Emotional support animals (ESA) are animals that provide calming effects and comfort to help relieve the effects of a person’s disability or mental health condition.
ESAs are known to provide support, well-being, aid, and comfort to their owners by providing affection, companionship, and unconditional positive attitude. Emotional support animals are typically dogs and cats, but really they can be any species of animal.
Unlike service animals, no formal training is required for ESAs before providing the kind of support they are needed for.
In most places, service animals and emotional support animals are excluded from standard pet policies that restrict animals from having access to certain places. This is because they are recognized for the support they provide to the disabled and the neurodiverse. Read on for all you need to know about emotional support animals for colleges.
4 Tips for Getting an Emotional Support Animal
You may be considering getting an emotional support animal for yourself, or for someone you think might need one. The truth is that you can’t just get one at the pet store or the animal shelter. There are rules you have to follow for your safety and convenience.
You should check the pet policy of your apartment or workplace to confirm their policies on animals and when ESAs are permissible. You also will have to have a qualifying condition or disability in order to be approved for an ESA. Some of these conditions are:
- Certified Mental Disability
To qualify for the ownership of an emotional support animal, you must have been diagnosed with a mental or emotional disability by a licensed mental healthcare provider. You and your mental healthcare provider should work together to determine if an emotional support animal would benefit your mental health before proceeding to get one. Make sure you connect well with your healthcare provider to get things done smoothly.
- ESA Letter/Documentation
It is critical to know there is no official licensing or certificate that allows you to have an emotional support animal except an ESA letter. It is a type of document that allows a person to be qualified to be accompanied by a support animal that was issued by a licensed mental health practitioner. A person might be referred by their doctor to a psychologist to get the formal documents.
However, beware of scammers that tell you to pay to get a license for an emotional support animal. There are many fake websites that promise to provide ESA licenses, but they are run by scammers who promise to give you a license in exchange for a fee when they are, in fact, just stealing your money. A letter from a health professional is the only valid documentation for your ESA.
The documentation should contain information about the psychiatric center that proves you are a patient, your diagnosis, the type of your emotional support animal, contact information, license number, and the date the letter expires. Be sure to renew your documentation when it is due for renewal.
- Easy Access
Although service animals are allowed to accompany their owners almost everywhere, this is not the case for people with emotional support animals. However, legally, your ElSA letter provided by your mental healthcare provider can still help you to bend certain restrictions obeyed by regular pet owners.
Request for an exceptional ESA letter so that you can have access to places with restrictions against regular pets. The letter should state your mental diagnosis and how the animal can help reduce the sign and effects of your disability—it is concrete evidence you actually need your animal around you.
- Selecting an Emotional Support Animal
It is not your healthcare provider’s job to select a specific emotional support animal for you, but they may assist you in the decision-making process by consulting with you about your lifestyle and needs and which animal suits them best.
According to the law, you are allowed to select a common household pet as an emotional support animal. You can simply adopt from a pet store, but an evaluation for such animals is recommended for health and safety reasons. Unlike service animals, emotional support animals do not undergo any form of training or certification; therefore, they are more unpredictable, unless you take the time to train them thoroughly on your own.
The service of a qualified evaluator or animal behaviorist is required to decide the animal has the proper attributes and temperament required to fit the role to protect both the welfare of the animal and handler.
3 Factors to Consider When Going to College with Your Emotional Support Animals
Even after getting your emotional animal support documents from your licensed healthcare provider, you will come to realize that some colleges will not allow you to take your animals in at all—either as a pet or emotional support animal.
There are many things involved in the process of trying to get into a college with your ESA. You will need to do some research and get your facts right on the issue. You can start by considering factors such as:
- Pet Policy
These are rules set up by different organizations to put a check on the freedom of animals in their surroundings. Some policies are animal friendly; others are not. Rules like these are common not just in colleges but many other kinds of facilities.
- The animal handler is required to register the animal with the housing office.
- The animal handler is asked to pay a fee.
- The animal handler needs permission from roommates, classmates, and other residents, and to determine if they are allergic to their ESA.
- The animal handler will be liable for any damage caused by the animal.
- The size of the animal cage will be limited to a certain size.
- The college requires the animal to be spayed or neutered.
- The college bans certain species of animals.
- The college requires proof of regular vaccination of the animal.
- The animal is restricted from certain premises.
These—and lots more—are the kind of policies you should expect from college pet policies.
- Questions During College Interview
You could be invited for an interview with the college you’ve applied to in order for you to justify why you need an ESA with you on campus.
- What is your mental health diagnosis?
- Details of your healthcare practitioner?
- How long have you been treating your illness?
- What type of medications have you been using?
- What is the function of your emotional support animal?
- What type of animal is it?
- Do you have more than one emotional support animal?
- How long have you been keeping your animal?
- Have you ever had a complaint against it?
- Is there any known behavioral illness for your ESA?
- How well does it interact with people and other animals?
- How do you plan on caring for it on a college campus?
The interview questions might be more detailed than this, but your knowledge about your medical condition and your emotional animal support will help you get through the questions.
- Do Research on Animal-Friendly Colleges
Your best bet is to research for colleges that are animal friendly. Such places might provide a fair animal policy or none at all, giving you and your ESA free access to its premises.
- Eckerd College in Saint Petersburg
- University of Northern Colorado
- University of Idaho
- Washington and Jefferson College
- Principia College
- Less-McRae College
- Stetson university
- Stephens College
3 Benefits of an Emotional Support Animal
Everyone benefits from interacting with pets. Mental health advocates and people who adore animals have long recognized the need for animals in human lives. They provide both physical and emotional health benefits, such as:
- Mood Lifters
It’s no secret that animals can positively lift our spirits. Having them around helps reduce stress and increases oxytocin, which is a type of hormone that makes you feel good. Even people involved in formulating pet policy are trying to create friendly policies that can accommodate animals, which shows how important they are in our lives.
- Mental Illness
Research has proven that emotional support animals can provide soothing effects to their handlers that suffer from mental health issues treatment like depression, aerophobia, mild and severe anxiety disorder, social phobia, agoraphobia, autism, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Great improvements have been recorded in patients treated with ESAs like an increased sense of purpose, boost in self-esteem, feeling safe and calm, socializing and relating better, and a decrease in symptoms.
- Nursing Homes
People in nursing homes often yearn for companionship from people, and this is not always possible. It has been proven that having animals like a puppy dog or cat around them makes them more active in their routines. It may also help decrease their dependence on medications to get through the day as well as provide companionship.
7 Care Tips for Your Emotional Support Animal
Your emotional support animals are part of your everyday life as they are there for emotional, social, and physical support. As such, it is important to know how to support and care for them so that they will be in the best form to fully perform the benefits you are keeping them for. You have to keep them healthy, happy, and active. The following are helpful tips to care for your emotional support animal.
- Comfortable Environment
Provide a clean, safe, and comfortable environment for your ESA. Always consider the weather condition and seasonal changes when creating a home for them. Be sure to secure their crates or cages, and keep any poisonous and allergic items away from their surroundings. ESAs with good homes perform better, so it is key to keep them happy and comfortable.
- Proper Feeding
Feed them with good and healthy foods, and make sure it is sufficient for them. Feeding also involves providing them with fresh water. The right nutrition is essential for their growth and performance. If you don’t know the right food for your support animal, contact your veterinarian for recommendations.
- Good Communication System
Communicate with your support animal by training them to recognize certain keywords and phrases. You can also employ the service of an animal behaviorist to better understand your ESA’s body language and behavior. This is very important if you want to develop a strong bond with your ESA.
- Regular Exercise
Support animals also need exercise to keep fit. Take them for walks regularly—this will help train them when it comes to socializing with others and familiarizing themselves with their surroundings, help them expend their excess energy, and also provides you with some fresh air.
- Animal Vaccines
Have your ESA examined by a veterinarian on a regular basis and provide them with their routine vaccinations. This is vital when it comes to caring for your animals. Always keep up with the scheduled appointment with your vets to protect your animal from illness and improve their immunization.
- Proper Means of Identification
You should provide your ESA with a proper means of identification in case they ever get lost or go missing. You can start with basic means of identification like a safe collar and a tag that contains all your contact information, or going more advanced by installing a microchip underneath their skin for easy tracking.
- Good Hygiene
It is part of your responsibility to provide and train your emotional support animals with good hygiene habits like brushing their teeth, combing their fur, and trimming their nails. Toilet training is also very important so that they don’t create a mess for you in your home or the facilities you need to take them to.
The ability of animals to understand and relate with human beings by bonding through body language, tones of voice, and actions have made them a great way to help manage your disability or mental illness, or simply to provide you with companionship. Either way, they have become an invaluable part of human lives. Follow the tips above if you want to take your ESA along with you to college.