Emotional Assistance Animals ASSIST

Roxy is my Emotional Support Animal. An Emotional Support Animal is an Assistance Animal that provides companionship. The Fair Housing Act allows an individual with disabilities certain privileges for Emotional Assistance Animals. These can include the right to housing in ‘no pet housing’ and the ability to have non-refundable pet fees waived. Emotional Assistance Animals can also fly in-cabin without fees, if certain requirements are met, but those requirements differ depending on the airline.

The definition of an Emotional Assistance Animal is an animal that provides assistance, perform tasks, or provides emotional support to alleviate symptoms of a disability (HUD). With this in mind, your animal cannot be an animal that would cause harm to structure or cause a burden on housing/neighbors. Most people opt for traditional animals, such as dogs or cats for Emotional Assistance Animals. Requests for Emotional Assistance Animals can be denied. Some examples of denied requests include health/safety reasons if non-traditional animals are chosen and if there is not a disability related need for your Emotional Assistance Animal.

If your disability is invisible, such as a mental health disorder, the housing provider will request documentation of the disability-related need for your request. This documentation never has to disclose what your disability is, because that is covered under HIPPA. The documentation would simply explain that you have a disability and the animal would provide ‘disability related assistance’ or ’emotional support’. Emotional Assistance Animals do not have to be trained like Service Animals. Service Animals are dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability and have more benefits than an Emotional Support Animal. Service Animals have to go through a certification process.

ESA Letters

Many people think Emotional Support Animals are just a way to get out of pet fees at apartments, hotels, and have your animal fly with you because it is ‘so easy’ to get an ESA letter online. Do your research before you choose an online service. Talk to your counselor/therapist and have them help you with a legal ESA letter so you do not run into problems with verification. Letters typically are written by a physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional (HUD). Housing providers and airlines may verify your letters, by calling the writer to verify authenticity or verifying online. Just remember that you are protected by HIPPA and that your disability cannot be discussed.

My Experience

I have used an ESA letter at two apartments and many hotels. The apartments I used my letters at did not call to verify them and the hotels never did. Real ESA letters are on letterhead and have medical license numbers that can be verified online. Letters are becoming more common, whether people are using them legitimately or not. At hotels, I just show them copies of the letter. At the first apartment, I just gave them a copy of the letter along with providing the normal things (medical records for shots, etc). At the second apartment, I had to fill out ‘Emotional Service Animal’ paperwork and submit normal things (medical records for shots, etc). I have never had problems with my ESA letters. Your Emotional Service Animal is not considered a ‘pet’ and with the help of ADA/ Fair Housing Act, if you qualify for benefits… do not feel ashamed to use them. People with Service Animals utilize benefits. Do you ❤

I have not flown with an ESA yet, so I cannot comment on that experience.

There are days when I would not get out of bed if I did not have to. When I do sleep in, I feel guilty. Roxy gives me a reason to get out of bed. I have her to take care of. She provides me companionship when I am alone. When I am alone, I do things I would not do otherwise, and I experience rapid cycling. I do not rapid cycle as often because of Roxy. I don’t go out when I feel manic and party or binge drink because I know I have to come home. I have to make sure my Pop Rox is fed and has water. If I am having an IBS flare, and stuck in the bathroom- she sits there with me. When I do cry uncontrollably, she is by my side. If someone is sick or not feeling well, she knows and will lay with them or beside them. She helps me.

Dixie

Dixie was my first ESA. She is now with a widower and provides companionship to him. Dixie had gotten very sick, and I did not think she was going to make it- so I got Roxy to see if it would help and Dixie got better over the months. I decided to re-home her because I moved into a smaller space, and she did not like apartment life as much. I miss her, but I am so happy she is helping someone else. She has a backyard and loves chasing chipmunks now. Her new owner lost 3 family members in one year before he had her, and now he calls Dixie his child. Since Dixie, he has a new sparkle in his eye. I love it.

Emotional Assistance Animals are real and life changing.