You may have heard about the benefits of having an emotional support pet and wonder how to register a cat as an emotional support animal.
You can, indeed, register your favorite cat as an emotional support animal without any special training.
Emotional support animals may not be skilled in performing complex tasks, but they provide their owners with love, affection, and positive emotions.
Unfortunately, many people don’t fully understand the legal requirements and protections for emotional support animals and the registration process.
The good news is that emotional support animal registration is a fairly straightforward process that doesn’t take much time.
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Conditions Qualifying For an ESA Cat
The owner must first qualify to register a cat as an emotional support animal.
To qualify for an emotional support animal legally, the owner must have an emotional or mental disability diagnosed by a psychologist, therapist, or psychiatrist.
Mental health conditions qualifying for an emotional support animal include attention deficit disorder, tic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, motor skill disorders, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic syndrome, substance-related disorders, and cognitive disorders.
However, each case is evaluated by a mental health professional individually.
Although the above-listed conditions are the most commonly qualified for an emotional support animal, individuals with other conditions also have a chance to qualify.
Most importantly, the presence of a cat or another emotional support pet should bring direct benefit to the owner’s mental and emotional state. For example, in the case of anxiety, a cat can soothe the owner, making them feel safe and calm.
In the case of depression, an emotional support cat can relieve damaging thoughts and distract the owner from their suffering.
Furthermore, the responsibility of taking care of a pet serves as an excellent motivation to exercise, adhere to routine, and socialize.
Know The Legal Protections For ESA Cats
Many people confuse emotional support pets with service animals and therapy animals. A service animal is a dog or a miniature horse that helps a mentally or physically impaired owner perform essential daily tasks.
Therapy animals can be any pets trained to provide comfort and emotional support to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, and other public facilities.
Lastly, emotional support animals are defined as pets providing therapeutic benefits to their owners but not necessarily trained to do so.
The difference between emotional support animals, therapy animals, and service animals lies not solely in the definitions – they also have different rights and legal protections.
Service animals are trained to perform specific tasks and can only legally qualify if they pose no threat to people. For this reason, service animals are allowed to enter any public space, including restaurants and stores.
In contrast, emotional support animals are regular pets that don’t even have to be registered and can’t enter public places unless it’s allowed by a specific place’s policy.
In other words, restaurants or airlines aren’t legally obliged to accommodate people with emotional support cats, but they can choose to do so.
However, the inability to enter public places doesn’t yet make an emotional support animal a regular pet. The difference lies in the protections provided by the Fair Housing Act enacted in 1968.
Suppose you have a cat and want to rent an apartment. If your cat isn’t registered as an emotional support animal, the property’s owner has the right to refuse to provide you with the apartment.
On the other hand, the property’s owner can’t refuse to provide housing to an individual with an emotional support animal. So, the difference between regular pets and emotional support animals is that the latter can enter housing with a no-pet policy and college housing.
The tricky part is that emotional support animals aren’t explicitly mentioned in the Fair Housing Act.
Instead, the law states that property owners can’t discriminate against individuals wishing to purchase or rent housing based on race, sex, religion, familial status, or disability.
The need for an emotional support animal falls under the disability category. Unfortunately, many people don’t know about their legal protections due to such vague wording.
Under the Fair Housing Act, a person with an emotional support animal is also considered an exception from a housing complex’s pet weight and size restrictions or any pet-related fees.
Previously, emotional support animals were also allowed on airplanes under the Air Carrier Access Act. Unfortunately for pet owners, in 2021, the Department of Transportation (DOT) updated the policy on emotional support animals.
Such animals are no longer protected under the act and are only allowed on board if a specific airline’s policy explicitly states so.
Some of the airplanes that have banned emotional support animals include American Airlines, Delta Airlines, and JetBlue.
The problem is that many online guides still state that emotional support pets are allowed on airplanes. Remember to check a specific airline’s policy before bringing your cat to the airport.
Make Sure The Cat Doesn’t Pose a Threat To Others
Everyone loves their pet and believes it’s the best animal in the entire world. However, a pet that’s kind and caring to its owner may not be equally lovely with other people and can even be aggressive.
Before you qualify for an emotional support animal, ensure that your cat doesn’t pose a threat to other people in your housing complex.
There are no special training requirements, size, or age restrictions for a pet to qualify as an emotional support animal.
However, the property’s owner has a right to expel an individual with an emotional support pet from the housing if their pet poses a threat to others. Thankfully, nasty behavior towards unfamiliar people isn’t a common problem with cats.
After all, cats are tiny and typically stay inside, so they are unlikely to harm anyone. Even if an emotional support cat goes outside and bites someone on the way, the person is unlikely to call the police on a kitty.
Still, the owner of an emotional support animal must be responsible for its behavior, especially if they plan to bring the cat along on a plane or to public places (as long as it complies with the place’s pet policy).
Get a Letter from Your Doctor
To receive legal protections for your cat, you should know how to qualify for an emotional support animal. Fortunately, the process is much easier than with service and therapy animals.
Technically, a cat doesn’t have to be registered as an emotional support animal, but rather the owner must receive a letter from a certified mental health professional explaining the patient’s need for such an animal.
Other doctors, for example, surgeons and cardiologists, aren’t mental health professionals and therefore can’t issue such a letter. According to federal law, the doctor doesn’t have to see the individual in-person to diagnose them, but some states may have different requirements.
However, some property owners accept letters from family physicians if they treat the patient for an emotional or mental disorder. So, the mental health professional must issue the individual a legal letter that must include specific details.
The emotional support animal letter should contain details about the patient and their diagnosis, the doctor’s license type, number, issuing date, location, date of the letter issue, and an explanation of how an emotional support animal can help ease the patient’s condition.
The emotional support animal letter is only active for a year, so the individual must receive a new letter annually to avoid losing the legal protections.
For this reason, building a lengthy relationship with one mental health professional is beneficial for people wishing to maintain their permission for an emotional support animal.
After receiving the letter, the emotional support cat owner should notify the landlord or property manager over email to keep a record of the submitted paperwork.
Online ESA Registration
Registering a cat as an emotional support animal isn’t necessary if the owner can get a legal letter from a mental health official. However, numerous websites offer an option to register an emotional support pet, which often causes confusion.
Avoid websites that offer to register your pet as an emotional support animal without any mental health assessment. Such websites are a scam because only a letter from a mental health professional qualifies as an emotional support pet registration.
However, most of such websites actually provide online mental health professional assessments. After passing a screening test and talking to a licensed therapist over the phone or video call, the pet’s owner can receive an official emotional support animal letter.
Online emotional support pet registration is an excellent solution for people residing in rural areas or those having difficulty leaving their homes.
Although some of such websites are legitimate, be careful when choosing one. Read reviews and check the mental health professional licenses.
You should also ensure that your state’s emotional support animal laws don’t differ from federal and don’t require individuals to get an assessment in person.
Avoid free services. Although getting a free emotional support pet letter may be tempting, mental health professionals must receive some pay for their work, so such services are typically scams aimed at collecting sensitive user data.
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