Emotional Support Animals and RA

I am the proud kitty mom to my emotional support animal (ESA), Hamlin. Living with a chronic medical condition like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has impacted my overall mental health. The chronic pain, high level of physical dysfunction in my daily life, and social isolation created by rheumatoid arthritis are a lot to deal with.

What is an emotional support animal (ESA)?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines an emotional support animal (ESA) as "an animal of any species, which does not qualify as a service animal under the ADA, that a medical provider has certified can mitigate a person’s psychiatric disability through companionship rather than by any specifically trained task(s)."1

I have lived with rheumatoid arthritis for 19 years. Through those 19 years, I have and continue to experience various levels of social isolation, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic attacks, and depression. Hamlin’s companionship helps to calm me and helps me to manage my anxiety.

Housing, pet policies, and ESAs

The US Fair Housing Act provides protection for discrimination in housing. According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), "an individual with a disability may request to have an assistance animal in their home, with appropriate documentation as a
reasonable accommodation to the housing provider’s pet policy." The FHA considers both service animals and emotional support animals to be "assistance animals."1

A landlord or housing provider cannot ask for a diagnosis or request medical records, but they can ask for supporting documentation from a healthcare provider that includes how the animal provides therapeutic emotional support specific to you.1

The FHA considers the following to be reasonable accommodation requests for ESAs to a housing provider or landlord:1

  • A request to live on a property with a no-pets policy
  • A request to waive a pet deposit fee for an assistance animal

Emotional support animals include many different species

Living with rheumatoid arthritis presents daily functional challenges. It is important to keep that in mind when choosing the right animal. An emotional support animal is not limited to being a dog. It could be an animal like a rabbit, hamster, cat, bird, or even a bearded dragon.

Different species of animals are going to require different levels of care, amounts of space, food and supplies, and veterinary care. So, it is very important to consider the following things:

  • The level of care you are able to provide to the animal on a daily basis
  • Your living environment and space available for the animal
  • Your ability to transport, carry, and handle the animal for veterinary care
  • Your ability to groom the animal on a regular basis
  • How you would obtain or shop for pet supplies for your type of pet

5 tips for caring for an ESA while living with RA

If I am being honest, there are certain days and/or periods of time that I have difficulty caring for myself. That is why, when choosing an ESA, you need to be realistic about the type of care you could provide.

The following tips are strategies I utilize to help me take care of Hamlin on my good days and my bad days.

  1. Reach out to your support system on days you might need a little extra help caring for your ESA.
  2. Research mobile veterinary services that are available in your area. With a mobile vet service, the veterinary clinic comes to you.
  3. Research mobile pet grooming services in your area. I occasionally use this service for Hamlin. However, I also have friends who, when available, will come to my house to clip Hamlin’s nails.
  4. Utilize online shopping for your pet’s needs. This helps tremendously to have Hamlin’s food, litter, toys, etc. dropped off to my front door. Some pet items can be very heavy. Delivery of pet items to the house has been a game changer for me.
  5. Research the technology out there to help you with the cleaning aspect of owning certain pets. They have so many gadgets out there to help, like self-cleaning litter boxes and robot vacuums to help maintain pet hair.

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