I recently got my Emotional Support Animal (ESA), a cat named Helevar Jane. She’s small, black with yellow eyes, and a ball of mischief and cuddles. I adopted her from a shelter and we’ve been best friends ever since. Even my husband loves her.
It took a long time to get her. Being an ESA, I needed to get her paperwork first. Having an ESA essentially means that I have a disability (in my case clinical anxiety and depression) that requires me to have an animal. I now have the legal right to have Helevar in my home without being charged an extra pet fee. The complex I live in actually doesn’t allow animals at all, and now she’s allowed. Of course, if she were to pee everywhere and tear everything up, I would have to pay for the cost of repairs, but she’s allowed to be here.
Some believe that ESAs are the same as service animals (for the difference, you can read here). There’s also the belief that an ESA license can be easily paid for over the internet or that ESAs overall are a scam; that it’s just an easy way to get a pet. For a little while, I believed the latter. Until it became more and more necessary for me.
The only scam is that people are trying to sell ESA licenses over the internet at all. You have to see an actual doctor several times for them to consider writing you the prescription of an ESA. It’s not something you can buy. It’s not something you can just pick up at your local drug store.
You have to be prepared to take care of something living. To feed it, groom it, clean it, clean up after it, and love it. They’re not just a toy or a possession that you can get rid of once you’re tired of it.
Here are five questions you should ask yourself before you get an ESA.
1. What do I need this animal for?
Do you need the animal for occasional anxiety and depression, or do you need to bring them into public to help with your daily activities? Depending on what you need, you may need to explore the potential of getting a Service Animal, or perhaps something altogether different.
2. Am I able to afford the daily upkeep of an animal?
Apart from their initial adoption, animals require vet visits, food, shelter, toys, and other things. Some may need to have yearly trims or may need their fingernails clipped. The costs add up.
3. Are the other people in my home okay with having an animal?
Is your daughter allergic to cats? Does your wife hate lizards? ESAs can be pretty much any animal you want. Because of this, they offer a lot of flexibility in choices. However, you have to keep in mind what others are okay with.
4. Will I have the time to properly take care of the animal?
Like I said before, animals aren’t just toys that you can put away once you’re tired of them. They require attention. Even though a turtle may stay in its little aquarium, it still needs to be fed and have its environment cleaned. If you know you really need an ESA, make sure you choose one that you will actually have time for.
For example, I considered getting a small dog, but because I would be working 8-hour days, I wouldn’t have the time to properly take care of a dog. It would need to be walked and played with in addition to feeding, vet visits, potential grooming, and everything else. Also, after owning canines in the past, I know that they usually aren’t all that independent. They usually become much more depressed when left alone.
I decided to get a cat because they are generally more independent and are okay when left alone for longer periods of time. Yes, they still want attention and they need their human-cat playtime (Helevar loves hunting our toes), but they’re more okay being left to their own devices as long as they’re trained.
In addition to making sure you have the time, you want to make sure you get to know the animal itself. Each dog is different from another and each cat is different from the other (or turtle, or hampster, or lizard or . . . ). Try to spend some time with your potential new family member before adoption. Make sure their personality meshes with yours.
I needed a tranquil and cuddly but fun-loving cat. Helevar was a little more mature than our other prospects and a lot more calm. She’s still a sassy little stinker and keeps us busy (as I’m writing this, she’s on my lap demanding cheek rubs), but she’s perfect for me. She keeps me in the present and always knows when I need some purring.
5. Am I getting this animal because I want a pet or because I have an actual medical need?
Why are you getting this animal? Because you think it would be cool to get a pet? I totally understand. Animals are awesome! They’re fun, sweet, and can be a friend for life. But you shouldn’t lie about a disability just to get permission to keep a dog. It undermines the needs of those who actually do need an ESA and makes it harder for them to obtain permission and prescription.
While having an animal is fun, and for me a relief of symptoms, it’s still a big responsibility. Before I even picked her up, I made sure that Helevar would have everything she needed by the time she got to my home including a bed, food, litter, a scratching post, some toys, and nail clippers. I always make sure I spend a few minutes each day playing with her and cuddling her.
Even though an animal may greatly benefit your mental health, you have to make sure that you’ll be able to take care of them as well. It’s a give and take relationship that needs to be mutually beneficial for it to really work. The love you give your animal they will return 10 fold.
I hope these tips have helped you figure out if this may be an option may be viable for you.
Now, I’m going to finish up and snuggle my little black cat.
Thank you for sharing your energy with me today.