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What is an emotional support animal (ESA)?
Meet Monkey! (picture below) Monkey is an emotional support animal. She doesn’t go to restaurants or into the grocery store with me like a service animal would be allowed, but she does provide significant mental support for me when we are at home or traveling.
There are three common support animal groups that most people have heard of. Therapy animals, service animals, and emotional support animals. People often confuse these or don’t understand the difference between the three but it is important to note they are not the same. Here is a brief summary of the three:
Therapy animals have to receive a lot of training in order to act as a kind of “therapists.” They are usually trained to be social and friendly with all people while “on the job.” Examples of therapy animals include dogs who go to hospitals or schools to comfort people during difficult or stressful times.
Service animals are similar to therapy animals in the sense that they must go through a lot of training but they typically are trained to also help complete or assist with certain physical tasks. Unlike therapy animals, service animals are not to be pet when they are “on the job” so they can be completely focused on helping their owners. Most people with service animals have some sort of physical or mental disability whether it be blindness or a seizure disorder and they can legally go anywhere in public with their owners.
Emotional support animals are the simplest of the three. They are very common and can be anything from a cat to a small horse. These animals do not need training but they usually are well behaved and easy going. However, in order to have an animal that is considered an ESA, you need one to be “prescribed” by a licensed professional whether that be a therapist or psychiatrist. Having an animal that is a legitimate ESA really just allows you to legally live with them in a space that may not allow pets since they are covered under the Fair Housing Act. Emotional support animals are also allowed to travel in cabin with you on planes and other public transportations such as trains so long as your veterinarian signs off on required paper work saying they are healthy and well behaved.
So what is Monkey’s story? It is proven that animals can drastically improve and help mental health even if they are not any kind of official therapy animal. I’ve been surrounded by pets my entire life and have always felt better with them around. When I left CT for college I always felt a void from being away from my animals and during this time my mental health really started going downhill. In spring of 2018 I decided to take a year off from school and live on my own in Manhattan, working and experiencing life outside of school. One of the jobs I had during this time was at a vet clinic and I loved it. Being around animals was exactly what I needed since I was living alone and struggling with my mental health. I loved that job but seeing all the owner’s and their bonds with their animals made me sad that I didn’t have my own to go home to after a difficult day. At this point I had moved to Brooklyn to a slightly bigger apartment, and felt I was ready to adopt my first animal after working at the vet and understanding the responsibility, costs, and all the things that could go wrong with their health at any time. I found the perfect orange and white 5-month old kitten that I had been approved to adopt but my landlord doesn’t allow animals. I reached out to my therapist and talked about how I had been feeling and how I was thinking an ESA would be really helpful to me. She agreed that an ESA would be something she’d recommend for me and felt would improve my quality of living given my history with mental illness. She wrote me a one- page letter citing my mental disorders, why she thought an animal would help me, and explained the Fair Housing Act so my landlord would understand this isn’t just a pet cat but rather something necessary for my health. She also made it clear that I was protected from being evicted for having an animal.
I currently live in Brooklyn with Monkey and she has made a huge difference in my life. I went back to school shortly after I adopted her and I honestly don’t think I would have been able to get through my last year without her silent companionship. Monkey is so much more than just a pet. She is my best friend as silly as that may sound and makes traveling so much less of an anxious experience for me. She is there for me when I isolate myself because of my social anxiety and a comfort when I am feeling depressed. Even something as simple as waking up from a nightmare and seeing her lying next to me makes me feel better. I love Monkey and am very thankful my therapist was able to “prescribe” an animal to me because animals really are another kind of therapy.
Thanks so much for posting Alex! It’s so true that just being around animals can help your mental health so much, me and my mom call our cats our little furry antidepressants lol 🙂 so glad that Monkey has been able to help you!
TurningPointCT.org was developed by young people in Connecticut who are in recovery from mental health and substance use issues. We know what it’s like to feel alone, stressed, worried, sad, and angry. We’ve lived through the ups and downs of self-harm, drugs and alcohol, and the struggle to find help.
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