Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Stella & Chewy’s as part of my year long partnership with them. Thank you for supporting the brands that help make THM possible.
I think it’s safe to say that you all know I’m obsessed with our dog Bodhi. From a distance you might think that that I’m just your average dog lover, or a tad bit crazy with my attachment to him, but there’s so much more to the story.
Bodhi isn’t just our dog, or even my best friend (though C and I will forever fight for his love), he’s actually my Certified Emotional Support Animal, or ESA dog for short.
Anytime I mention this to someone I always get questions as to why and how Bodhi got his dog certification, so I thought I would tackle them in this post. A lot of other people don’t know the difference between an Emotional Support Animal and a Service Animal, so I wanted to jump into that too. Years ago when I was researching this, I wish I had a full break down of how to get your dog ESA certified. So let’s jump in…
Why We Got Bodhi Certified
There is no doubt in my mind that Bodhi is my ESA. He is my confidante, best friend and the ultimate listener. When I’m feeling sad/depressed/lonely/anxious he provides immediate perspective. Watching him find joy in everything from a peanut butter kong to a stick reminds me to search for that same kind of joy in my life. He also helps me get out of bed on those days when I don’t want to (and trust me, I have those days) and get outside when I’d rather crawl into my anxious shell. Besides my medication I take for anxiety, Bodhi is 100% necessary for my mental health.
Bodhi goes above and beyond for me in ways I could have never imagined. I grew up with a dog, but it’s not until I got one of my own that I realized how in tune they are with your energy. Those days when I just need a little extra support, he totally knows it and will literally sleep at my feet all day or nuzzle his cold, wet nose into my hands to remind me he’s there. Because of this I definitely go above and beyond for him. Feeding him kibble that is full of nutritious ingredients is just one of the many ways I return my love for him. That and sneaking him bites of my banana…his favorite treat!
How To Register For An Emotional Support Animal
You need a licensed mental health professional to write you a letter in order to qualify for an emotional support animal. This letter outlines that your pet is necessary for your mental health and wellbeing. This can be a doctor (including a psychiatrist), psychologist or social worker. So long as the person is licensed to care for your mental health they may write the letter.
I have been in therapy for over 10 years. My psychiatrist would tell you that Bodhi is my emotional support animal, however when we moved to the US, we were still sorting out our health insurance so I didn’t have a mental health professional in place yet.
Luckily, there are online services that can connect you to a licensed mental health professional to provide a letter for you if you are in this situation. I used CertaPet and while it wasn’t cheap, it did allow for me to get a new letter written in the US while we were transitioning. They require you to fill out a questionnaire that asks you about your mental health and speak with a mental health professional. Do I think that some people abuse this service? Yes. But if you’re in a pinch, like I was then it’s a great option.
*editors note – A LOT of people have commented on this and I want to add that while I wish I didn’t have to use an online service, I’m grateful that they exist. There are many sites like this that are scams but the ones that require you to speak with a mental health professional are not and for anyone who does not have access to a mental health professional or cannot afford other means to support their mental illness, this is certainly an option. I am in no way affiliated with them, I’m just simply providing my experience and having been in a situation that did not give me access to a mental health professional for 3 months while trying to search for a new home I wouldn’t be here without them.
Do you need the dog vest? CertaPet and the likes (there are others out there), will try to sell you the vest and the card. You do not need either of these to have your dog certified. All you need is the letter from your mental health professional to be eligible for ESA benefits.
Emotional Support Animal vs. Service Animal – What’s the Difference?
This is where things get confusing. People think that because Bodhi is my ESA that I can take him everywhere. Do I wish I could? Yes, but unfortunately that’s not the case.
Emotional Support Animal – gives you certain privileges in cases where dogs may not typically be permitted. The two main ones are for landlords who disqualify pet owners and for people with a fear of flying. Getting your dog certified means that landlords must accept you and your dog even if they’re a dog-free building. If your dog is qualified to fly with you, that means they can come on the plane with you and sit at your feet, even if they are above the weight-limit. Having an ESA means you have an emotional disability and your dog is necessary for your mental health.
Service Animal – these are highly-trained dogs that help individuals with physical disabilities. Whether it be seeing-eye dogs, hard of hearing dogs or provide another physical service, these dogs have gone through rigorous training and are working 24 hours a day with their owners. They are permitted everywhere. They get all the same benefits of an ESA but it also goes beyond by allowing you to take your dog with you wherever you go.
How To Care For Your Emotional Support Animal
I think it’s pretty inherent that if your dog (or other pet) is expected to provide a service for you, you would ensure the best care for them. We certainly don’t mess around when it comes to Bodhi’s health. He’s an active dog that requires the right kind of fuel to support his level of energy. That’s why it was important to us that we be feeding the best possible food for his breed.
Mealtime is 100% the highlight of Bodhi’s day. Not only does he get his morning and evening affirmations (see here), but he also INHALES his food. We feed him Stella and Chewy’s Raw Blend Kibble and there is no question that he loves it. More importantly, it is made from organic fruits and vegetables, grass-fed or cage-free meat, and has a combination of freeze dried raw meat and gently-baked kibble, so it is easy on his stomach and convenient for us. It’s also 100% grain-free.
To learn more about what you should be feeding your dog check out this post, but having now recommended Stella and Chewy’s to three different dog parents, all of whom LOVE the food I can safely say that you will love it too. And no, this isn’t just my sponsored voice talking – I genuinely think it is a fantastic choice for your pet.
Some Final Thoughts
I was having a chat with a friend who also has an ESA and she was telling me about an experience she had while flying with her dog. She has a fear of flying and her dog has allowed her to get on planes to go visit her family. While most people were respectful, she did encounter some people who required her to explain why she had her dog with her. I understand people’s curiosities, but not everyone wants to explain why they have an ESA. In the same way you wouldn’t ask someone with a Service Animal to explain why they have one. I’d rather not have to describe my anxiety to random strangers and likewise, she should not have to explain her fear of flying. This is just my short PSA to be respectful of everyone’s situations and not assume that every person got their pet certified simply because they love them – which most pet parents still do.
This last point is for anyone who already has an ESA. If you are flying with them, try to be as respectful as possible with your neighbors. Though we haven’t flown with Bodhi yet, when we do, we will reserve the front bulkhead seats as he is a big dog and requires more space. If your dog is small, that’s much easier, but for bigger dogs try to reserve a seat with more leg room (besides the emergency row which cannot be blocked) so that your pet isn’t taking up your neighbors space.
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Pets ForeverNovember 3, 2018 at 7:12 am
Thanks for sharing the great information. I read this blog and must say the information that you shared in this blog is really very useful. Please post more blog related to ” online website for pets”. It would be really helpful for those people who want to share their best memories with pets.
KoltenSeptember 23, 2018 at 11:10 pm
Thanks for sharing, I have always been curious on the ESA process is!
koibidsMay 1, 2018 at 7:02 am
Thank you so much for sharing this informative information
Elsa AndersonApril 28, 2018 at 11:09 am
It’s interesting to know that having a certified emotional support animal can give you the privilege of making it stay where even though it’s not a pet-friendly place, just like when you rent a place. I love my pet dog, Rocco, as he always follows me around and comforts me when I am down. If registering him as an emotional support is the only way to be with him, then I will start looking around for areas where I can register him in no time!
Alisa StuderNovember 19, 2017 at 9:53 pm
My daughter needs are dog for a ESD because she is bipolar and I can’t tell you how many times we have gotten either crappy looks or comments because of it. The problem is people abuse the system and ruin it for everyone that actually needs support!
Amber @ Bloom Nutrition TherapyNovember 17, 2017 at 11:19 am
I just wanted to comment here especially after reading some of the other negative comments. I am a Licensed Professional Mental Health counselor and I can attest to the fact that Certapets is a REAL credentialing agency. I have intereviewed with them before and their job posting specifically requires that you send in your verification and licensure information to show that you are indeed a mental health professional. In addition, there are service pets for a variety of different reasons, not just for those that are so obvious (like if you’re blind). Having and owning a pet has been found to be very helpful and beneficial for a variety of disorders, including anxiety, depression, autism and more. It think this post is great and it shows great advocacy for mental health and the growth the field has taken in ensuring patients are taken care of in a variety of ways. 🙂
Olivia GraceNovember 8, 2017 at 9:30 pm
I really love this post. Like, I really love it. When I was 15, I went through a period of depression and intense anxiety, and while I didn’t understand what I was going through at the time, I remember how comforting it was to sit with my cat (who recently passed away) and pet her and cry over whatever was bothering me. Now, my little dog (named Little Dog) who is so responsive to my emotions, will just sit cuddled up next to me right when I seem to need it. I can only imagine how wonderful it is for people who suffer from chronic depression and anxiety to have a loyal pet with them at all times when everything seems like it’s falling apart. I’m so glad you wrote this post because I really relate!
Lauren JalaliNovember 8, 2017 at 8:31 pm
Davida, thank you so much for sharing your experience! I think it is so great to learn about different ways to cope with mental health issues and had no idea the difference between ESA and support animals! Do you know if S & C makes cat food? I am a cat momma ?
Cassie Autumn TranNovember 8, 2017 at 6:11 pm
People around me tend to underestimate the impact of pets when it comes to emotional support. Physical support? No question. Mental or emotional? There’s controversy. I really want to get my dog certified for my epilepsy, but that does take quite a lot of training! She’s much more expertise in emotional support, which I most certainly need in such a challenging time of college! I really enjoyed reading about your story with Bodhi and his journey. Hopefully, stories like this will enable emotional support animals to be more easily accepted into public facilities.