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I have to start by saying: this is my journey to getting an emotional support animal, in Massachusetts. Processes may vary from state to state, and your experience may be different than mine. I struggled so much through this process, and I hope it makes it easier on you. Thanks for reading in advance.
I have been struggling with my mental health for as long as I can remember.
For the past year, I have been seeing a therapist and psychiatrist monthly to work through my trauma, develop positive coping skills, unlearn a lot of the way I think, and to have an outlet to vent. The combination of therapy and medication has transformed my life.
In November of 2020, my therapist asked me why I didn’t get an emotional support animal? I said that I thought about it, but my landlords were EXTREMELY strict with the “no pets” rule.
I read through our lease to be sure, but read an addendum that read “except for service or support animals”. It was vague, so I got the proper documentation and submitted it to my landlord.
My therapist had me talk to the social worker in my primary care physicians office about what symptoms my emotional support animal would alleviate. Loneliness, lack of energy, motivation, and drive. Taking care of something other than myself. I went on and on and on.
My doctor wrote my letter, requesting reasonable accommodation, and I submitted it to my landlord.
I was denied initially. I received a certified letter from their lawyer, stating that the letter was insufficient. They wrote, in long legal jargon, that the letter needs to explicitly say that the emotional support animal needed for a disability.
Though I don’t view myself as disabled, my doctor did write the letter including my mental health diagnoses. This is NOT required, however I asked that it be as detailed as possible to ensure they wouldn’t deny my second letter.
Within 2 weeks, my letter was approved! At this point, I had a dog picked out and ready for me, a small lab mix named Star. She is everything I needed and more.
Star gets me out of bed in the morning so I don’t stay there all day. She encourages me to go on long walks, to get exercise, and to socialize with other dogs at the dog park.
When I cry, Star comes to me and lays on my lap. When I start picking at my eyebrows, scabs, etc., I stop and pet her instead. When I need a quiet day to myself, she makes sure I’m not alone. She is the best part of my morning through the night.
If you are on the fence about getting an emotional support animal, I encourage you to do it. See a therapist, start working through your own stuff first. Make sure that you are well enough to take care of another creature.
Try alternatives first. An emotional support animal is basically prescribed as a treatment for depression and anxiety. It’s a process to figure out what is best in your mental health treatment.
Please, do not lie about your pet’s status as an emotional support animal to bypass rentals that don’t allow pets or charge a fee. There is such a stigma around the legitimacy of emotional support animals.
There is no certification, no online shortcuts. A commonly used website, Certapet, is not legitimate. You do not pay to get an emotional support animal. You don’t need to buy a vest. For the love of god, PLEASE don’t bring your emotional support animal to restaurants, stores, etc. that are not dog friendly.
You just need your doctor to write a letter, explaining why an emotional support animal is needed for your mental health treatment. Not all doctors will write this letter because not all doctors think an emotional support animal is needed. Honor this, and wait until you can move to a pet friendly apartment.
I struggled through the process, and almost got derailed entirely when I was initially denied. It is our right as individuals with mental illnesses to ask for reasonable accommodation, like an emotional support animal.
Don’t be ashamed of this, do what you can to give yourself the quality of life you deserve. You are so worth it. Leave any questions, comments, or stories in the comments!
Becca (& Star!)