As the mental health crisis in our country rises and levels of anxiety are skyrocketing, more and more people are turning to animals to help them cope. How do you know if you need a service dog or an emotional support animal? Animals, such as seeing eye dogs, have been assisting humans in tasks throughout history, even before they were recognized legally with the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1992. Finally, doctors began to acknowledge that animals were beneficial to those dealing with a variety of health issues, including depression and loneliness.
What is the difference between a service dog and an emotional support animal?
Service Animals can only be dogs. Service dogs need to be highly trained to actively support a disability or condition. For example, epileptic patients will use service dogs to warn them of oncoming seizures or the blind will find help in avoiding hazards and making travel safe. Puppies go through months, sometimes years, of training to help support their eventual owner. These puppies are often placed in foster homes while they train and must go through a graduation process where their abilities are approved to become service dogs. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of a service dog is that, by law, they are required to be admitted everywhere regardless of the establishment’s policies.
Emotional Support Animals
Emotional support animals (ESA) are sometimes unique (even strange) types of companions. Emotional support animals may require some unofficial training to be allowed in public spaces, but they do not have to pass and graduate a training program. Perhaps the most important aspect and difference is that businesses and public places do not have to accept your ESA despite the paperwork and the supplied vests you receive when registering your animal. The primary purpose of emotional support animals is to provide love and support for their owners who might be dealing with emotional, mental, or psychological challenges.
Dog Gone Good Idea
Dogs are the most common type of emotional support animal simply because they are they are easily trained and easily recognized. Dogs also are the easiest to be approved, making entry into public spaces most likely. Emotional support animals do best when their human is comfortable with ownership of the animal. Another advantage is the immense amount of information on dog ownership and what type of breed is the best for your lifestyle which helps you find your perfect match.
Take a cat nap to feline better
The second most recognized emotional support animal is the common household cat. While they can be much more independent than their canine counterparts and can seem standoffish, most cats do love their owners and will sense when their humans are sad or sick. Studies have even shown that petting your cat and hearing their purrs can reduce cholesterol. With proven health benefits of owning a feline, it is no wonder why they are a popular choice for an ESA.
Ferrets, snakes and Guinea pigs, Oh My
Ferrets are also common emotional support animals because they are small, cuddly and can even be trained to wear a harness. These playful creatures will keep their owners on their toes, but give love back in return. The other benefit of the ferret is that they can easily be taken in the cabin of an airplane and kept in a hotel room without much fuss. This makes them perfect for the traveler and more acceptable than other types of ESAs because they are no bother.
Guinea pigs have similar characteristics to ferrets, but an important note: guinea pigs are happier when they are in pairs – just make sure you get two of the same sex so you don’t end up with unwanted offspring. Additionally, due to their small size, they also are great for apartment dwellers, do not need a yard, and typically do not require approval from most housing.
Snakes are yet another choice for an ESA because they are typically lazy and relaxing to watch. They are also completely hypo-allergenic, so people with allergies may see the benefit in having a snake as their ESA. When taking a snake into consideration, remember, fear of snakes is a real thing for some people making it more likely you will receive objections to bringing your snake with you in public.
A Horse is a Horse, of course
Miniature horses can be registered as ESAs, however the requirements are stringent, and many people have experienced trouble when bringing their miniature pony out in public. A miniature horse requires more training than most other ESAs. The miniature horse will need to be house-trained and easily controlled. In order to be approved as an ESA, your miniature horse cannot measure more than 34 inches tall and needs to weigh under 100 pounds. This makes investing in the miniature pony a tricky choice as an ESA.
There are a variety of official sites you can visit, such as www.myserviceanimal.org and www.esaregistration.org, to find even more ESA choices such as pigs, hedgehogs, and parrots just to name some. When choosing an ESA, remember, any animal you choose has good and bad qualities and can limit where and how you interact with others. You must weigh the care of the animal with the benefits to make the best choice.
After you decide, you can go to the ESA Registration of America to register your animal. Once registered, you will receive an Emotional Support Animal Letter which will assist you when flying or obtaining housing even when the housing is “pet free.” You can also order a vest for your ESA. When looking, you may find that most vests are for dogs and cats so, as an alternative, for a fee, you can receive an ID for your pet identifying them as an ESA. Perhaps in the future, someone will invent a vest for a snake. •