The Purrfect Medicine: Separating The Myths From The Truth About Having An Emotional Support Animal

I have a pair of sugar gliders.  They’ve been with me for over six years, since they were eight weeks out of pouch.  For those who do not know what sugar gliders are – they are small marsupials that can live twelve to fifteen years and bond closely with their owners.  I have brought them many places in their bonding pouch, from stores to museums to farmers markets and parks.  They have helped me through many mental and emotional hurdles over the years.  Having them with me gives me a sense of peace of mind and security, helps lower my stress levels when my anxiety rises and makes it easier to recenter myself when my depression begins to spiral down out of control.  Having my furbabies with me makes my mental illness more manageable.

When my life fell apart and I had to move last year, I had a very genuine fear that whatever place I found might reject my sugar gliders because they did not know what they were or did not allow animals.  I had heard that having your animals registered as emotional support animals would help protect against that, so I began researching what I needed to do.  What I discovered along the way is that there is a ton of misinformation out there.

Myth: For a nominal fee, anyone in the United States can go to one of a handful of sites and pay to have their pet legally registered as an emotional support animal, even receiving a specially printed certificate.

Emotional support animal registration sites are a scam!  The certificates are literally not worth the paper they are printed on.  Registering an animal as an emotional support animal does not cost anything.  The only way in which you legally register your animal is by having your primary care physician, psychologist or psychiatrist write a letter deeming that your animal is needed for your emotional and mental well-being.  They do not even have to include your specific diagnosis – just that you are under their care and they believe having the pet is beneficial to your health and losing the animal would be detrimental to your health.  It is THAT simple.

A sample letter for your doctor to write, registering your emotional support animal, can be found HERE.

Myth: Only certain animals can be emotional support animals and they must be specially trained in some way.

Unlike service animals which have rigid guidelines as to what animals can be considered one, virtually any pet can be an emotional support animal.  They do not need any type of training because they are there as companions to help with your emotional and mental state.  Once again, the ONLY thing you need for your pet to become an emotional support animal is a letter from your doctor deeming they are necessary for your well-being.  It does not matter if they are a cat, a snake, a hedgehog, a lizard or a horse.

Myth: Emotional support animals can legally go anywhere that other service animals can go.

Laws regarding emotional support animals vary by state.  Some states, such as New York where I live, don’t even recognize them in state laws and refer to federal guidelines with regard to housing.  Emotional support animals are NOT the same thing as a service animal such as a seeing eye dog that has been specially trained to perform specific tasks for their owner.  As such, they are not always awarded the same rights as service animals.  Don’t assume you can bring them out everywhere with you because your doctor has deemed them necessary for your mental and emotional well-being.  Do your research to find out what your state allows.

For example, New York guidelines on emotional support animals can be found HERE.  As stated in the brochure, New York differentiates between service animals and emotional support animals, deferring to federal fair housing guidelines in regards to emotional support animals.

Myth: A landlord has the right to deny me if they do not allow pets in their buildings or if my emotional support animal has not received any formal training classes.

Federal HUD guidelines include emotional support animals with service animals with regard to housing and state that a landlord cannot deny housing for an emotional support animal.  It further states that an emotional support animal is NOT considered a pet and does not require any training.  Furthermore, breed and size limitations do not apply to emotional support animals.  The landlord can request to see documentation from your doctor specifying your animal is an emotional support animal but is not entitled to access to your medical records or specific diagnosis.  Regardless of whatever your individual state laws might be on emotional support animals, federal law surpasses state laws on the matter, meaning that because housing cannot be denied due to the presence of emotional support animals on a federal level, no state can override that right.

Further information on the federal HUD statute regarding emotional support animals can be found HERE.

There are only two situations where a landlord can legally deny your emotional support animal. They are:

  • If the landlord lives in the unit, and they or a member of their immediate family have an allergy to the animal.
  • If the animal has aggressively threatened someone. (This must be the specific animal in question, and not based on beliefs about their breed or weight.)

The resources that explain these exceptions and your rights if you believe your landlord has discriminated against you based on your need for an emotional support animal can be found  HERE on the tenant resources page.

Myth: Once an animal is considered an emotional support animal, that trumps all other laws.  I can live anywhere I want with them and nothing can be said or done to stop it.

Common sense applies here.  If horses are not allowed within city limits, you cannot get yourself a horse and bring it into your city flat, stating it is an emotional support animal so you are entitled to keep it there.  If your state deems the pet you own is illegal to own in your state or requires a special permit to own, you must abide by those laws just like everyone else.  For instance, there are a handful of states in which sugar gliders are illegal to own.  Regardless of their status as emotional support animals, I cannot move to one of those states and expect to reside there with them.  Please keep in mind that there are also a handful of places you may not be able to reside with your emotional support animal, such as a hotel or motel because they are not considered traditional places of residence.  However, according to federal HUD guidelines, you cannot be denied housing with your emotional support animal in “public housing agencies and some places of public accommodation, such as rental offices, shelters, residential homes, some types of multifamily housing, assisted living facilities, and housing at places of education”.  Please keep in mind, though, that you must take proper care of your animal and clean up after them just like you would any other animal.

Myth: My landlord says that in order to have my emotional support animal on the premises, I must pay a pet deposit or pay a little extra each month and must prove that my animal has been properly trained.

The federal HUD guidelines prohibit landlords from charging a pet fee for any service animal or emotional support animal.  Nor can a landlord demand any sort of training certificate or place restrictions on the type of animal owned as long as the animal is considered legal in your municipality.  The situation is addressed specifically on HUD’s Q&A page on the matter, labelled situation one, which can be found HERE.

Truth: An emotional support animal can be a very helpful tool in treating many mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety and PTSD.

I can state this, without a doubt, based on my own personal experiences and the experiences of others I have known who have turned to animals as a coping mechanism for their mental illness.  The benefits of having a furry, feathered or scaly companion are numerous.  Having an emotional support animal if your doctor deems it necessary for your emotional and mental well-being is your legal right in this country.  Registering your animal as an emotional support animal in the United States is not hard or time-consuming and does not cost a thing.  However, both having your animal there with you and having the peace of mind knowing that no one can deny you housing for owning your emotional support animal is priceless.

selfgrowth

Republished on SelfGrowth.com on 10/17/17.

 

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