It’s a commonly held misconception that all assistance animals have to be dogs. While almost all service animals are dogs, the same isn’t true for emotional support animals, which can be any kind of domesticated animal. Let’s take a look at why cats make great emotional support animals.
But First, What Exactly is an Emotional Support Animal?
Although there’s still a fair amount of confusion about what does and doesn’t constitute an emotional support animal, the definition is actually very simple. An emotional support animal (ESA for short) is a domesticated animal that helps its owner to cope with the symptoms of a psychological disorder or mental illness.
They don’t need special training (unlike service animals); they just need to have a special bond with their owners that helps to alleviate the disorder or disability. ESAs can help people with all sorts of conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and phobias.
Whether it’s a Cat, a Dog, or Even a Rabbit, Here’s the Only Way to Get an ESA!
What sets an ESA apart from a regular pet is the fact that emotional support animals are prescribed by a licensed mental health professional or medical doctor. This is the only way to get an ESA: simply stating that your pet helps you is not enough.
The LMHP will prescribe an emotional support animal by writing an ESA letter, an official document which states gives details of the holder’s need for an ESA, as well as licensing details of the issuer.
While there are legitimate ESA letter websites that work by connecting you with an LMHP in your state, watch out for any site that offers an ESA letter without any kind of questions or consultation. There is no official ESA registry or certification process, so watch out for any websites offering to do so!
The Legal Protection for Emotional Support Cats (and Other Emotional Support Animals)
If you get an ESA prescribed by a licensed mental health professional or MD, you’ll be able to enjoy certain legal protections, allowing you to bring your emotional support cat more places with you. Do note, however, that ESAs, unlike service animals, are not guaranteed access to public places like shops, restaurants, and businesses.
Fair Housing Act
Under the Fair Housing Act, people with service animals and emotional support animals are permitted to keep them in rented accommodation, including houses, condos, apartments, and on-campus college accommodation. Assistance animals are not subject to pet bans or pet fees, though landlords are permitted to ask for a valid ESA letter.
Air Carrier Access Act
The Air Carrier Access Act aims to give people with disabilities the same access to commercial air travel as everybody else. As part of this legislation, they may bring assistance animals (service dogs and ESAs) with them into the cabin free of charge, even on airlines that forbid pets. Again, an ESA letter may need to be shown.
7 Reasons Why Cats Make Great Emotional Support Animals
So we’ve covered the basics of emotional support animals, but what about cats specifically? What traits help to make these purring machines great emotional support animals? We’ve identified a couple, but cat-lovers will surely have more to add.
- Purring: there’s little more comforting than sitting with a snoozing, purring cat asleep on your lap. But did you know that cat purrs might have physical benefits too? Scientists believe that the specific frequency of cat purrs can help to alleviate stress, decrease the risk of heart attack, heal infections and swelling, alleviate the symptoms of dyspnea (shortness of breath) and heal muscles, ligaments, and bones.
- Less intimidating: whether due to cultural reasons or bad experiences, many people are afraid of dogs, even when they’re well behaved. Being afraid of cats is less common (though cat allergies are unfortunately still a thing!) Having your ESA upset other people is obviously not an ideal situation, so a smaller ESA like a cat may solve that problem.
- Playfulness: there’s a specific joy in watching a cat at play, whether it’s with a piece of string, a cardboard box, or a specially-designed cat toy. Just a few minutes playing with a friendly kitty can be a great stress-buster.
- Affectionate: although cats might have a reputation for being aloof and unavailable, there are plenty of cats that love nothing more than to cuddle. Petting animals cat help to release feel-good hormones like endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, while blocking the stress hormone cortisol.
- An emotional connection: have you ever had a tough day at work and come home to find your pet cat is especially gentle and affectionate? Dogs are not the only pets that can sense and respond to human emotions: cats can too!
- Responsibility… but not too much: having any pet (or emotional support animal) is a responsibility, and there’s no avoiding that. Cats need feeding, brushing, their litter boxes cleaning, as well as medical care and general love. However, compared to other pets, like dogs, that need frequent exercise and lots of attention, cats tend to be a lot more independent. Having a small amount of responsibility, but not an overwhelming amount, can be very beneficial to people living with mental illnesses.
- They’re more widely accepted: while the ACAA allows people with ESAs to bring them on board commercial flights, many airlines are cracking down on th\e definition of emotional support animal in response to badly behaved fake ESAs. Some airlines, including Southwest and Alaskan, have decided to only accept cats and dogs as emotional support animals. Having one of these species will mean that you’re able to take it more places with you.