Yes, People Really Do Need Emotional Support Animals

Yes, People Really Do Need Emotional Support Animals

Yes, People Really Do Need Emotional Support Animals
18
July, 2018
In our Facebook post about Delta’s discriminatory new policy around service dogs (SDs) and emotional support animals (ESAs) we saw a lot of misinformation and even ableism from our Facebook fans with regard to ESAs. Emotional support animals are not service dogs, but they do help people with disabilities. They aren’t “crutches” or things people use when they should just “deal with it.” Emotional support animals are the embodiment of the scientific fact that animals can have life-changing effects on the mental health of humans.
 

First let’s talk about mental health

Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues are not things people can “just get over.” It would be nice if the mind was that simple, but it’s not. In fact, there are a variety of factors that play into someone’s mental health, including things like chronic illness, past trauma, and current environments. And while you may have not needed an animal to help you cope with your mental health, even if you deal with something like depression or anxiety, that doesn’t mean an ESA isn’t the key to someone else’s mental wellness.

Dogs are individuals. People are individuals.

How we experience mental health is individualistic – and some people need dogs (or other animals) to help them through that experience.

What do ESAs Do?

Emotional support animals don’t require special training. They don’t perform tasks like guidework, bracing, fetching, alerts, etc… the way that service dogs do. They’re companion animals. If they’re a dog, they dog. If they’re a cat, they cat. If they’re a bird, they bird.

(And yes, any animal can be an ESA.)

What’s different about emotional support animals actually has nothing to do with the animal at all. It has to do with the person who needs the animal.

Contrary to popular belief (and perhaps popular practice), you cannot get a legal certificate for an ESA on the internet. You can only legally have an emotional support animal if your mental health provider determines that you have a debilitating mental illness and that the presence of an animal in your life is an important part of your mental health treatment plan.

Let’s say it louder for the people in the back:

 

Emotional support animals can be part of a mental health treatment plan.

 

Mental health is personal, so the way ESAs affect their humans will vary. What’s more, it’s not for us to judge or to even know how someone’s ESA helps them cope with their mental health. That’s between that person and their mental health professional.

What’s the difference between an Emotional Support Animal and a Psychiatric Service Dog?

Psychiatric service dogs (PSD) are trained to perform particular tasks consistently and on cue for people with disabilities. Emotional support animals keep someone calm simply by existing in that person’s life or doing something they would naturally do on their own, like cuddling up to someone who is sad.

Not every dog can be a service dog, but any dog (or animal) can be an ESA. They require no special training. 

What rights do people with ESAs have?

If an ESA is part of your mental health treatment plan:

You have the right to have your dog fly in the cabin with you on an airplane, according to the Air Carrier Access Act.

Your ESA is allowed in housing that is not pet-friendly and you are not required to pay a pet deposit for your ESA.

If your emotional support animal is a dog, your dog is exempt from any state/city/town breed specific legislation. (*Note that this should also apply to airlines under the ACAA, which is why Delta’s policy is discriminatory and illegal.)

Purchasing a certificate online for your dog does not give you legal protection. It does not make your dog (or other animal) an ESA. These sites are scams and you are breaking the law if a licensed mental health professional did not prescribe one for you.

What rights don’t people with ESAs have?

The law doesn’t grant you public access rights when you are with your ESA. This means you cannot take your ESA into a non-pet friendly public space, like a grocery store or any other retail store that doesn’t otherwise allow pets. When you are outside of your home or outside of an airplane, your emotional support animal is just like any other pet in the eyes of the public and the law.

Let’s be clear:

We know that a lot of people are breaking the law and pretending to have a disability so that they can have their pet on a plane or bypass pet deposits in housing. We won’t deny that people are committing disability fraud. 

But another thing we won’t do is contribute to the stigma of mental illness and deny people with disabilities their right to use emotional support animals as part of their mental health treatment.

Let’s support people who seek treatment for their mental health. And let’s also be very clear that when someone lies about their dog being an ESA, they are lying about having a disability and making a mockery out of the very serious issue of mental health.

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