Pets are often the most therapeutic comfort that is available to people. They make us giggle and smile, they bring joy to our days, and they always seem to know when we need some cuddles, snuggles, and love. They never fail to be there for us, even when other friends have gotten upset or frustrated because it’s impossible for them to understand how overwhelming it can feel when you’re thrown into sensory overload or hit with a panic attack.
Perhaps this is why pets and have been heavily recommended to give that extra bit of support to those in need. Hospitals have been using their services for years. Whether you’re recovering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or suffering from anxiety, having that comforting weight on your leg, or that friendly support that lets you stroke their soft fur can often make the difference between having a normal life and having regular panic attacks.
If you live in Mississippi and think that this might be the right option for your needs, then this guideline will help you understand everything you need to know to register your emotional support animal (ESA) legally. This can help you take your first steps towards leading a more normal life and allow you to take charge again.
Service Animal versus Emotional Support Animal: What’s the Difference?
A lot of people confuse the terms service animal and emotional support animal. One of the main differences is the breeding regulation. Service animals are specially trained dogs and miniature horses. Emotional support animals can come in any type of form – cats, dogs, bunnies, and other types of friends.
Service animals usually help with specific disabilities like blindness and epilepsy. Emotional support animals are more frequently used for depression, anxiety, and specific phobias. They do not receive specific and specialized training.
Federal laws allow service animals to travel everywhere with their people, without discrimination being allowed. They can enter restaurants, malls, public transit, libraries, resorts, casinos, and more. Federal laws do not cover emotional support animals, but they are allowed access to rental homes with no-pet policies as long as they are properly prescribed and have medical notes.
Familiarize yourself with the Fair Housing Act (FHA), because it covers the main rights for emotional support animals.
Qualifications for Owning Emotional Support Animals
Unfortunately, Mississippi has some pretty strict laws when it comes to support animals. The Mississippi’s Support Animal Act is more restrictive than the ADA’s federal guidelines are. Emotional service animals are given no coverage and no benefits under this law, which requires specialized training that assists people with physical disabilities.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t have a registered emotional service animal in Mississippi that is acknowledged by medical professionals and gets some exemptions under federal legislation. How do you qualify, though?
First, you must have an emotional or psychological disability. If you have one of these, you may qualify for an ESA in Mississippi.
Emotional disabilities affect your expression and control over emotions. Depression is one of the most common emotional disabilities that qualify a pet owner for an emotional service animal. The ESA’s love and support often ameliorate the symptoms of chronic depressions and bring them joy.
Anxiety is another example of a disability that commonly causes a patient to seek an emotional support animal. These animals can regularly prevent panic attacks by offering constant and consistent support through their comforting presence.
One of the most common examples of a psychological disability is autism. Both adults and children with autism respond extremely well to pets, which can soothe them and ground them when they would otherwise be overstimulated and experience paralyzing sensory overload. Psychological disabilities affect someone’s daily life by triggering destructive and abnormal behavior patterns.
Get the Letter
The thing that is absolutely necessary in Mississippi is getting a letter that qualifies you as needing an emotional support animal and designates your animal as your personal ESA.
In Mississippi, there are several online sites designed to streamline this process and make it easy for you. Most of them involve an initial evaluation and assessment. You fill out a form that asks some basic questions about your needs and a mental health professional will evaluate whether you qualify for an ESA.
Some of the questions include how you feel emotionally: how often you feel sad or depressed, how often you feel angry or irritated compared to usual, how often you feel anxious or afraid, changes in sleep patterns, paranoia, suicidal thoughts, and similar situations.
The ESA letter is a written document issued by a licensed mental health professional. It must be printed on their letterhead and contain the provider’s license number, state, and date of issue and the type of medicine they practice. It also requires heir handwritten signature and that you be under their professional care. The letter remains valid for a year after the issued date.
It is important to remember the difference in what is allowed for emotional support animals because they do not receive all the benefits of service animals.
Your letter will allow you to take advantage of the federal guidelines allowing for your animal to live with you in apartments and living situations that prohibit pets. This can include dorm rooms. They do make for some exceptions though. If your animal is poorly trained and not housebroken, they do not have to accept them, so make sure that you train your animal to be exceptionally well behaved and calm no matter what; after all, they’re meant to keep you grounded and if they feed off your anxiety instead everything can escalate quickly.
Employment laws cover service animals, but not emotional support animals. There are some friendly workplaces that may allow for your animal if you explain your situation and show them the letter from your mental health professional, but remember that they are allowed to say no. While they can’t discriminate against you for mental disabilities, they can fire you for violation of company policy if you do not have permission to bring your ESA with you to work.
Again, the regulations do not allow for your support animal to accompany you everywhere else, but a lot of restaurants and businesses are animal friendly. Call ahead or check online to see what their policy is regarding animals, and mention yours is an emotional support animal.