According to the NAVC’s recent Voice of the Veterinary Community study, helping animals on a daily basis is what veterinary professionals cite as their favorite part of their job (77%), followed by doing meaningful and purposeful work (65%). But on the flip side,...
What is an emotional support animal, and can they be a benefit to you? Should you register your emotional support animal?
Here is everything that you need to know about emotional support animals, what kind of registration is available, and what restrictions apply.
What is an Emotional Support Animal?
There is a lot of confusion about what emotional support animals are and how they are different from service animals. Many people are confused about what it requires for you to get an emotional support animal and why there are so many different registrations.
Here’s what you need to know about what emotional support animals are and are not.
What Emotional Support Animals Are
Emotional support animals get certain rights that distinguish them from ordinary pets. However, they don’t have as many rights as service animals.
Emotional support animals may be brought on airlines or may live in places with restrictions on pets. If there are fees associated with bringing a pet, those fees may be waived for emotional support animals. Typically, the airport or landlord will require a letter from a health professional documenting that the animal is an emotional support animal.
Emotional support animals:
- Are recommended by a health professional like a doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist to help with the symptoms of a diagnosed psychological disorder.
- Have official paperwork, usually a letter, documenting that the animal is an emotional support animal from a licensed human health professional.
- Are sufficiently trained to be calm and non-distracting in environments in which they are allowed.
What Emotional Support Animals Are Not
Service dogs are different from emotional support dogs for a couple of important reasons.
Service dogs are trained to do specific tasks to assist people with physical disabilities or medical conditions in the course of their daily life. No documentation is required for people with disabilities and their service dogs.
When it isn’t obvious that a dog is a service animal, employees of a business may ask two very specific questions:
- Is this dog a service animal that is required because of a disability?
- What task has the dog been trained to perform for you?
Staff cannot ask for documents, ask for a demonstration of the service, or ask in what way someone is disabled. Service dogs have very extensive protection under the law, much more than that offered to emotional support dogs.
In summation, service dogs are:
- Trained to do a specific task to assist with a disability or medical condition.
- Able to accompany their owners by law nearly everywhere they may go
Additionally, Emotional Support Animals should address a real need for you. If you do not have a real need for an emotional support animal, it is unethical to go through the process of registering a pet as an emotional support animal, just to make life and travel more convenient for yourself.
What Kinds of Animals Can Be Emotional Support Animals?
Usually, when people think about emotional support animals, they think about dogs. However, dogs aren’t the only animals that can be emotional support animals. There really isn’t any restriction on what animals can qualify as an emotional support animal.
The only requirement is that they offer the kind of emotional support that your doctor thinks will be beneficial to your health. Cats, miniature horses, and even geese have all served as emotional support animals.
What is Emotional Support Animal Registration?
There is absolutely no registration required for emotional support animals.
A letter from a health professional may be required to bring your emotional support animal on airplanes or to get special permission around housing.
However, there is no official registry or society. There are many organizations with which you can register your emotional support animal, and they may provide you with support, equipment, and other benefits.
However, do not be fooled into thinking you need to register with an emotional support animal organization. All that is required is documentation from a doctor.
Should Your Emotional Support Animal Wear Identifying Features?
Many people wonder whether it is important for emotional support animals to be identified. There is absolutely some value in visibly showing your emotional support animal. It can save you from awkward questions if you want to bring your emotional support animal somewhere they may not otherwise go, such as the airport.
However, most of the time, emotional support animals don’t have more rights than ordinary pets.
Therefore, most of the time, there really won’t be a reason to declare your pet as an emotional support animal unless you want to make it clear that they should not be interfered with by the public.
If you decide to have your animal wear identifying features, a harness or vest is a good option.
Can You Train Your Emotional Support Animal to Be a Service Animal?
If you have a disability or medical condition and find that your emotional support animal offers you a lot of benefits that help you with your day to day function, you may want to bring them everywhere with you and be provided the extra rights associated with service animals.
You do not have to have your dog professionally trained as a service dog to have the full rights of service animals. You can train your dog to do service work by yourself. It is, however, extremely important that your dog is extremely well-trained and is able to go with you everywhere safely as well as being able to do service tasks for you.
Most service dogs take years to achieve sufficient training. Many dogs are not well-suited to be service animals. The best breed of dog depends on your specific disability, but it is important to realize that your family dog may not be well suited to the role because they weren’t trained to the discipline of a service dog or the demanding work life of a service dog.
Certain breeds tend to be better at service work than others. Your dog will have to have an extremely calm and steady temperament to excel in this role.
Do Emotional Support Animals Help?
Emotional support animals haven’t been around as long as service animals. However, there is good reason to think that they are very helpful. Animals can lower blood pressure and have calming effects.
If you find that having your pet around makes you feel a lot better and your doctor agrees that it might be a good idea, it is well worth considering whether an emotional support animal might be a good fit for your life. If you don’t already have a pet that you are considering for the role of emotional support animal, here are a few things that you should keep in mind:
- Discreet may be best. You want to bring your emotional support animal with you everywhere. A smaller animal and one that is unlikely to scare people or make anyone uncomfortable is best.
- Calm. You need a support animal that you can bring with you, so a calm animal is a preferable choice.
The best emotional support animal for you likely won’t be the same as for somebody else. Emotional support animals cause you to react in a unique way. Some people will benefit from confident animals to draw them out of a stressful mood, while others may prefer an animal that is very emotionally attached to them.
Problems With Emotional Support Animals
If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’ve probably noticed that everything about emotional support animals doesn’t seem to be positive. While there have been cases of emotional support animals injuring other passengers on flights, being an interference to other customers, and otherwise causing problems, there are many, many more cases of emotional support animals being helpful and supportive than what’s drawing attention.
That being said, you want to be sure that your emotional support animal is a pleasure to be around for everyone around you as well as being a great support for you. Be careful to train your animal thoroughly and ensure they are very well-socialized before you bring them into society as your emotional support animal.
Handle your emotional support animal carefully at all times so that people around you are not made uncomfortable. You have the right to have your animal with you, which means you have a responsibility to ensure that they are under control at all times.
Watch for Signs of Stress
Animals get stressed out just like we do. Being an emotional support animal is likely hard work for your pet. Be sure that you love them as your pet as well as depending on them as your support animal.
This in mind, it’s important to get your best friend the best possible veterinary care. Physical problems often explain behavioral issues. Seek out the help of a veterinary-recommended behaviorist if you are still unsure why your support animal isn’t behaving like they used to. Being attuned to your animal’s cues is key to making sure they are able to be there for you when you need them.
Make Sure You Have Access To A Vet
Wherever you go with your emotional support animal, you want to be very confident that you have access to a vet if you need it. Airvet is an app that can get you connected to a network of qualified veterinarians to offer primary and emergency care to your emotional support animal wherever you travel, and is a good way to give you peace of mind that your furry friend gets the support they need, too!
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