My oldest son has Asperger’s syndrome and lives on his own. He is responsible for himself and all his basic living needs, but I became profoundly concerned by his increasing isolation. People on the autism spectrum usually have social issues and have difficulties forming friendships. Since he’s an adult and high-functioning, precious little help exists in our neck of the woods.
I noticed his anxiety increasing and depression deepening. As a life-long animal lover, I felt a pet would benefit him. He agreed and frequently asked for a cat. However, his apartment building has a strict no-pet policy. My mom, my husband, and I started researching service animals. We decided that Daniel didn’t need an animal with that level of training. He just needed a pet.
We discovered emotional support animals. The best part was that, legally, Daniel’s apartment building couldn’t legally deny his appeal. So, we set the wheels in motion. After he had followed the approval process, we contacted the local no-kill animal shelter, and Daniel adopted an adorable 6-month-old cat he named Dust.
What is the difference between an Emotional Support Animal and Service Animal?
A service animal experiences rigorous training. The animal’s training begins while the critter is still a baby. First, they learn to form bonds and attachments. They attend obedience training. Eventually, they learn their specialized skills. Some service animals serve as assistants to the vision or hearing impaired. Others detect early seizure symptoms. Some receive training to open doors for medical professionals or to dial 911 on special assistive devices.
An emotional support animal has no such training, and their only job is to provide comfort to people with psychiatric disorders such as autism and anxiety. In a nutshell, ESAs are prescription pets.
How do you get and Emotional Support Animal?
If you want the right to have a pet, you must see a mental health professional. Then, your professional needs to provide a letter stating that you are their patient, you are under their care for an emotional disability, and they feel it’s in your best interest to have an emotional support animal. The letter should include your mental health professional’s signature, the date, and information about the person’s state license.
What are the laws surrounding an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)?
The Air Carrier Access Act 49 U.S.C. 41705, Dept. of Transportation 14 C.F.R. Part 382 requires that airlines allow ESA’s on the plane without the need for a pet fee. They may require you to present the letter certifying your need for an ESA. Airlines can still ban non-standards pets, such as spiders, snakes, rodents, or ferrets, however. Read this document from Transportation.gov for more information.
The Fair Housing Amendment Act of 1988 requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. Accommodation includes exempting them from no-pet policies. Additionally, landlords may not charge a monthly pet fee for an emotional support animal. But, they can ask for a pet deposit or seek damages for repairs. Find out more on the Humane Society’s website. The Humane Society page also links to some legal resources.
Additionally, my son’s landlord requires him to carry pet insurance in case his cat mauls someone.
What kind of animal can an Emotional Support Animal be?
An ESA can be any animal. If you fly frequently, however, airlines do not have to accept every kind of animal on the plane, so you may want to limit your selection to a more traditional type of pet and keep it small – such as a small cat or dog that fits into a TSA-approved sized travel carrier. Unlike trained service animals, airlines are not required to allow ESAs out of their carriers during a flight.
What do you need for an Emotional Support Animal?
Of course, you will need whatever every pet needs: food, bowls, leashes. And, your pet may have special species-specific needs such as litter boxes, cat trees, and toys.
If you wish to travel, your ESA requires safe transport. For smaller animals, like cats, a comfortable carrier should fit the bill. Look for a spacious, well-ventilated carrier that enables your furry friend to switch positions comfortably. Most animals prefer a firm floor for stability covered with soft padding. The best carriers offer easy access through a window large enough for your hand, but too small for the pet to escape.
On a personal note, I prefer soft-sided carriers that zip shut. On more than one occasion, the door clasp on my hard carrier popped open. My mom took her cat to the vet. When leaving the vet’s office, her hard carrier’s door popped open. The cat jumped from the cage, ran across several lanes of traffic and disappeared. We put lost posters all over the vicinity. Friends and family scoured the area for days. Several weeks later, after we’d all but given up looking for Tom-Kitty, someone spotted him at a local seafood restaurant (smart cat) and called my mother.
Next-Level Pet Carrier
I recently received the perfect soft-sided pet carrier from Next Level pet for Daniel’s kitty. In addition to meeting TSA size standards and all my prerequisites, it comes with a padded shoulder strap and a small leash. It measures 10.5 x 18 x 11 inches, so the carrier provides Dust ample room to move around. The padded fleece flooring removes for easy cleaning in case of pet accidents.
The zippers move smoothly, and I love that the carrier doesn’t hinder your pet’s visibility. It has a nameplate. While handy for flying, if you must leave your pet overnight at the vet or a kennel, the nameplate may prevent carrier mixups.
To see it in action, watch this video:
Special thanks to Next-Level Pet for providing my son with a pet carrier. He genuinely loves it. Please note that I am not a lawyer and this blog article should in no way be construed as legal advice. These were my experiences helping my son jump through the legal hoops of obtaining an emotional support animal. Please contact an attorney in your area for legal advice.
We enjoy hosting parties and my husband and I are both avid gamers. You can find me on PS4 as SunshineFlaGirl. We also play tabletop RPGs and eurogames.