For those who don't know, Emotional Support Animals, or ESAs, are pets that offer mental and emotional comfort to owners who require their company on a daily basis. Although a service dog is the most common type of pet among ESAs, it's possible to request that cats or less common animals become ESAs if they appear to significantly improve your overall mood and mental health.
For animal lovers, this can sound like a dream come true. But before you start scouring the internet in search of the perfect pet pal, you do need to have valid reasons such as a diagnosis from a qualified doctor or a therapist's recommendation before you start claiming your need for an ESA.
Have you been feeling down or uninterested in engaging in social situations? There are plenty of reasons why someone can be approved to own an ESA. However, every person who wants their pet to become an ESA must jump through some hoops, including getting the backing of a mental healthcare professional.
Unfortunately, simply wanting the companionship of a furry friend isn't enough to legally qualify you for an emotional support animal. To get approved for an ESA, you must have been diagnosed with a mental health condition or have been experiencing emotional distress.
For example, loneliness is a common crisis that affects nearly 1 out of 4 older Americans. Social isolation can lead to worsening symptoms of depression and anxiety for those that don't seek proper treatment. In some cases, seniors might want a companion ESA to help stave off loneliness, and this may be a recommendation a treating provider can get behind.
It's important to note that you don't need an official ESA to get a pet companion! And many assisted living communities do allow residents to have small companion pets such as dogs and cats. But an ESA is able to move with you in locations a regular pet might not be allowed, including hospitals or restaurants.
The first step toward getting your ESA is adopting your pet. Look around online or consider scheduling an appointment at an animal shelter. Dogs and cats are great, but if you're open to exploring alternative animals such as birds and rabbits, they also can be approved as ESAs. Just be sure to check with the Collinwood assisted living community staff about the pet policy and be aware there is a 25-lb. maximum weight for pets.
If you don't already own a pet in your assisted living apartment, be sure to inform your community's housing manager before adopting your ESA. Luckily at Collinwood, we recognize the reassurance animals can give. The community is very pet-friendly.
If you already own a pet, even better! This allows the process of obtaining your ESA letter to be even faster.
Regardless of whether you already own your potential ESA or are looking to adopt one from a local shelter, you must possess a legal ESA letter signed by your healthcare provider or a mental health specialist.
A common misconception about getting your pet's ESA certificate is how complicated or costly the process could be. All this talk about healthcare professionals needing to sign off to prove that you're eligible may discourage you. But it can actually be a very quick and simple process to obtain your ESA letter as long as you have a legitimate mental health or mood disorder like depression. It's likely that you may need to talk with your healthcare provider and explain some information regarding the circumstances for your request.
The total cost of obtaining your ESA depends on a number of factors, including whether you needed to adopt and what type of animal you have. On average, though, the cost shouldn't exceed more than $150 for all the equipment and initial processing fees—a small price for a supportive companion.
There are several ways to get an ESA letter signed. You can ask for one from your primary care physician or a mental healthcare specialist. If you don't currently have a regular doctor or therapist, there are many trusted websites fully dedicated to helping those in need of receiving an ESA letter. Among them are United Support Animals and US Services Animals; these sites can help you seek approval and delivery of your ESA letter, often with turn around times of a few days.
An Emotional Support Animal isn't the same as a trained service dog. Service dogs can take years of training to ensure they're able to provide appropriate support for someone with a disability or medical condition. And ESA, on the other hand, simply needs to be a loving companion that provides comfort to you during emotional need.