Emotional support animals are legitimate “resources” that people turn to in order to manage their emotions and feel more comfortable in situations that otherwise can produce stress, fear, or anxiety. Trouble is, many people have abused the privilege of having an emotional support animal to the point where their credibility has been lessened and many believe that everyone who has one only has an emotional support animal in order to bring their pet along to a place where they otherwise would not be allowed.

The even greater difficulty with this is that people who legitimately need them and could benefit from them are often looked down upon or even questioned about their true need for such a support.

Where many people make snap-judgments or “get it wrong” is that in order to be prescribed an emotional support animal, the individual must have a verifiable disability. And to be afforded protection under federal law, the person must meet the federal definition of disability and therefore must have a note from a physician or a mental health professional that states the person has the disability and that the emotional support animal provides a benefit to the individual. Unlike service animals, emotional support animals do not have to have specific training. This is where emotional support animals sometimes run into greater issues as realistically, they are not all trained to be calm and friendly to others.

Their Intended Purpose

Emotional support animals do not exist so that your furry friend can come along on a trip with you, or so that you can get your rental deposit waived. While I am a proud dog owner and lover, and I would love for dogs to be allowed everywhere, it’s incredibly important that emotional support animals maintain their dignity and purpose. This can only be done by not exploiting their use.

An emotional support animal is a companion animal that is prescribed by a medical professional to an individual who would benefit from having that animal due to a disability. Typically emotional support animals are dogs, however, there are other types of animals such as cats that people may use to support their psychological or intellectual disabilities.

Places that Require Proof

Situations where a person most commonly seeks to have and would benefit from an emotional support animal include flying and in their home. In certain circumstances, such as when a person lives in a rental unit where pets are not allowed, the importance of having a prescription for an emotional support animal becomes that much greater.  In most cases, the landlord would be required to allow the individual/tenant to have an emotional support animal though there are some further restrictions within the housing act that can prevent the landlord from allowing a tenant to do so. Nonetheless, generally speaking this accommodation is granted.
Likewise, with flying, having an emotional support animal letter allows you to bring your pet on-board your flight and does not require them to be caged nor are you are charged for bringing your pet.

Getting Prescribed an ESA

In order to be prescribed an emotional support animal in the United States, the individual must have an emotional or mental disability and they must be prescribed the animal by a mental health professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, licensed mental health counselor, etc., or any other mental health expert.

In most cases, particularly those where practitioners are practicing ethically, it is not as simple as asking for a prescription or letter. Ethical practitioners will require that they have seen the individual for an ongoing period of time in order to make the valid and reliable assessment that the emotional support animal would be a great benefit to the person. Another method of obtaining a emotional support animal letter is to be evaluated by a mental health professional, which usually includes a through biopsychosocial assessment, as well as possible psychological testing in order to determine whether there is a verifiable mental or emotional disability and if an emotional support animal would be of benefit.

Take Them Seriously

The public can do a great service to those who truly need an emotional support animal by not abusing the privilege of having one by buying fake letters, vests, or other items labeling their pet as an emotional support animal. If you really need an ESA, then by all means, you should have one. But if you are only looking to get documentation so you can avoid paying for your chihuahua to come onboard your flight, think twice. Just like service dogs, emotional support animals serve a true purpose, but the more that people abuse this privilege, the more their purpose and integrity becomes dismantled.

We Can Help

At Tampa Therapy, we are trained to assess, diagnose, and provide treatment recommendations. If getting an emotional support animal would truly be of benefit to you, we are happy to help you with the assessment process to get you the documentation you need. You deserve to feel comfortable and relaxed, and if your pet can truly help, we are all for it! We are committed to providing therapy and counseling services in a comfortable, relaxing, encouraging, and non-judgmental environment.  Give us a call or email us today to schedule an appointment.

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