How can my pet qualify as an Emotional Support Animal?

What is an Emotional Support Animal?
Kael Laselva

As society becomes more and more aware of mental and physical disabilities/conditions, the number of different types of treatment continue to rise. One of the fastest growing methods of assisting those who suffer from mental illnesses/disabilities, relies on the joy that animals bring to the world. Emotional support animals, commonly referred to as “ESA’s”, have gained massive popularity over recent years, even influencing policy and law changes throughout the United States. In 2011, there were around 2,000 legally registered Emotional Support animals, with that number growing up to around 200,000 in 2022.  Now the questions arise, what does an ESA do, and what are the benefits of officially registering your animal as one? 

What animals can be ESA’s?
Any animal that is considered legal and domesticated can qualify to be an Emotional Support Animal. There are emotional support Alpacas, Pigs, Mice, Dogs, Cats, etc.. 

What does an Emotional Support Animal do?
The main “responsibility” of an ESA is to… provide emotional support, as implied in the name. However, to be more specific, emotional support animals provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and aid in the battle against certain phobias and fears. ESA’s are different to Service Animals however, in the sense of not being trained/able to perform physical tasks for people with disabilities. While an ESA can help someone who is disabled with their mental well-being, they are often not qualified to physically aid said person.

Who is qualified to own an ESA?
It is relatively easy to register an animal as an ESA, however, you are required to meet certain conditions in order to qualify. According to the UMass Chan Medical School website, “the owner must be considered to have a qualifying mental health or psychiatric disability by a licensed medical professional”. Some of these “qualifying mental health” conditions include: Anxiety, depression, OCD, panic attacks, eating disorders, phobias, ptsd, autism, ADHD, and other symptoms. 

What legal benefits do ESA’s have compared to regular animals? 
Emotional Support Animals are partially covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, granting some basic protections such as housing and air travel. However, unlike Service Animals, most private spaces are not legally required to allow ESA’s onto their property, even after being presented with a doctor’s letter, yet are often influenced into doing so by local animal activist groups.

If you suffer from any of the aforementioned mental challenges, you are qualified to own an Emotional Support Animal. These fur babies have saved thousands of lives since their integration into modern psychiatric treatment, while also brightening up the lives of many. If you believe you are in need of emotional support and have interest in registering your pet as an ESA, contact your family/local medical professional for an evaluation.