It's no secret that animals can lift your spirits – send me all the dog memes! – but if you have a qualifying mental or emotional disorder, you, like several women who've recently gone viral for trying to fly with their pets, may benefit even more from keeping a critter by your side always.
Because plain old pets aren't always permitted in certain communities, workplaces, or on planes, you'll have to jump through some hoops to qualify yours to go where you do. Here's how to go about getting an emotional support animal (aka comfort animal or assistance animal) and make sure it gets the special treatment it deserves:
1. See your mental healthcare provider or physician for an official diagnosis.
If you have severe anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or another emotional or mental illness, you may benefit from an emotional support animal that you can, by law, bring to places where pets normally are prohibited (like on planes or in your home, if you're a renter), according to information from The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, a legal-advocacy organization representing people with mental disabilities, based in Washington D.C. Without a diagnosis, you can still get a pet and enjoy its benefits – you just may not be able to bring Fido or Fluffy everywhere, like on your next flight, or cohabitate if it's against your landlord's rules.
2. Request an emotional support animal prescription.
Although you don't legally need to register your emotional support pet (despite websites that market this service), an emotional support animal letter written by your mental healthcare provider can help you circumnavigate some rules and restrictions in place for regular pet owners: It serves as proof you actually need your animal nearby.
This letter should state you are their patient, you have a disability (no details needed), and that the animal in question helps you cope. (Here's a sample.) Make sure they include their letterhead, license number, contact information, and the date, and obtain a new copy of this letter every year to keep it current, as per the ADA.
3. If you live or work somewhere where pets or prohibited, request an exception in writing.
Although emotional support animals aren't considered service animals, which are permitted to accompany their owners pretty much everywhere, as per the Americans With Disabilities Act, they're still exempt from certain housing and employment rules that prohibit pets, according to information from
4. Pick a pet, (almost) any pet.
Unlike service animals, which can include dogs, miniature horses, pigs, and monkeys, according to the ADA, emotional support animals can be any species and require no special training or certifications, according to the American Psychological Association.
Although there isn't loads of research on the benefits of animals besides dogs and horses, anecdotally, any animal that tickles its owner's fancy can be of service – even a peacock or a hamster. That said, if you choose a less common animal, like a snake, reptile, ferret, rodent, or spider, and want to fly with it, you may be SOL: The Air Carrier Access Act, which requires airlines to permit service and emotional support animals to ride in aircraft cabins, may not cover it. (And foreign carriers aren't required to transport any emotional support species besides dogs, according to the ADA.)
If you don't adopt from a local shelter, and opt to visit a pet store instead, prepare to dip into your own pockets, since standard insurance providers generally do not cover emotional support animals.
Get all the health and fitness news directly in your feed. Follow Facebook.com/CosmoBod.