Everything You Need to Know About an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)

Everything You Need to Know About an ESA

Your best friend has one. Your neighbor is never without theirs.  And the coffee shop is full of them.

Emotional support animals are so popular right now that you might feel kinda weird not having one. But some of the information about ESAs that you need to know is probably still a little (or a lot) fuzzy. We’ll do our best to tackle everything you might want to know about ESAs in this article so that you can impress everyone with your superior intellect and knowledge. You’re welcome.

What is an ESA?

Everything You Need to Know About an ESA

Often referred to as ESAs, emotional support animals are pets that help to provide support to people that need a comforting presence in their lives. Emotional support animals can be any type of animal, as long as they provide support to their owners. Typically, ESAs are dogs, cats or sometimes rabbits, but occasionally owners choose rarer pets like hedgehogs or chickens. Hmm.

What Conditions Do ESAs Help With?

Emotional support animals can assist in a myriad of ways. Most commonly, ESAs are used to help relieve the symptoms of mental disorders. Some of the disorders that ESAs have a proven track record with include these complaints.

Anxiety and Depression

Because of their ability to relieve emotional stress, emotional support animals are known to be excellent therapy aids in treating anxiety and depression. Their ability to calm their owners and provide a stabilizing presence can change how people suffering from anxiety and depression feel on a daily basis, and even help their condition to improve.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Trauma can cause a whole host of issues for the person that experiences it, and many that encounter trauma either by witnessing or experiencing an event in their lives end up being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is characterized by intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended.

Sufferers may experience nightmares and flashbacks related to the event without warning. Many associate PTSD with military service, however, it can affect people involved in a number of situations: road accidents, natural disasters or witnessing a death. ESAs can help those affected by PTSD immensely, by providing a protective presence.

One example of ESAs helping PTSD patients is by being an ‘extra pair of eyes’ in a situation perceived as threatening. For example, if a person experienced trauma in a grocery store, they may fear shopping there. An emotional support animal can act as a reassuring presence and check around corners to increase the feeling of security for the owner.

Addiction Issues

Another surprising way that animals can help with mental health problems is supporting those with addiction issues. ESAs can help to support those struggling with addiction in a number of ways, which is super important due to the difficulty in treating the condition. ESAs can help to repair the damaged neurological pathways in those with substance abuse issues, which can help them to beat their addiction once and for all.

Dealing with Emotional Crisis

At some time in our lives, we all experience an emotional crisis whether big or small. For those that experience a severe emotional crisis that affects their life, an ESA can be a lifesaving intervention that can help them to recover and get back to normal.

What’s the Science Behind Emotional Support Animals?

So how exactly do ESAs do all these amazing things to help the mind?  There are many reasons why ESAs are so healing when it comes to mental health and a lot of them come down to the intriguing effects that they have on the brain. Interacting with animals stimulates a number of feel-good chemical in the brain, which can lead to those suffering from mental health issues to feel immensely better than before.

One of the chemicals that the brain produces when we interact with our beloved pets is oxytocin. Oxytocin is sometimes known as the ‘love’ chemical due to its bonding effects. When our brain is producing oxytocin we feel connected, loved and content which can help to stave off feelings of loneliness and detachment.

Another wonderful chemical that our brain pumps out when we spend time with animals, is dopamine. Dopamine is known as the reward chemical. This is the chemical responsible for the rewarding rush of pleasure we get when we do something pleasurable, which motivates us to continue the behavior. When we pat pets, we get a rush of dopamine, which motivates us to do it again. For those with addiction, pets can effectively replace an abused substance that provides a dopamine rush. Instead of using the addictive substance, a dog can be compulsively patted with no harmful results.

Where are Emotional Support Animals Allowed?

The right to have emotional support animals are protected by two laws in the United States: the Aircraft Carrier Access Act (ACA), and the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

These two laws allow Americans with a mental disability to have their pet with them where they are needed. The ACA makes provisions for those with an ESA to travel on aircraft anywhere in the U.S. The Fair Housing Act on the other hand, allows ESA users to access fair and equitable accommodation without discrimination from landlords.

So where are ESAs not allowed? Private companies are still able to determine what is allowed on their property. Therefore, ESAs will often not be permitted into shops, some transportation, restaurants and even public areas of universities.

How are Emotional Support Animals Prescribed?

In order to qualify as an emotional support animal, the animal need not have any special training. An ESA is prescribed by a mental health professional who deems a therapy animal appropriate for a patient as part of their mental health treatment plan. Once the therapist has determined this, they will draw up an ESA letter which will allow their patient to have their support animal accompany them in their homes and during air travel (you will need to provide your emotional support animal letter to landlord or airline).

If a person with a disability requires the assistance of an ESA in order to function on a day-to-day basis, he needs an ESA letter for housing, which will state their mental health condition for landlords. Housing providers must grant this request in most cases as long as the individual has a valid ESA letter. However, there are some exceptions, such as if the animal directly threatens the safety of other residents or significantly damages the property.

Can People Really Use Peacocks As Emotional Support Animals?

Technically, an ESA can be any type of animal. So yes, peacocks can be emotional support animals—however traveling with one on a plane is now extremely difficult. Issues arose this year when a patient tried to travel on an aircraft with the pet, which is obviously quite an inconvenience for other passengers. Most airlines have now banned all ESAs flying, except for cats and dogs.

Emotional support animals are a vital therapy aid to many patients struggling with their mental health. Now go on, and show off all your fancy new ESA knowledge!

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