An emotional support animal or ESA, is exactly what it sounds like. It is an animal that provides emotional support for someone that needs it. ESAs are also called comfort animals or companion pets.
There are two categories of ESAs: those that are certified and those that are not. Emotional Support Animals that are certified are nationally registered and are generally recognized as integral to your mental or emotional well being. That means that they are also occasionally (but not always) allowed into public places and on public transportation. To have your support animal certified and registered, you need a letter or prescription from a medical professional. Having a doctor recommended ESA can even affect your ability to have an animal live with you when it would otherwise not be allowed. From the Fair Housing Act (FHAct):
Under the Fair Housing Act, an individual with a disability may be entitled to keep an emotional support animal in housing facilities that otherwise do not allow pets. An emotional support animal—which can include animals other than dogs—must be permitted as a reasonable accommodation when an individual requires the animal in order to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the housing. The assistance the animal provides must relate to the individual’s disability.
Your animal does not have to be registered or prescribed to be considered an ESA, however. While having your companion animal registered does offer certain benefits, you can still derive plenty of support from an unregistered companion.
They encourage physical activity
They encourage social interaction
They offer support without heavy obligation
They provide affection
They provide companionship
They provide unconditional love
They encourage responsibility and concern outside of oneself
More than a simple housepet, ESAs are often the lifeline of support for those who would otherwise be lonely, isolated or completely focused on their depression. If you consider adding an ESA to your life, don't feel that you must limit yourself to the popular dog or cat option. You may also find comfort in the companionship of: a small rodent, a miniature goat or horse, a ferret, or even a lizard. Keep your mind open to the possibilities of seeking emotional support from an animal that would welcome your affection.