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Debunking Myths: Top 7 Misconceptions About Emotional Support Animals You Need to Get Rid Of

7 min read

The popularity of emotional support animals is growing day by day but unfortunately, the same goes for rumors and myths surrounding this trend. In fact, you may hear all sorts of stories about ESA pets. And with all the unbelievable news about peacocks on the plane and other startling reports, it’s hard to blame anyone for not knowing the truth. When you don’t know what is right or wrong, it’s easy to take even the most unrealistic gossip seriously.

With that said, it’s not surprising that many people don’t quite understand how the whole thing really works and what the legal ESA ownership can give you. To guarantee that you know where the rumors end and the truth begins, we’ll debunk the most widespread stereotypes about ESA pet ownership.

Just forget everything you’ve heard about emotional support animals before because it’s time to find out the real state of affairs.

Misleading rumors about emotional support animals: Where’s the truth?

The use of ESA pets as a way to alleviate the signs of an emotional disorder and improve one’s mental health has long become a popular practice. However, not everything is clear about how to legally own an ESA pet and what rights you can use with no limits.

In fact, too many people still don’t know what they can and cannot do after they are given an ESA certificate. To make things clear once and for all, we’ve gathered a list of common rumors about emotional support pets and we’ll now explain why they are not real.

Myth #1 – There isn’t any difference between service animals, ESA pets and therapy animals

A service dog is helping the blind man to cross the road
Guide dogs are service animals, not the ESAs

Too many people can’t see the difference between these types of assistance animals and often find it very confusing to draw a line between them. Nevertheless, there are a few critical points that can make all the difference.

  • Service animals

They are specially trained to perform particular tasks for people with serious disabilities such as wheelchair-bound individuals or those having visual impairments. Unlike ESAs, service animals are permitted to enter public places and may even access workplaces.

  • Therapy animals

They are commonly used under the guidance of counselors and often assist the psychotherapists themselves. As a rule, therapy animals live and perform their duties in special counseling settings, and their main job is to enhance doctor-patient communication making the therapeutic session more effective.

  • Emotional support animals

They play a critical role in the mental wellbeing of those who suffer from psychological disorders. ESAs may not necessarily undergo specific training to perform some duties. Their main task is just to provide their owners with the needed companionship and emotional help in times of distress.

On the whole, however, all assistance animals are meant to perform one shared task – to help their owners overcome physical or mental problems more effectively. And this is perhaps the main reason why so many people confuse the terms. But if you dig deeper into their meanings, you’ll see that they are not the same in many respects.

Myth #2 – It’s not legal to apply for an ESA certificate online

Happy businesswoman executive working online on laptop at office desk
Using online services is the easiest and the fastest way to get ESA letter

Not a word of it is true. In fact, it’s entirely legal to get the ESA letter with the help of an online service. Although rules on getting these letters may differ from one state to the other, it’s completely legitimate to qualify for the ESA letter online.

The only rule here is to use the services of a HIPAA compliant organization to make sure you don’t get into a trap with a scam company. Besides, your letter should only be signed by a qualified medical practitioner. This will give you legal rights and the status of a rightful ESA owner.

Myth #3 – Everyone can take an ESA pet

Young beautiful woman over isolated background wearing glasses looking stressed and nervous with hands on mouth biting nails. Anxiety problem.
You can get an ESA pet only if you suffer from any mental or psychological disability

It’s certainly true that everyone who needs emotional support can try to make their pet a legitimate ESA. However, it doesn’t mean that all pets can become ESAs and it’s also not true that all people can qualify for one. Instead, before you get yourself a little friend, your mental state will have to be evaluated by the licensed therapist. This will help to understand if the ESA can really bring any benefits to you in particular.

What’s more, getting the ESA also means making your pet legitimate which can be achieved through ESA certification. The special letter is given after the consultation with the doctor during which your diagnosis will be either approved or not. You can be sure that you qualify for the ESA in case you suffer from:

  • PTSD or emotional trauma
  • Stress, fears and anxiety
  • Depressive episodes
  • Panic attacks
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Suicidal thoughts, etc.

Therefore, not anyone can get the ESA. Firstly, you need to be 18 or older. Moreover, there will be no use if you go to the therapist and ask for one when you’ve got no health problems and feel absolutely normal. Even if you do, you simply won’t be eligible to get the ESA so don’t waste your time in vain if you don’t really need psychological support. 

Myth #4 – ESA owners aren’t protected from discrimination

Pretty redhead woman is hugging cute doggy sitting on couch in apartment smiling enjoying beautiful day with beloved animal
If you have an ESA letter for your pet, landlords cannot refuse to accomodate you

This is only partially true. In fact, although ESAs are not yet covered by The Americans with Disabilities Act, you will still get lots of legal freedoms and will be able to use them in different life situations.

For instance, the law protects ESA owners who want to take their pets with them on board. Airlines can’t discriminate against you and no extra fees can be requested for keeping the animal in the passenger’s cabin.

What’s more, if you want to rent housing and share it with your ESA pet, you won’t face any discrimination either. Landlords can’t charge any additional payments for living with the pet in no-pet apartments. And it’s also true that you can rent any type of accommodation as long as you have the ESA letter at hand to show the landlord that you really have a mental disability.

Surely, you won’t get as many freedoms as the service dog owners but you too will be granted a few useful privileges that may come in handy when living or traveling with your ESA.

Myth #5 – ESA pets have no access restrictions and can enter any public place

A cat in the restaurant
Emotional support animals are not generally allowed in public places

Once again, that’s not entirely true. ESAs and service animals have slightly different rights. While service dogs can access public and private spaces with no limits, emotional support pets can’t. You can’t enter such areas as hotels, shopping malls, restaurants and other business premises with the ESA. Even more than that, an extra fee may be required if you want to enter certain public facilities like hotels. Though, you can certainly try finding pet-friendly locations.

Meanwhile, airplanes and no-pet housing are a different matter – here you’ll be given full access rights and won’t face any additional payments.

Myth #6 – It’s compulsory for an ESA to wear a special vest to prove its status

Dog wearing pet vest standing on white snow
Emotional support animals are not obliged to wear pet vests

Regrettably, it is now common to believe that ESA pet owners need to buy vests for their ESA dogs or cats and their animals must always wear them in public places to show their special role. In reality, that’s not always the case. Although the ESA owner may choose to buy a special outfit for his/her animal, it’s not obligatory to do so.

In fact, the only proof of your pet’s status is the ESA letter issued and signed by the therapist. There is nothing else to worry about as you won’t need to have any other proof that your ESA isn’t merely your pet.

Myth #7 – Any type of animal can serve the role of an ESA

portrait of beautiful woman and dragon
Not all emotional support animals have the same rights

This is also not absolutely exact. Although you may choose almost any animal for this role, you won’t be given complete freedom of choice. To make sure you do everything right, just keep in mind the next points before you make your final choice:

  • It’s not always reasonable to choose a dangerous animal that may cause harm to you or other people such as poisonous reptiles, because you will hardly get a permission to take in on board with you or to let it into the rented apartment.
  • Your ESA must be well-mannered and must know how to behave in public. Some animals can’t be taught good manners so they will hardly fit the role of your ESA.
  • Your pet mustn’t be a nuisance to other people. The story about the ESA owner trying to take the peacock on board the plane is a good example of this situation.
  • Make sure you aren’t allergic to the specific type of animal you want to take for the role of your assistance animal.

Just be cautious when selecting certain breeds or types of animals for this task. Large animals like horses may not be suitable for everyone. And some animals are simply too dangerous so you run the risk of getting injured or causing harm to someone around.

Key Takeaways

No doubts, having an emotional support animal by your side is in many ways beneficial. It often brings astonishing results to those who choose to try out their luck with this type of therapy. However, the lack of education about everything related to ESA ownership may provoke the spread of unrealistic myths and misconceptions. And this may cause distrust of people towards this way of treatment.

Now that you know how the system really works, you probably have no doubts that ESA pet ownership can bring positive changes into your life. But this is only possible if you are free from any misconceptions and clearly understand your rights and limitations.

Do you think you are ready to give it a try? Then feel free to consult the therapist online and check if you can get yourself a little friend for a company.

by GetESA

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ESA 101: Educational