A hand is writing Animal rights phrase on the screen.

Animal rights: respect them or lose your ESA letter

6 min read

There is nothing quite like the companionship and unconditional love than a pet can give to its owner. Many of us love and cherish their furry companions like they are an integral part of the family, not just possessions. The bond between a person and its pet is a powerful one, with some people going as far as needing their animal companions for psychological support. This bond comes with a name and strict eligibility requirements: ESA.

What is an ESA?

The acronym ESA stands for Emotional Support Animal, a house pet that provides emotional support to individuals affected by certain psychological issues, such as depression, anxiety disorder, and PTSD. The role of an emotional support animal is believed to go beyond what your common furry friend provides; their ability to comfort a person in distress is life-saving.

That is the reason why ESAs are required to be legally prescribed by a licensed mental health professional, be it a therapist, a psychologist or a psychiatrist. So no, not everyone can claim that their favorite pet offers therapeutic emotional support.

Still, even when a patient manages to get a hold of a legal ESA letter, officially prescribing their pet’s emotional support animal status, it is not guaranteed their ESA rights won’t get taken away.

Failure to comply to animal rights law can easily impair your access to or renewal of an ESA letter.

Rights for every ESA

A girl is holding a table with "Save animals from cruelty" phrase on it.
Regulations regarding animal rights may slightly differ from state to state.

Animal rights

So, what are animal rights, exactly? Animal rights and animal welfare advocates agree that all animals have certain basic rights. Examples of these basic rights are protections against cruelty and mistreatment, access to proper food and housing, and humane euthanasia. There is a general agreement that animals are entitled to these protections, requiring the state and local laws to recognize these rights for some animals, such as house pets.

In the United States, the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is the main federal document setting minimum standards for animals kept at zoos, laboratories, and breeding facilities. However, the majority of laws directly impacting the rights and welfare of companion animals happen at the state level, with regulations varying between different cities.

We can see that the exact definition of animal rights, at least in the strict legal sense, is not too clear-cut. However, state legislation has been moving at a steady pace, with many pet neglect behaviors constituting serious offenses.

Anti-tethering laws, for example, limit the amount of time that a pet can be left chained outside a house or a store. Some states also criminalize leaving an animal alone in a car with extremely hot weather.

Animal rights advocates continue to fight the fight for furry companions everywhere, so we should be expecting more federal regulations coming out in the near future.

Human rights

The law, however, protects the human right to emotional support for the animal. And some laws extend these rights in public places. For example, under the Fair Housing Amendment Act (FHAA), individuals with an ESA have the right to keep their animals with them in their houses. And the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) allows people to take their ESA with them during flights, even if the animal does not fit in the trunk under the seat.

Although these safeguards exist for the ESA, there are limitations due to the lack of support from the ADA. Some landlords may have strict rules prohibiting pets and will not make exceptions for emotional support for animals. And most airlines only allow dogs or cats ESA, not other types of emotional support for animals.

In the meantime, all pet owners should get familiar with their state law and make sure they are not unconsciously committing animal cruelty offenses – especially ESA owners.

How you can lose your ESA letter

A man is hugging his ESA dog.
Taking care after your pet animal requires time and effort.

What constitutes animal cruelty? It might not be what you think it is. Intentional cruelty or abuse, such as dogfighting and intentional physical harm, is certainly the most shocking, but thankfully not very common. Neglect, on the other hand, is still considered animal abuse, even when it’s mostly caused by ignorance and misinformation.

Here are a few reasons why you might lose your ESA letter just because of lack of attention:

  1. Overlooking the need for fresh water

Your pet should have access to fresh water every day. Owners should remember to refill their pet’s water bowl or bottle with fresh, clean water at least twice a day. It helps your pet to stay fresh and avoid dehydration that in some cases might lead to serious health issues.

  1. Inappropriate diet

Adequate nutrition is essential for any pet to thrive. The one-size-fits-all model is not recommended, and owners should make sure that their pet is fed a well-balanced, personalized diet that is veterinarian approved. The diet also needs to be appropriate for their age, breed, activity levels and health conditions. More often than not, the cheapest pet food at the store is not the ideal option for a companion with pre-existing health issues.

  1. Not enough exercise

This point is crucial when dealing with emotional support dogs (often stylized as ESD). Depending on the companion’s size and breed, exercise requirements can vary massively. It is common sense that a sausage dog won’t need as much time running outside as a Doberman, but some owners may underestimate their little pup’s exercise needs.

  1. Neglecting grooming

Whether it’s trimming their nails, maintaining oral hygiene or washing their fur, pets should be groomed regularly. It is not a matter of beauty and aesthetics; neglecting regular grooming can result in serious health problems like skin infections.

  1. Sub-par housing and shelter

Even the most outdoorsy pets need shelter. Their living environment should be spacious enough and kept clean.

  1. Unclean bathroom area

A companion’s bathroom area should also be kept as clean as possible to avoid potential health hazards.

  1. Irregular vaccination

Pets should be up to date with all required vaccinations for pest-control, including booster shots. Failure to properly vaccinate a pet comes with deadly consequences!

  1. Lack of veterinary care

On top of annual veterinary check-ups, owners should prepare and budget for emergency veterinary visits that could improve their companion’s life. Symptoms of health complications should not be left untreated.

Man’s best friend

A dog is lying his paws on the kids' hands.
ESA animals can become your best friends, so it's good to make sure they live in good conditions.

Animals give people a lot of love and emotional support. They can become friends for those who are difficult to join the world around. The presence of animals might neutralize your anxiety and remove depressions, which are especially susceptible to people with dementia, a by-product of isolation and loneliness. Communication with animals makes it possible to fill life with social support and unconditional love.

However, what happens when your ESA letter gets revoked? If a landlord or other citizens notice and report any of the 8 signs of pet neglect we have listed above, the appropriate authorities will have to deal with the situation. This might lead to losing the ESA letter and its associated privileges, most notably the privilege of flying with a pet and renting in no-pets-allowed properties.

Of course, not all transgressions will end in an ESA being revoked; it largely depends on the state you are living in and the severity of the neglect. But is that a chance you would be willing to take?

All pet owners, regular dog enthusiasts, and ESA patients alike should thoroughly research and understand the needs of companions that do so much for them.

by GetESA

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ESA Laws and Regulations