Mental health is a problem that often goes overlooked in modern society. The most common mental illness today is anxiety with nearly 300 million sufferers around the world, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). Many anxiety sufferers are led to believe by society that their issue is a character deficiency as opposed to a real medical problem. Due to the stigma surrounding mental illness, many people are hesitant to seek treatment or even admit that they have a problem.
Many anxiety sufferers are prescribed medications to help them, but these medications can have negative side effects and many of them pose the risk of causing addiction. A much healthier alternative to prescription medication for treating anxiety is a service animal.
What is a Service Animal?
Service animals are often associated with seeing-eye dogs for the blind and police force canine units, but service animals are capable of performing a vast array of services for people with all kinds of needs. Service animals can even be used for sufferers of anxiety who have a need for assistance from furry friends. Service animals are highly trained and are most often dogs that are trained to perform specialized tasks. Service animals are distinct from pets in that they are working animals who have specific duties that they perform for their owners.
The training which service animals must undergo requires the presence of the person who will be using the service animal. This means that the process is expensive and can be somewhat time consuming initially as the would-be service animal owner must learn to use the commands the animal is taught and must also learn all proper handling techniques to ensure the animal’s safety as well as the safety of those around them. Getting a service animal is not something that should be taken lightly and isn’t something that will happen overnight.
Service animals are used to guide blind people safely around town. They are also used for aiding those who suffer from epilepsy and are capable of keeping their owner safe during seizures. Service animals are also commonly used to alert owners who are deaf in case of something going unnoticed such as an emergency vehicle coming down the road or a smoke detector alarm going off which the deaf person would otherwise be unaware of.
A service animal is an officially designated and recognized classification of animal that must meet rigorous training requirements and be licensed through official channels. Your pet can not be used as a service animal because the training for a service animal is completely different from the training of a pet. Due to this, service animals can be prohibitively expensive to purchase and tend to not be a practical option for sufferers of anxiety.
In addition to service animals being expensive, they are also typically only designated for people who suffer from extreme conditions. While anxiety can qualify as a reason for obtaining a service animal, this is generally only the case for those who suffer from extreme anxiety. Those with more mild anxiety will almost never qualify and therefore will most likely be unable to obtain financial assistance from their medical insurance to pay for a service animal.
However, emotional support animals can offer many of the same benefits of a service animal at a considerably lower cost to the owner and with much less strict regulations.
What is an Emotional Support Animal?
Emotional support animals, unlike service animals, do not require any special training to qualify and your pet can act as an emotional support animal. Official recognition of an animal as an emotional support animal is still required to allow you to bring your animal with you into places that would otherwise prohibit their entry. This means that your emotional support animal should at least be trained to deal with crowds and being inside without causing disruptions.
Emotional support animals come in all shapes and sizes and are not limited to dogs even though dogs are the most commonly used animals for emotional support animals for anxiety sufferers. The purpose of an emotional support animal is to provide its owner with a sense of comfort and safety through its presence. They are not specially trained to perform specific duties but instead offer aid to their owner in the comforting nature of their presence. This means that all sorts of animals from dogs to gerbils and snakes to canaries can be used as emotional support animals.
Emotional support animals are much more affordable and easy to come by when compared to highly trained service animals. The process of obtaining an emotional support animal is fairly straightforward and relatively easy to accomplish.
How Do You Get an Emotional Support Animal?
In most cases, the only requirement needed for obtaining an emotional support animal or classifying one of your preexisting pets as one is a letter from a medical professional. This letter is essentially a prescription for an emotional support animal and many physicians appreciate the value that an emotional support animal can provide to those who suffer from mental illnesses like chronic anxiety. Not all doctors are willing to give out these letters, but services like ours are available for getting all the information you need to obtain a letter approving your animal as an emotional support animal.
What Training is Required for an Animal to Qualify as an Emotional Support Animal?
Unlike service animals, emotional support animals require very little if any training depending on the type of animal and their natural tendencies. Some dogs do very well in crowds with little to no training and as long as they aren’t disruptive to other people around you, they should be fine in most places. This doesn’t mean your service dog should be untrained as its important to make sure the dog is capable of dealing with stressful situations and loud noises. Having an emotional support dog suddenly go berserk in a crowd defeats the purpose of the animal in the first place due to the added stress this would cause for the owner.
Other types of service animals require virtually no training as they pose no natural threat to anyone around them and are incapable of causing any real harm. For instance, a guinea pig used as an emotional support animal wouldn’t require much if any training as they would mostly be kept inside a small carrier at all times and have no potential to cause harm.
Aside from training, one important consideration for emotional support animals is that they do not shed excessively or create any other sort of biological waste. The owner is responsible for any mess their pet makes so a ferret leaving stinky piles of feces would be problematic. As for shedding, many people are allergic to animals so having an emotional support animal which sheds a lot would create a mess in the wake of the owner and could result in setting off other’s allergic reactions. It’s best to stick with animals and breeds that are low or none shedding and don’t leave a mess behind themselves.
How do You Register Your Animal as an Emotional Support Animal?
Registration of an emotional support animal can be done through services such as USSA’s emotional support animal registration forms. The process is fairly straightforward and obtaining registration is quick, easy, and inexpensive. Registering your emotional support animal will aid you greatly in dealing with people who question your right to bring your emotional support animal with you in places such as restaurants or on airplanes. Registration in addition to an animal ID card, a service vest for your animal, and a collar tag will go a long way in avoiding issues of people questioning your rights.
Registration is not required by law, but it helps avoid being questioned by others in the first place by having a professional and legitimate appearance. Registration with services such as USSA come with other benefits such as access to legal help if a landlord or other proprietor doesn’t respect your right to keep your emotional support animal with you. Registration also includes informational cards that can be shown to others which proves the rights you have in addition to photo ID for your animal that goes a long way in accelerating the process of gaining access with your animal.
Emotional Support Animal Legal Information
Federal law requires that you only have a prescription letter for your emotional support animal from a licensed physician; however, obtaining additional documentation will greatly aid you in avoiding complications or even being questioned by others in the first place. When it comes to being questioned about your emotional support animal, you are only required by law to answer two questions: (1) is your animal required by your use due to a disability, and (2) what work or task has your animal been trained to perform. Any other questions need not be answered due to privacy laws that protect your medical information.
Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords and building managers are obligated to make reasonable accommodations for your emotional support animal even if the housing establishment otherwise disallows pets from living there. Essentially, under most circumstances, you are legally allowed to have your emotional support animal live with you at no additional charge regardless of the establishment’s pet policies. The only time this doesn’t apply is if accommodating your animal would place undue financial or administrative burden on the housing provider in cases such as if your emotional support animal were a horse and there simply isn’t room for the horse to fit.
Under the Air Carrier Access Act, you are legally permitted to travel with your emotional support animal in the cabin with you. Flying with your animal can be a little complicated and cost extra in the case of emotional support animals, but the process is generally the same regardless of which airline you use. Here is a guide on Frontier Airlines pet policy which should apply to most other airlines with only slight differences in the specifics of policy and price. Generally, you should call the airline ahead of time before purchasing your ticket and make sure you are prepared to follow their guidelines ahead of time to avoid any surprises.
Emotional Support Animals and Quality of Life
Those who suffer from anxiety are no strangers to suffering. The good news is there are many avenues of finding help for those who are suffering. Mental illness is becoming a more openly accepted topic to talk about and find help for. This has led to a swell of understanding and acceptance of treatment methods such as using emotional support animals. The benefits offered by emotional support animals are numerous and the drawbacks are much less than that of pharmaceutical approaches.
Drugs can help people who suffer from mental illness, but they also pose a harmful risk to long term health. Many of the drugs prescribed for mental illnesses like anxiety have severe side effects which can drastically impact the quality of life of the patient. These drugs also pose the risk of being habit forming and leading to addiction. Emotional support animals, on the other hand, present no harm to the health of the patient and can act as companions and friends for those suffering with mental illness.
An emotional support animal is a great way to help with anxiety, depression, and loneliness. The added benefit is that you can bring your loving animal with you wherever you go. Having an animal that you take care of while it looks after your mental wellbeing is a wonderful, grounding experience that offers great benefits and adds meaning to your life. If you are an animal lover and suffer from anxiety, an emotional support animal might be the perfect treatment for you.
Learn more about service animals and emotional support animals by checking out all the resources available from USSA here. Contact us today with any questions you might have or to get help registering your pet as an official emotional support animal that you can take with you wherever you go.