Sometimes, when humans just don’t understand us, we look to the one friend we have that never judges us – our pet. Animals just seem to always be there when we need them most, with an innate sense of when to come in with cuddles, or let us pet them, or lick our noses, purr, or nuzzle. Often, when words fail our friends and they can’t pull us out of our tailspin, being able to hold and hug our pets will be jut the stability we need to bring us back around and pull us out of crazy town.
Lots of doctors and psychiatrists recognize this, too. That is why a lot of hospitals and nursing homes have dogs come by to visit patients and cheer them up or comfort them. Now, this practice has moved out from hospitals and into homes. Your therapist or doctor may be able to swap your anti anxiety prescription for an emotional support animal one, instead!
If you want to look into how to start the process in North Dakota, then keep reading. I will teach you everything you will need to now before signing up with the emotional support animal (ESA) registry.
Should I Get a Service Animal or is an Emotional Support Animal Right for Me?
It can sometimes be difficult to decide whether a service animal or an emotional support animal is the right decision for you, but there are several key differences that will easily let you know. Breed does not restrict emotional support animals, so you could theoretically have an emotional support squirrel if that was your legally adopted companion. Realistically, most emotional support animals are dogs, birds, cats, or common domestic mammals. Service animals are restricted to very specific dog and miniature horse breeds.
Service animals are highly specialized animal companions that have undergone rigorous training regarding specific disabilities like blindness and epilepsy. They are able to offer preventative care and assistance, guiding the blind across streets and through crowded areas, and warning the epileptic in time to find a safe place before a seizure. Emotional support animals do not undergo such rigorous training; instead, it is up to their owners to make sure they know to be well behaved in public before bringing them along to help their owners stay calm and collected instead of having panic attacks thanks to their anxieties, or falling into deep depression.
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) used to allow ESAs into the cabin of an airplane for free with a letter, but the law has since been updated and airlines won’t allow this anymore. Under the updated law, ESAs can be treated as regular pets. Service animals, however, still have the same rights. If you’re a frequent flyer and need emotional support during takeoff and landing, it may be beneficial to get your ESA registered as a psychiatric service dog instead.
Federal regulations provide for service animals to accompany their owners everywhere else, without allowing businesses to discriminate. They are allowed entry into malls, public transportation, libraries, resorts, casinos, restaurants, and more. These same federal laws do not provide extensive coverage for emotional support animals, but the Fair Housing Amendment Act (FHAA) does allow ESAs to access specific places like rental properties that have policies prohibiting pets… as long as the owners have properly registered their animals and have provided medical notes. Many states have begun expanding their coverage for ESAs and allowing them more benefits.
Should I Get an Emotional Support Animal?
Animals are phenomenal resources for patient care. In fact, they have been known to help reduce high blood pressure, improve exercise habits, lower heart attack risks, and even reduce triglycerides. They are also incredibly beneficial when it comes to treatment for patients suffering from anxiety, panic disorders, and depression. They are a huge commitment, though, so make sure pet ownership is the right option for you.
To qualify for emotional support animals, you must have a demonstrable and diagnosed disability. A licensed mental health professional must prescribe the animal as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.
Emotional disabilities are disabilities that impact your EQ and your ability to respond and adapt to changing environmental situations. These disabilities affect the chemicals in your brain, causing you to react badly to situations that might otherwise be manageable. Depression and anxiety are examples of this type of qualification. If you suffer from one of these disorders, your therapist might prescribe an animal to help you handle these disorders. Animals can channel your anxiety into more productive outlets, allowing you to cling to them, pet them, and take comfort in their reliable and predictable nature when a situation arises that might otherwise cause panic attacks. They can distract you from your distress, and walking, feeding, and caring for them can motivate someone who would otherwise suffer from paralyzing depression.
Another form of disability that may not need a fully licensed service animal but could benefit greatly from an emotional support animal is psychological disorders. While many people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) qualify for service animals that have been specifically trained to assist with this disorder, several of them find the steep cost really high when compared to emotional support animals. They are high functioning enough not to need constant service, but not yet so recovered that the companionship of an animal in the most stressful situations isn’t helpful. In many cases, they will opt for ESAs. Another disorder, autism, responds extremely well to ESAs. The animals provide reassurance in times of sensory overload and can reduce the harmful and destructive reactions to over stimulation.
Certified Letters for Emotional Support Animals
In order for you to be allowed to take advantage of the exceptions made in housing and air transportation for ESAs, you need to provide the proper documentation. At a minimum, this means receiving a letter from your mental health provider that certifies your need for an emotional support animal.
The letter has several requirements. It must:
- Be written by a certified mental health provider.
- Include their contact information, license number, and what medicine they practice.
- Be printed on their official office letterhead.
- Include a date of issue for the ESA prescription. (The letter will remain valid for a year from the date of issue.)
- Include their handwritten signature.
- Certify that you are under their professional care for a qualifying disability.
- Explain how and why this animal ameliorates the ill effects of your disability.
North Dakota can be pretty strict when it comes to these letters. A lot of people have taken advantage of these legislations so they can keep their pets in their apartment where they otherwise may not be allowed to, or to waive typical pet deposits when moving into rentals. Because they want to protect the rights of people who genuinely need service animals and ESAs, they have tightened statewide regulations when it comes to ESA Letters. Most of the internet’s quick certifications letters will not be accepted. In fact, a recent bill allows apartment owners to evict and collect up to $1000 from pet owners with fake disability and ESA documentation. Make sure that you genuinely qualify and that you take care to get the ESA certification letter through the proper channels and register your ESA animal in the right places to protect yourself and your ESA.