Taking care of an animal can be a great way to improve your mental health. But not every landlord allows pets. You can get around this if a mental health professional certifies that you need an emotional support animal.
What is an emotional support animal?
An emotional support animal (ESA) is just what it sounds like—a pet that provides emotional support. ESAs don’t need any special training, beyond the normal training a pet needs. Dogs and cats are the most common, but any domesticated animal can be an ESA. (If you have additional needs beyond emotional support, you can look into getting a service dog.)
ESAs are covered under the Fair Housing Act. This allows people with an ESA to have their pet in their home even if there is a "no pet" policy. The law also prevents additional pet fees for ESAs. Small ESAs can also travel with you on a plane free of charge. Unlike service dogs, ESAs aren’t allowed into other public places that don’t normally allow pets, like restaurants and shopping centers.
How do I get one?
In order to get the benefits of an ESA, you will need a “prescription” from a mental health professional. This is basically just a signed letter stating that you have a mental health condition and that your pet helps you deal with it. Some landlords and airlines will accept a letter from a medical doctor, but usually it needs to be a therapist or a psychiatrist.
Of course, you also need to have a pet. Again, there’s no special training required. That means that if you already have a pet, you can probably get it certified as an ESA. Otherwise, getting an ESA is pretty much the same as getting any other pet! You’ll need to decide what kind of pet is best for you and look up local places to adopt. Just be sure to speak with a mental health professional and your landlord about it before you go through with the adoption.
Can you take care of an animal?
Before getting any kind of pet, it is important to seriously consider the responsibilities that come along with it. Think about whether you can care for it physically, mentally, and financially. If you can’t handle a dog, consider a lower-maintenance pet like a cat or a fish. If even that is too much, try starting with a plant or a stuffed animal, or another form of treatment.