If you are an animal lover, you already know the calming and joyful effect they can have on you. Animals can be much more than just pets, though.

Animal-assisted therapy has become widely adopted across hospitals, rehab facilities, and private mental health practices. It proved having great results and tremendously positive effects on patients. Pets can also be used as emotional therapy, which requires no special training for the pet but does require certification for the owner so they can benefit from perks like flying with their pet in the cabin of the plane and living with the pet even in homes or apartments that do not allow animals. These pets are called Emotional Support Animals (ESA). Are you interested in learning more about how your pet can become an Emotional Support Animal? Here’s what you need to know.

What is animal-assisted therapy?

There are many different types of animal-assisted therapy from horseback riding for those with disabilities to dogs who assist those who are hearing or visually impaired navigate their environment. However, when specifically talking about emotional service animals, we mostly refer to how the companionship of a pet assists them with mental and emotional health and everyday tasks of living. Simple animal contact can have a soothing effect on those with anxiety, PTSD, or depression. Taking care of an animal also has a therapeutic effect on those dealing with emotional issues as it gives them a sense of purpose and causes them to think about another being other than themselves. The simple act if buying food, creating a safe space for a pet, and giving the pet daily affection can have a tremendous impact on an individual’s sense of self and their overall well-being.

Who can animal-assisted therapy help?

There are many different types of individuals who can be helped by animal-assisted therapy. Much of this question depends on the type of animal that is being used for therapy. Those with physical impairments or disabilities such as severe autism can use specially-trained service animals to navigate their environment, deal with upsetting environmental factors, or signal help if they are experiencing an emergency. Therapy pets are also specially trained and can be used in hospital settings to comfort those who are going through cancer treatments or are recovering from a traumatic injury.

Emotional service animals, though not specially trained, also perform vital therapy, especially for those with mental illness or emotional disorders. ESAs have been proven to enhance the quality of life for those with anxiety, ADD, bipolar disorder, PTSD, social phobia, age-related cognitive decline, depression, and those who experience frequent or debilitating panic attacks.

Therapy pet vs. Service animal vs. Emotional support animal

It’s important to note the difference between therapy pets, service animals, and emotional support animals. Therapy pets are specially trained animals – usually dogs – that are brought into hospitals and other care facilities by their owners to provide therapy for patients. They are often used to comfort those who are going through chemotherapy or other treatments or those who are recovering from traumatic brain or spinal injuries.

Service animals are specially trained to assist those with physical or mental disabilities. The animal lives with the individual receiving the therapy for them, but they are much more than a pet. They can often guide the individual and keep them safe, alert others when the individual has a medical emergency, and help them accomplish daily tasks and activities.

An emotional support animal can be any type of animal that an individual keeps as a pet, though they are most often cats, dogs, and other small animals. They belong to the individual and can be a pet before they are qualified as an emotional support animal. The main goal of an ESA is to provide comfort and unconditional love to the individual they belong to and improve their quality of life. An ESA is not specially trained, but to receive the benefits of being an ESA, the individual who owns them must apply and be approved for an ESA letter.

Animal therapy on college campuses

Going to college can be a difficult transition for many students, especially if they are attending a campus that is far from their parents’ home and they don’t have friends who are going to the same school. Bringing along a loved pet can have a tremendously positive effect on their emotional health and help ease the transition from living in their family home to living independently. Most college campuses do not allow pets in dormitories and other housing facilities. However, if a student is qualified for an ESA letter, they can bring along their pet and it can live with them no matter where are staying.

How to qualify for an Emotional SupportAnimal

Those who have a mental or emotional need for an ESA can qualify for an ESA letter online. In many cases, pet owners turn to get their ESA letter when experiencing such conditions as anxiety, depression, and insomnia. If During the online therapy session, the doctor confirms there is a legitimate need for an ESA, he or she will write an ESA letter where your pet information, such as pet name, breed, size, etc., are featured as well. This letter must come from a licensed mental health professional and you need to be very careful when selecting the ESA letter provider and not fall victim to fraud. Make sure that the provider you evaluate has an operating business backed by real, walk-in clinics, like in the case of ESA Care (www.esacare.com). Verify that the doctors have a valid medical license and that they do work or cooperate with the service provider you’re considering to choose for your ESA letter.

Beware of service providers who offer ESA letters for $50 or even $1 per day, as they are probably a scam. Legitimate service will be offered in a range of $140-190 depending on the type of ESA Letter: for travel, for housing or both. By law, a legitimate ESA letter is valid for one year starting the date of the issue. If you are certain of the provider, schedule your online appointment today to experience all the benefits of an emotional support animal!