Emotional Support Animals
Approximately 40 million Americans have mental health disorders. For most, these disorders are mild and treated with therapy and other coping mechanisms. For others, the issues are more complex and require medications. Anxiety, depression, PTSD, anti-social behavior, and many other illnesses afflict people of all walks of life, gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic level. In short, mental health disorders can impact anyone and many of us are in need of emotional support in some shape or form.
Many years ago, individuals who suffered from these disorders were often institutionalized, and treatments could range from nothing to the inhumane. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of mental health pioneers in the early 1900s, those who could not advocate for themselves found themselves thrust to the forefront of a burgeoning field of study, psychiatry. Since that time, many new and revolutionary treatments have emerged. Advancements in medication and therapy have helped move individuals who would have once been removed from society to being able to live and work on their own, often with little to no assistance.
Though mental health and the many disorders that can impact a person’s behavior was once thought of as a punishment for some hidden sin, we now know that is not the case. Many things can affect a person’s mental function such as heredity, chemical imbalances, environmental issues, stress, and terrifying incidents. With the focus now on helping individuals instead of blaming them, the negative connotation that once hindered individuals from talking about their conditions has slowly changed. Additionally, we also now know that not all disorders require strong medications. Some patients have been significantly helped with alternative therapies such as companionship.
Using their understanding of service animals and how they’ve helped patients with physical disabilities, Mental Health Practitioners created a new treatment method for patients who were suffering from depression; therapy dogs. These dogs have been successfully used in schools, nursing homes and hospitals for many years. While it was common practice for mental health providers to suggest their patients, who had emotional issues get a pet, there was no defined medical category or even basic protections for their inclusion in a patient’s life. After many years of witnessing the positive effects of these animals, practitioners lobbied for the addition of animals who were not pets but a new mode of treatment in our laws. These Emotional Support Animals (ESAs), as they were called, finally became recognized by American Laws.
Although these animals do not have the same protections as that of service or psychiatric dogs, laws were enacted to help ensure patients who had emotional disorders would have access during times that could be the most stressful; work, housing, and travel.
What animals qualify as ESAs?
Unlike service animals, emotional support animals are not limited to dogs. They can be any commonly domesticated animal including ESA cats, birds, and Guinea pigs. Exotic or wild animals are prohibited due to endangering others and damage to property.
Traveling With Your Animal
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACA) established a set of rules to allow emotional support animals to be transported in the cabin with their disabled owners. To qualify, patients must supply the appropriate documentation, and the animal must not pose a danger to others or interfere with other passengers or personnel. Although emotional support animals can be any domesticated animals, airlines have the right to refuse in-cabin transportation to any “unusual” animal including snakes, and other reptiles. Unfortunately, due to recent reports of abuse, additional requirements may have been implemented by individual carriers including the use of kennels. Before traveling, passengers should contact their specific airline in advance to ensure all needs are met.
Unfortunately, at this time traveling with an emotional support animal outside of America is not easy. Each country has its own set of guidelines and may not accept ESAs as anything more than a pet. Before traveling abroad, patients should do their homework and contact the foreign airline as well as the State Department and Embassy in the host country.
Required documentation to travel with your pet
All US-based airlines require a letter to prove an individual’s need for an emotional support animal. This ESA letter must be dated within the year and be from a licensed mental health professional. Attestation to the patient’s mental health-related disability (though it isn’t required to disclose the exact diagnosis) and statements that the animal’s presence is necessary to the passenger’s mental health or to assist the passenger are necessary. It should also include the provider’s type of professional license, and date of issue from the state or jurisdiction they practice.
How to obtain an ESA letter for travel
Generally, individuals who wish to get an emotional support letter for travel have already been diagnosed with a disorder such as depression or PTSD. During a visit to your provider, the patient will need to discuss this need with the provider. Because ESA travel letters require specific information, it is helpful if your doctor is not only supportive but understands this process. Several websites are available that can help ensure your provider. However, despite advertisements, no website that advertises ESA letters without providing medical care can issue a valid certification.
What to do once you have your ESA letter?
Patients who benefit from emotional support animals must be sure their animals can behave responsibly during any trip and especially while on the airplane. Take the time to familiarize your companion with traveling and being around many people. They must be trained to not react aggressively towards other passengers or airline personnel. Growling, biting, and scratching other people is prohibited. At any time during your trip, if your animal misbehaves, the airlines can revoke ESA rights and change the status of the animal to that of a pet resulting in fines or pet transportation costs.
Once you have planned your trip, be sure to contact the airline you are traveling with. Each airline can have additional requirements that must be completed as well as approving your documentation. Once everything is complete, contact should again be made at least 48 hours in advance of travel to ensure that there are no additional items needed.
Mango Clinics ESA Letter
Emotional support animals are an essential part of care for some individuals who have been diagnosed with emotional disorders. While these animals have not been included in the ADA (American’s with Disabilities Act) like service dogs, they are just as crucial to the patients they help. Making sure that any travel is conducted respectfully will help ensure that ESAs are welcomed by the airlines for years to come.