Do you feel calmer, less anxious, and more capable when you’re around your pet? If the answer is ‘yes,’ you may want to consider applying to register them as an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) and see if you qualify for an ESA letter.
From rabbits to snakes, Emotional Support Animals can come in all shapes, sizes, and species. Although dogs are the most common choice, almost any type of animal can qualify, as long as a licensed mental health professional has agreed that your pet is helping you to cope with a mental health condition. There might be rules about which animals you can take into certain premises or on flights, but no laws limit which species can become an Emotional Support Animal.
If you’d like to learn more about the different types of Emotional Support Animal, read on. In this blog post, we’ve put together a complete guide to some of the most – and least – common ESAs.
What’s The Difference in Rights Between ESAs And Service Animals?
This is a question that is worth knowing the answer to. Shops, businesses, and public buildings such as courts and libraries are legally required to admit service animals, even if their general policy is that no dogs are allowed inside. They are not required to accept an Emotional Support Dog. Some might be happy to, especially if your dog is wearing a harness which identifies them as an Emotional Support Animal or if you have the paperwork to prove that you need them, but they are not required to. Unlike service animals, however, your pet won’t have a legal right to go everywhere with you.
You should beware that harnesses, ID badges, or collars, which will identify your pet as an ESA are not a free pass. Although these accessories can be a great way to let the general public know that your pet is working, they won’t give your four-legged friend the same rights as a service dog.
So, what rights will your ESA have? An ESA registration and a letter from a licensed medical person will mean your pet is protected by the Fair Housing Act, which states that landlords cannot refuse to accept you for rental accommodation based on your Emotional Support Animal. If your chosen building doesn’t allow pets, this rule won’t apply to your ESA since it’s not legally classed as a pet (which means you won’t have to pay a pet fee). A registration is not the defining characteristic of an ESA. Rather the letter is the critical part. The registration can help an owner keep up to date on laws and legal changes.
Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), airlines are required to allow your ESA to fly in the airplane cabin with you. However, this rule can depend on the size and species of your ESA. It is also worth noting that different airlines will have different rules so always be careful when you travel and do your research ahead of time.
Types of ESA
Dogs aren’t known as ‘man’s best friend’ for no reason. More than 76 million dogs in the US have pet parents, making them the most popular pet in America. It’s no surprise, then, that the most common type of Emotional Support Animal is also the dog.
Thanks to the number of service dogs that already work in public (such as guide dogs, dogs for the disabled, and medical assistance dogs), many people feel comfortable being seen out and about with an Emotional Support Dog than they would with a less conventional pet.
Cats are also a popular choice for Emotional Support Animals. With growing research suggesting that petting your cat could even lower your cholesterol, it’s clear that spending time around these popular pets is excellent for our wellbeing.
As cats are typically more independent than dogs, you’re probably less likely to see one working as an Emotional Support Animal. But don’t let other people’s preconceptions put you off – cats can make terrific companions. If your pet makes it easier for you to deal with your emotional disability, that’s the only thing that matters.
Energetic and lovable, ferrets are becoming increasingly popular as house pets, with many people comparing them to mini dogs! For this reason, ferrets can make wonderful Emotional Support Animals.
Ferrets often enjoy going for walks and will happily wear harnesses and lead when out in public. Their small size also makes them a practical choice, as they can easily accompany you into airplane cabins under the ACAA.
They might not be the most cuddly pets, but many people have found that their snakes are excellent at providing emotional support. Not only are snakes quiet and calm pets, which can create a soothing presence – they’re also hypoallergenic, making them the perfect choice for people with allergies. For this reason, snakes can be brought into public places and communal accommodation.
However, it’s worth bearing in mind that some people have an extreme fear of snakes. This is known as ‘ophidiophobia.’ To prevent your snake from upsetting fellow passengers on airplanes or other public spaces, you might want to consider whether you’d still feel the benefit of their company if you had to keep your Emotional Support Animal in a special carrier or box. As ESAs don’t have the same legal protections as service animals, you may be required to do this by your airline. Moreover, most airlines have guidelines that limit reptiles on flights, even if they’re ESAs.
Owning a rabbit can be a hugely rewarding experience – and even more so if they’re your Emotional Support Animal. Rabbits are relatively easy to look after and will repay your love with a strong bond. They’re surprisingly easy to train, and some rabbits can even learn to come when they’re called, so they can undoubtedly make brilliant (and fluffy) companions.
If you’ve got anxiety and find the thought of being out in public with a barking dog or hissing cat completely overwhelming, but still want a soft and cuddly pet, a rabbit could be the perfect choice for you. Rabbits are quiet and gentle, making them very reassuring for people struggling with anxiety, depression, or PTSD.
In 2019, the US Department of Transportation gave a ‘final statement of enforcement priorities’ that specifically allowed miniature ponies to board commercial flights, so long as they have qualified as an Emotional Support Animal. Not long afterward, American Airlines welcomed its first equine passenger – a miniature horse called Flirty, flying from Chicago, Illinois to Omaha, Nebraska, with its owner.
This news came after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was changed to give miniature ponies the same privileges as more traditional service dogs. The law states that ‘reasonable accommodation’ must be made to allow ponies to travel with their human companions.
What Are The Requirements For An ESA Horse?
Although ponies can be quite friendly creatures, they’re not usually seen in crowded public spaces. Because of this, you may need to train your Emotional Support Animal to remain calm in busy places such as airports or city centers. Your pony must also meet the following criteria before it can accompany you into individual establishments:
- They must be fully housetrained (housebroken)
- They must be easily controllable
- Their presence won’t break safety requirements, for example, weight limits
- They are a maximum of around 34 inches tall and 100 pounds in weight
- If your pony meets these requirements, they will make a perfect ESA.
Usually, you would picture them on a farm but pigs have become increasingly popular as household pets in recent years. This is thanks in part to micropigs – or miniatures, as they’re otherwise known – which have won the hearts of pet owners all over America. So, why might you choose a pig as your Emotional Support Animal?
Forget their old reputation for being messy and noisy – pigs are wonderful companions. They’re some of the most intelligent creatures in the world, with some studies suggesting that they can easily interpret human emotions. This makes them an excellent choice for Emotional Support Animals, as they are more likely to pick up on subtle cues and can even be trained to perform tasks.
San Francisco International Airport is now home to Lilou, the world’s first Airport Therapy Pig. Lilou has been certified by San Francisco’s Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and her role is to provide emotional support to frightened passengers awaiting their planes.
Pigs are also incredibly sociable and will enjoy being cuddled, scratched, and played with by their owner. Once fully grown, they’re about the same size as a medium dog, so are easy to handle and take on airplanes (you can even buy special transportation crates for your pig).
Because pigs are so clever, you can easily train them to behave well in public and carry out activities such as walking on a leash or traveling in a car. They’re usually very motivated by food, so all you’ll need is a bit of patience and some treats such as small fruits.
They aren’t your typical pet, but that hasn’t stopped them from being recognized as great Emotional Support Animals by US doctors. These creatures might be prickly, yet they’re also incredibly gentle and affectionate. Once your hog relaxes around you, its prickles will start to relax, which makes it much easier to handle.
If you believe that a hedgehog could be the Emotional Support Animal you’ve been waiting for, there are various things you’ll have to consider. Because these pets aren’t what most people imagine when they picture an Emotional Support Animal, you might come up against misunderstanding and conflict when trying to travel with your companion.
Can You Fly With A Hedgehog?
According to federal law, airlines and housing authorities must make reasonable provisions to allow people to travel and live with their ESA. (Service animals, by contrast, are always allowed to accompany their handlers, whatever the circumstances).
It’s worth noting that hedgepigs and hogs are not included in the US Department of Transportation’s statement, which allows qualified ESAs to board flights. United Airlines has specifically banned these prickly creatures from traveling in the cabins, even if they have been registered as an Emotional Support Animal.
Because these mammals are spiney, United Airlines (among others) have banned them on the grounds that they could pose risks to fellow passengers. This means that if you’re planning air travel, it’s always best to contact the airline well in advance to check whether your animal will be allowed to accompany you.
Hogs are also less domesticated than most of the other animals on this list and don’t typically live in homes. It’s therefore essential to make sure that you can care for your emotional support animal properly and can provide it with the right environment and diet to suit its needs.
Whether your perfect ESA is a dog, a snake, or a pig, we hope this complete guide to the different types of Emotional Support Animal has given you the confidence to get your registration process started.
Got a pet we haven’t mentioned here? Although there are some laws which place safety restrictions on the type of creatures that are allowed on planes, there are no limitations when it comes to which creatures can become ESAs.
As long as your pet helps alleviate tour mental illness symptoms – and can cope with the pressures of working in public – you can apply for an ESA certificate for any species. Simply bear in mind that ESAs, unlike other service animals, aren’t automatically allowed to accompany you wherever you go. If your ESA is a particularly large or unusual creature, you should be prepared that some airlines won’t allow them to travel and certain therapists won’t write letters for these exotic ESAs.