Emotional Support Animals & Covid-19


The world can be a stressful place and the worries of everyday life can be overwhelming. In unusual times like these, those worries are only amplified. To cope with these feelings, people often turn to pets as a source of comfort. But an Emotional Support Animal, or an ESA, is much more than just any ordinary pet. People who suffer from a disability in the form of an emotional or mental illness have found that the presence of a loving, devoted dog  or cat really helps them to navigate their way through the reality of their condition. So, what does it mean to have an ESA? How do you go about qualifying for one, and how do you get it certified? Let’s break it down:

How Can You Benefit from an Emotional Support Animal?

Animals are good for ALL people! They tune into our moods by our body language, tone of voice and actions. Emotional support animals also provide therapeutic benefits that can alleviate one or more identified symptoms or effects of an individual’s disability. Additionally, they can provide emotional support to those who need it. Scientifically speaking, an emotional support animal can decrease heart rates of the owner and release a flood of the feel-good hormone (oxytocin).The Journal of Evidence-Informed Social Work even reported an 82% reduction in the symptoms of PTSD (and other trauma-related issues) after just one week of having an emotional support animal. Doctors are noting vast improvements in their patients with the aid of an emotional support animal including an increase in being social, a boost in their self-esteem, increased feelings of safety and comfort, more motivation, a decrease in the symptoms of the diagnosed illness, or an increased sense of purpose!


Why Do I Need a Therapist to Get an Emotional Support Animal?

Many people who suffer from illnesses like mild to severe depression, phobias, PTSD, anxiety, and panic attacks have found relief with the companionship of an Emotional Support Animal, sometimes when the use of prescription medications failed or had adverse side effects. This means that in order to qualify for an ESA, your therapist will first determine whether you have a disability and whether an ESA would help alleviate symptoms of your condition. If they decide that it’s a right fit for you, they will then need to provide an official letter that’s necessary for you to benefit from the federal law protection under the United States. Should you want to bring your pet on planes, or in housing that doesn’t typically allow pets, you should be prepared to provide, upon request, said documentation from a qualified mental health professional establishing the disability-related need for the emotional support animal.

Is a Pandemic Really the Best Time to Be Getting an ESA?

YES! Now more than ever, we are being faced with unusual amounts of uncertainty and stress, which is exactly what Emotional Support Animals are intended for! Many people cope with shelter-in-place orders that require intense social distancing from their normal support systems, a support animal can offer comfort and companionship in an otherwise lonely time. Worried you’re not allowed to have a pet in your home? No worries – individuals with disabilities may request a reasonable accommodation for an emotional support animal, from any housing provider covered under the Federal Fair Housing Act and/or Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Where Do I Start?

When searching for the perfect companion, be sure to look for a dog (or pet) that is manageable for you, and your specific mental health needs. If you think you could benefit from an emotional support animal, reach out to Carla Black, a licensed psychotherapist and life coach who specializes in helping  people, just like you, get the support pet they need!

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