up?
If you get an ESA to up your happy, it is only fair to make sure that their surroundings and lifestyle are best suited to keep them happy!
Can You Buy an ESA?
You cannot buy an ESA per sé. You can get an ESA letter and then buy or adopt a pet dog or cat that will be your emotional support pet. ESAs are not specifically trained or equipped in anyway. Emotional support dogs and cats do their job simply by doing what comes naturally to them. Being awesome companions!
What Makes a Pet an ESA?
A pet does not qualify to be an ESA. You qualify to own an ESA. You can do this by checking to see whether you are eligible for an ESA letter. Take the Certapet 5-min pre-screening questionnaire. You will very soon know whether you qualify for an ESA. If so, a licensed mental health practitioner (LMHP) in your state will contact you. During a brief online consultation, your LMHP will assess your mental or emotional condition. Thereafter, if necessary, they will write you a prescription (AKA, ESA letter) for an emotional support pet as part of your treatment protocol.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) encompasses two laws that offer protection to emotional support animals and their owners. With certification, an ESA receives two legal protections. Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), they qualify for accommodation in no-pet housing. Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), ESAs are able to fly with a person who has an emotional or psychological disability.
Where to Find an ESA?
The best place to start your search for your new BFF, is your local animal shelter. Whether you are looking for a purebred pooch or a motley moggie, there are always many wonderful animals looking for new, happy homes. There are also many breed-specific rescue groups assisting in the re-homing of certain breeds of dog or cat. These groups are usually very knowledgeable about the specific breed and what kind of person or lifestyle that cat or dog is best suited to.