Children can experience anxiety and mental illness just like adults. When your child cannot resolve the stressors in their life or needs help coping with something, emotional support animals (ESAs) can help improve your child’s well-being so they can meet the challenges of daily life.
If you’re new to the world of assistance animals, learning about the rights you do and don’t have, and how to go through the process of getting an emotional support dog, can be overwhelming. Keep reading for more information about emotional support dogs to help get you started on the right foot.
What Is an Emotional Support Animal?
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an emotional support animal is any animal that provides support to alleviate one or more symptoms or effects of mental or emotional disabilities. This incudes anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other mental health conditions.
On the other hand, a service animal must be able to perform at least one specific task that helps its owner with major life activities.
In contrast to the strict regulations and extensive training requirements for a service dog, there are relatively loose restrictions regarding what animals can serve as emotional support animals. The main thing is that emotional support animals provide therapeutic benefits to their owners.
If you’re thinking about working with an emotional support animal, but you’re worried about being able to find and afford one, don’t worry. You can adopt an animal or register your pet as your emotional support animal.
How Do I Get Certification for an Emotional Support Animal?
Now that you know what an emotional support animal does, read on to learn how to get certification for your emotional support animal and a step-by-step guide about how to obtain an ESA letter.
Decide If You Need An Emotional Support Animal
People dealing with mental health conditions that cause emotional distress may seek emotional support from assistance animals. If your mental health professional says this is a good idea, you can begin the process of getting an emotional support animal. You are responsible for choosing a suitable emotional support animal, although it can be your existing pet.
Speak with a Licensed Mental Health Professional
For your emotional support animal to be legally recognized, you need to have a formal letter from a licensed mental health professional declaring that you have a condition that requires the assistance of an emotional support animal to manage. There are a number of services that can help you obtain an emotional support animal letter for housing.
How to Make Your Dog an Emotional Support Animal
Having the proper documentation is essential to get the full benefits of having an emotional support animal, especially when it comes to finding suitable housing. Under the terms of the federal Fair Housing Act, which prevents housing discrimination, if you have an emotional support animal letter, housing providers are required to make reasonable accommodations so that your ESA can live with you, regardless of their usual pet policies. If they normally charge a pet fee or require a pet deposit, this must be waived so that your companion animal can live with you.
Your letter can be written by a licensed therapist or a psychiatrist. For the letter to be deemed legitimate, it must include three things:
- The name of the individual who has received the letter
- A clear statement that the named individual has an emotional or mental disability
- A recommendation by the licensed mental health professional for the named individual to have assistance from an emotional support animal
Your letter will not discuss the specific mental health condition you are dealing with. Just make sure that the letter fully explains why you require an emotional support dog for your mental health.
You should also ensure that the letter includes the name and qualifications of the licensed mental health professional overseeing your treatment plan.
Additionally, consult your licensed therapist on the ESA letter regulations in your state of residence. Some states have specific rules for writing an ESA letter, so you and your therapist must follow the process correctly for your letter to be accepted.
For instance, an ESA letter Massachusetts institutions would acknowledge may not be acceptable in the state of California. Some of the common regulations to look out for include required consultation appointments, waiting periods, and letter formatting.
FAQs About Emotional Support Animals and Children
Does my child need an ESA?
If you feel like your child is dealing with emotions or mental health issues that they can’t manage on their own, it’s worth researching whether an emotional support animal could help them. You will need the assistance of a healthcare provider for an emotional support animal letter so that your support animal is certified for housing protections.
Do schools allow ESA?
It depends. You may be familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which allows service animals access to nearly all public places, including schools and air carriers. However, since federal law does not accommodate non-service dogs, there is no set procedure from state to state.
Check your state and local laws before assuming that your child’s school will accept emotional support animals. The school will likely be allowed to decide whether or not a student can bring an emotional support animal to class.
At what age should my child get an emotional support animal?
There is no specific age at which a child should get an emotional support animal. Regardless of their age, if your child is dealing with an overwhelming emotional issue that they need help coping with, they may be a good candidate for an ESA.
However, there are alternative treatments and therapies available if you think that your child is too young or can’t handle having an emotional support animal.
What animals are best for being emotional support animals for children?
It depends on what your child needs. Dogs and cats tend to be popular choices, but even an exotic animal can provide emotional support and be a companion animal. This is in contrast to service animals, which are almost always dogs.
Energetic, playful dog breeds can be good for kids who need to be distracted from their thoughts or have their spirits lifted. Calm, gentle breeds can be helpful for children who need an animal to physically hold or stroke while they process their emotions. Above all, the animal needs to provide emotional support and be of therapeutic benefit to your child.
Do we have to adopt another animal if we already have a pet?
Since the ADA doesn’t require emotional support dogs to be individually trained to perform tasks, any animal you already own can serve as an emotional support animal. If you have a family pet, they are eligible as long as you get an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional.
Can a pediatrician prescribe an emotional support animal?
Technically, yes. But, just like an adult, the child must have a diagnosed mental health condition that they’re being treated for before they can request an emotional support animal letter.
A pediatrician is able to diagnose mental illnesses in children, but they are more likely to refer your child to a licensed mental health professional, such as a child psychiatrist, who would be more appropriate for the situation.
Do ESAs have the same federal protections as service dogs?
No. Service dogs are protected by federal legislation such as the Americans with Disabilties Act. This grants service animals access to nearly all public spaces so that they can perform tasks for their owners. Service animals must complete rigorous training to earn their status.
Unlike service dogs, the owners of emotional support animals can’t bring their animals into public spaces where pets are not allowed – unless they have the specific consent of the venue manager or proprietor.