Throughout history, dogs have always been there for humans. They are not considered as man's best friend for nothing. They are fiercely loyal, reliable, and their love for humans is eternal.
You can count on these canines when it comes to hard work. You can rely upon them for almost everything from farming and hunting to providing security to the whole family. There are no better companion animals than dogs.
Now, more than ever, they have taken on more serious roles for humans. They are no longer just pets but are considered trustworthy companions who can provide you with the emotional support you need.
Dogs are no longer just for cuddles but they can also be your channel to express your frustrations and help you promote better mental health.
Dogs bear a significant responsibility on their shoulders of helping humans cope and survive. Many of them have now taken on more essential roles as service dogs, therapy dogs, working dogs, and emotional support animals.
And these canines take everything in wholeheartedly – the good, the bad, and the ugly while being there, taking care of their humans. At this point, sometimes dogs are even the ones taking care of the human instead of the other way around.
Based on the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, a comfort animal is any pet or animal that offers emotional support to a person. It is also called an emotional support animal. These animals - usually dogs help alleviate one or several symptoms of a person's physical disability and mental well-being.
Emotional support animals or ESAs are getting popular nowadays because of their positive contribution to therapy aid. They are known to improve the quality of life of people who are struggling to cope with mental illnesses or debilitating grief.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), comfort animals don't fall under the umbrella of service animals. These dogs can be trained for a particular owner but not for specific duties to help a person with a disability.
This consideration does not in any way minimize the support that these animals give to people who have psychological disorders.
Comfort animals are considered companions who help ease loneliness, depression, anxieties, and phobias in their owners. They are brought into the picture and their potential tapped into, in situations where the level of stress is high or when there are ongoing crises.
Although they are somewhat similar in nature, there are distinct differences between a service animal and a comfort animal. Read on to learn what sets the two types apart and how they differ.
The ADA defines a service dog as an independently trained dog capable of undertaking a set of specific responsibilities and tasks and works with people with different disabilities. These disabilities can fall under intellectual, physical, psychiatric, sensory categories or other mental disabilities. The duties of a service dog are directly related to it’s handler or human's disability.
Some of the responsibilities that a service dog can accomplish are:
To sum it up, a service dog is specifically trained to perform tasks that mitigate its handler's responsibility.
Emotional support animals or comfort animals on the other hand can be any animal from the animal kingdom. Their primary role is to provide comfort daily to their owners. To become legally qualified for ESA, a licensed mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist should prescribe the need to have one. ESAs are a little different from service dogs because service dogs are professionally trained to perform their specific duties.
As per ESA laws 2021, emotional support animals are also granted access in certain public places as long as they are with their handlers.
Unlike service dogs, emotional support animals do not undergo any specific training. They simply need to be well-trained or on their best behavior when out in public.
ESAs are also not granted access to individual establishments like malls or restaurants. People with ESAs are provided with additional rights like the ability to live in housing that is non-pet-friendly under the Fair Housing Act.
The following are the kinds of disorders that can qualify you for an ESA:
Overall, emotional service animals are intended to be companions for both health and fun, while a service dog’s job is considered a profession. It is a working animal that has undergone rigorous training in performing very specific tasks, is constantly evaluated for its skills and can be further trained if and when required.
A comfort animal can make a huge difference in people living alone, those going through a rough time, and folks who are battling with various kinds of mental health issues. The unwavering attention of these comfort animals can alleviate the symptoms of mental health conditions.
Most people have a comfort animal to provide companionship – dogs, cats, and other animals are your ideal emotional companion animals because they nurture a sense of well-being. Dogs, in particular even as regular pets, make great chums.
They interact and bond with you, and are very open in letting you know that they adore and love you. Most dog breeds would love to play your shadow and be near you. These comfort animals make the best substitute for human presence especially for people living alone or are far from their families.
You can talk to them, and they will listen. You can be at your worst, and they will still enjoy your company and will look forward to your presence.
Mental issues are not a joke. They can be crippling and can affect your physical health, and can deteriorate if not addressed in time. Further, they can lead to other more severe conditions, so you should welcome any treatment and support that you can get. Being alone either due to uncontrollable circumstances or by choice is not healthy for your mental health. Being lonely with no one to talk with can lead to other risks like depression.
There are instances where intervention is already necessary. Still, because of family living far and with the travel bans in place, these comfort animals take on the role of being elderly companion animals, housemates, movie marathon buddies, and avid listeners.
Although they cannot respond the "human way," it is enough to get a response from them like a bark or a purr, wagging of tails, and an expression so soulful that you will forget that you are alone.
Not everyone is all sunshine and hugs with their families, and with an ESA by your side, you can have a better chance of dealing with difficult relations and even loss.
From depression, anxiety attacks, getting poor quality of sleep, and lack of purpose, all of these would be reasons why you need an emotional support animal. That said, as much as you rely upon this animal to provide you with its healing presence and support, it also depends on you to provide for its basic needs – making this partnership a win-win situation because you have a reason to get up and going, because there is someone that depends on you.
You will need the soothing and constant presence of an emotional support animal if you have specific phobias or post-traumatic disorders. These can be real mood killers, and they can sap all the positive energy out of you and drain you physically, mentally, and emotionally
If you have either a phobia or PTSD, it is common for you to have uncontrollable mood swings, regular flashbacks of the traumatic event, nightmares of what happened. You are triggered continuously by your fear with bouts of absent-mindedness.
Your ESA can assist in reconditioning your mind and hopefully influence you to have a little positivity. Dogs and other ESAs are natural stress relievers, and they can minimize these triggers, allowing you to refocus on something else instead. These animals can teach you to stay calmer and more motivated.
Seeking medical help while coping with PTSD and ESA being an additional reinforcement can yield excellent results.
Everyone wants to do everyday tasks independently. Regardless of whether the job is big or small, you want that independence. Unfortunately, due to capacitive limitations, disabled people need some help in doing these tasks.
This is where emotional support animals can provide additional reinforcements. These animals are trained to help out in day-to-day tasks like opening doors for you and helping you cross the street.
They can also pick up and carry things for you. Some can remind you to take your medications, and as seen on social media, can even protect you when you are having a seizure.
Comfort animals can be any pet from bearded dragons, birds, cats, dogs, horses, monkeys, rabbits, and pigs. Almost any animal can be a comfort animal. The Federal law does not necessitate your choice of comfort animal to have completed any specific training.
As long as this animal provides you comfort and can ease your stress, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues, it can be qualified as a comfort animal with an ESA letter from your doctor.
Any person suffering from emotional or mental disability can legally qualify for an ESA or a service animal. One must be certified emotionally disabled by a qualified therapist, psychiatrist, psychologist or a licensed or certified mental health professional.
Most of the time, though, the following kind of people are able to function and cope better with life with an emotional support animal by their side:
Those suffering from psychiatric disabilities caused by many factors like differences in brain structure, biochemical imbalances, trauma, to stressful and distressing experiences, or biological, genetic, and social influences.
These can lead to psychiatric disorders like OCD, personality disorders, panic disorders, depressive disorders, eating disorders, seasonal affective disorder, and Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective disorders, just to name a few.
A service dog on the other hand is trained to pick things up, pull a wheelchair, alert a deaf handler or guide a blind handler. These dogs can also remind their handlers to take prescribed medications and even calm a person suffering from PTSD at the onset or in the middle of an anxiety attack.
A veteran here can include any person who has worked in any of the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces or even a first responder. When it comes to veterans, service dogs are trained to help those with disabilities other than visual impairments. They are trained to open and shut doors, turn on and turn off lights, retrieve dropped items, carry packages or a backpack and more.
Most veterans come home with wounds – not physical wounds but wounds that are deeper etched in mind and soul. Death and violence are something they need to adapt to and not by choice. These can lead to long battles of depression, nightmares, helplessness, anxiety, and sometimes even violence and anger management issues.
They’ve seen their comrades fight with them and die in front of them. They carry these stark images and memories back with them even when they are back home. There is a considerable price they pay even though they are fighting for freedom and for love of the country.
In such cases, emotional support animals can help provide the comfort, companionship, solace, and quiet understanding that these veterans need. If they don't have an existing pet that can provide them with the emotional support required, they can always adopt from organizations like Pets for Patriots or America’s VetDogs.
ESAs can help promote a healthier and livelier lifestyle for senior citizens. ESAs can keep them entertained and happy, thus improving their overall perspective towards life.
Whether your senior is chronically ill, depressed, or has continuing disabilities, an emotional support animal is the best treatment around.
An emotional support animal, mainly a dog is energetic and playful by nature, but at the same time, they are sensitive to the emotions and needs of their humans. This makes them ideal for children.
ESAs are proven to help children with autism. More and more children's hospitals are now bringing in resident emotional support animals that visit the children before and after they go through complicated processes like surgeries.
It is essential to set a difference between service animals and emotional support animals. There are existing laws in place that cover the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), including support animals. Again, it is important to reiterate that emotional support animals are not the same as service dogs. Therefore, they are not governed by the same rights.
The apartment or housing facilities of the ESA's handler
College dormitories and campus housing
Passenger cabin when traveling by air (Airline discretion)
Hotels and Airbnb's
Restaurants and stores
Your workplace (unless otherwise authorized by the company)
It is suggested that you attempt to reach out to Airbnb owners and restaurants ahead of time and see if they will allow your emotional support animal inside their property or establishment. You can assure them that the animal is well-behaved.
It is not a guarantee, but some owners allow pets on their property and are more accepting when it comes to situations like this, but you need to remember that this is done on a case-to-case basis.
Emotional support animals have recently become frequent flyers – at least before the global pandemic. Before, all service animals and emotional support animals traveling with their handlers fell under the bucket of "service animal" during air travel. For ESAs and psychiatric support animals, there are additional forms and verifications required than your regular service dogs.
Below are the needed documents that you should present as outlined by the Department of Transportation (DOT):
This note from your doctor should be dated within one year of your initial scheduled flight. This document will need to declare the following information:
The purpose of this documentation is to inform the airline of the necessary information about your animal. This also serves as a record to ensure that the vaccination and needed shots have been duly completed.
Similar to the document provided by your doctor, your ESA's veterinarian should also include the following information and it should be dated within twelve months of the initial departure.
Lastly, this form from the vet's office should include the following information:
This is not a guarantee of your action as the human passenger but your emotional support animal. Some carriers would ask for any evidence or documentation that your ESA is trained to behave in public.
Again, this does not apply to all airlines, but just in case, you should always present a behavior school completion or certification if you have any.
Submission of these documents varies based on the carrier's guidelines. Some would need to have it submitted online 48 hours before the flight with the actual documents shown to the carrier's representative at the airport 1-2 hours before the flight. However, following the DOT's latest policy dated January 11, 2021, there have been a few changes implemented to the ESA Rules and Regulations 2021.
Effective January 11, 2021, airlines are no longer mandated to allow passengers with ESAs. However, this policy doesn't mean that ESA owners cannot travel with their animals because several domestic and international carriers will still accommodate your ESA to board the passenger cabin with you without any charges. While the documents required are the same as before, airlines that allow ESA’s on board voluntarily still follow various protocols as mandated by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
Traveling with support animals and service dogs is now more streamlined. Remember that when you are going to fly with your ESA, you need to cooperate with the carrier's policies and regulations. Make sure that you follow etiquette so as to not inconvenience other travelers.
If you have a comfort animal, it is best to know which laws protect you and your ESA. Here are the rules that you should be familiar with so you can understand what is included in your rights:
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) covers all residents of the US and states that landlords must accommodate tenants who own or need an ESA even if the building or property has an existing "No Pets Allowed" policy.
Before January 11, 2021, all airlines were mandated by this law to accommodate passengers to travel with their ESAs in the passenger cabin without any additional fees. The US DOT issued new policies that will permit airline carriers to stop recognizing ESAs on flights. Should the airline choose to accommodate these animals, it would be voluntary and as per guidelines from the airline itself.
Getting a comfort animal is more straightforward and less expensive, especially if you already have a pet that you would like upgraded as your emotional support animal.
First, identify if you need an emotional support animal and discuss it with your licensed mental health professional. If your licensed mental health professional concurs that it would be beneficial to your recovery treatment, you can choose what kind of ESA you would like to adopt or purchase. You can also use your current pet if you have one.
Once you have identified your ESA, your licensed mental health professional will issue you with an ESA letter. The ESA letter needs to be used properly and ethically.
Getting a service animal is a lengthier process compared to getting a comfort animal. There are specific prerequisites that need to be checked. Rest assured that this investment is worth the wait and cost.
A service dog is a costly investment, so you have to be sure and confident that you need one. The ADA can help you identify and evaluate your situation and if it equates to needing a service dog. Usually, there are pre-set conditions to determine your eligibility. Some of these conditions are autism, cancer, epilepsy, hearing loss, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, scoliosis, and vision loss.
The severity of your condition will determine your match with an ideal service dog. The credentials of the dog, including training, will be considered in assessing the candidate best suited to be your service animal.
Unlike ESA, only dogs are considered officially as service animals. While any trained service dog can be your service dog, you also have to consider that this dog will be going home with you and living with you 24/7. You therefore need to select the one that matches your lifestyle and your personality as well.
You have to check which breed is suitable in your home. Usually, the top choices for breeds are golden retrievers because they have a good temperament, and are intelligent and sociable.
Sure, you can train your service dog, but time efficiency and money-wise, it is not a feasible idea. Service dog providers take care of the dogs' training and then put them up for adoption once the dog graduates. They can also train your dog, but you have to remember that effective training can take years, and it's always best to start them young. Service dog providers can be the answer to this problem.
Getting a service dog can be exciting but remember that your home should also be dog-friendly and safe for your new family member. Kids and other household members should be briefed about the new family dynamics, including new rules and responsibilities if any. Don't forget to go shopping for your service dog's essentials like food, bed, toys, leash, and a few treats.
As much as possible, plant the roots of trust and loyalty as early as you can. Spend some time getting to know your service dog. Attend some training sessions with it if possible so you can solidify that bond. You will be the one who will reap the benefits of this in the future.
Borrowing the wisdom of Anon, "Grief shared is half the grief, but joy shared is double joy." One of the darkest days you can go through would be the loss of a loved one. It can be your spouse, parent, child, sibling, friend, or even the loss of your pet. Death can give the nastiest and most painful blow in life.
When there is only pain in grief, a comfort animal can make all the difference. These animals can provide you with a level of comfort and friendship that is beyond any unspoken words.
Today, some funeral homes have their in-house emotional support animals to help both adults and children cope with the grieving process and make it less painful – at least for the time being.
Animals have this great nose for grief and pain. Burying your face in a furry and warm neck can help you communicate that ache you are feeling and dogs are just intuitive enough to pick them up. Like someone wise said- “all pets are therapy pets; most are just working undercover.”
Emotional support animals can help distract you from your stress, even if it’s temporarily. Funeral businesses find that having a comfort dog around can influence the overall mood inside the room. When a dog, for instance, comes in and walks around the room, people will begin to smile and pet the dog. Conversations start and not sad ones but lighter talks about anything besides death.
ESAs are also regularly putting in a presence in grief support meetings. It helps participants become more comfortable. Some can openly share their stories while petting or stroking the animal's coat compared to just sitting there rigidly.
With death and emotional support animals being there, it makes the ordeal more tolerable.
During the healing process, you can start coming up with more creative ideas to move on while still having a tangible reminder of the people and animals you have loved and lost. One of the popular options today would be cremation jewelry for ashes, and mind you, there are also memorials specifically for your beloved pets. Like your "human" loved ones, there are also pet memorial jewelry and pet cremation urns that you can have customized.
A pet memorial keepsake can be in the form of jewelry. It can also be a more practical pet cremation keepsake like a keychain or photo engraved pet tags. This pet cremation jewelery is a subtle way of remembering the loyalty and love that your beloved pet bestowed upon you.
If someone close to you lost their pet, giving them pet cremation jewelry as a gift is very thoughtful and sweet. You can have a photo engraved pet jewelry sent to them if you cannot be there for them.
Having a reminder that you need to go on with life despite people and animals coming and leaving can give you a better outlook towards the future.
Where having a service or comfort animal is new to so many families, we have compiled a list of some of our most frequently asked questions to help educate those looking for more information.
The good news is, landlords cannot deny an emotional support animal on the sole ground that their property does not allow pets. Your landlord cannot kick you out due to your ESA, as this directly violates the Fair Housing regulations. As a tenant, you can request a reasonable accommodation for your ESA before bringing them home to your apartment or building.
You may need to submit the authorization letter from your doctor that entitles you to an emotional support animal. This can be duly submitted to your building superintendent. There may be disagreements when it comes to ESA regulations as many landlords are not well-versed with this. Should this raise any concerns or questions, you can recommend your building supers to check the information specific to Service Animal rules and regulations 2021. There are freely available online resources for everyone's disposal.
"I am writing you a prescription for a dog. Your insurance may not cover this but dogs are essential for good health. In fact, I suggest more than one!"
The above statement says it all. Any animal or pet can technically be an emotional support animal. But among all the animals, it is the dog that makes the best pals; they have established a reputation for being legends in supporting people who are struggling and coping with mental illness. With their giving attitude and their capacity to interact and bond with their humans, dogs are considered the ideal emotional support animals.
Remember that not all canines are created equal when it comes to temperament. There are certain dog breeds suitable for ESA work. You have to factor in some considerations, like trainability, dog motivation, and human connections. You can choose from Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Yorkshire Terriers, Beagles, Corgis, Pugs, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Pomeranians, and Chihuahuas.
The only way you can apply and start having an emotional support animal is by obtaining a recommended letter from your licensed mental health professional. To have this letter, you should be evaluated and duly examined by a licensed mental health professional, and a recommendation should be stated that you need an ESA.
The letter will state that a comfort animal can help you cope better with your mental and emotional struggles due to your current mental health challenges. The ESA can help you handle the better and is part of your recovery treatment.
Landlords are not allowed to charge you, as the tenant, for any additional "pet rent" or "pet security deposit" for your service or emotional support animal. Your landlord cannot apply additional "pet policies or guidelines" like weight restrictions or breed selections to your preferred ESA either.
Emotional support animals can be any animal. Your mental health doctor will not be specific on what kind of animal you should have. If you already have a pet and want this animal to become your emotional support animal, then by all means go ahead. Your doctor would essentially ask you if your pet provides you comfort and relief.
Upon confirmation, your doctor can upgrade your simple household pet to an emotional support animal through an authorization letter. Once this is done, your pet becomes part of your recovery treatment and therapy.
At varying stages in life, everybody goes through a phase where you feel like nobody understands you. You feel incredibly depressed and lost especially after the death of a loved one. You feel like you've lost a purpose after a plan didn't materialize the way you wanted it to. Sometimes after doing something patriotic, you go home scarred for life. Or, as part of the cycle of life, you see people you love move on without you.
During these extreme times, you become vulnerable, and your mental health is at risk. This is typical for people in their twenties, fifties, and eighties. But almost everyone can have a mental breakdown once in a while.
During these times, you may feel the need for additional support aside from your family and friends. You find yourself looking for comfort and companionship to help you heal and hopefully improve your perspective about life.
Needing an emotional support animal is not a decision done overnight. You don't wake up, and suddenly want an ESA. You might likely have treatment sessions with a mental health doctor and have attended some therapies. If you are not feeling any progress or need more reinforcement, then considering an emotional support animal is one of your best options.
Here are indicators that you might need an emotional support animal:
Unfortunately, some individuals misrepresent their pets as emotional support animals even if they are not. This is the current stigma that "legit" ESAs and handlers go through. Today, there is an increased pervasiveness of ESAs being the center of criticism – not the animal's fault but more of the people that they are comforting and lending support to.
Some handlers take advantage of having ESAs on flights and cause disruptions to the carrier's standard operating procedures. There have been news reports of handlers misusing these animals and of owners not wanting to be accountable for their ESAs in public.
The unwavering emotional and mental (sometimes even physical) support of these animals is not being returned in kind by owners that are inattentive to the needs of their ESAs. Misrepresenting these animals just to be exempted or for personal gain is exceptionally unethical and entirely wrong.
Animals are indeed tremendous blessings, especially animals that can provide you with comfort and even physical assistance. They don't just lend a paw to let you know that they're there. They don't just let you bury your nose in their necks because they do much more than that.
Emotional support animals and service dogs give you what most people find hard to provide – unrushed time, unconditional love, and complete attention.
Struggling with mental and emotional issues can break your resolve, but with these animals ready to lend a paw, you will never be alone. With them you do not have to worry about being judged and put down.
You might not be completely fine by tomorrow, but you know that with your emotional support animal by your side, you will get better. It might not be your whole life, but it sure does play an important role in making your life whole again.
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March 16, 2021 by Frances Kay