ESAs, or emotional support animals, are a controversial topic in 2018. Thousands of people who don’t truly need emotional support animals are certifying their pets anyway and then taking them to public places that do not normally allow pets. Plus, a lot of people don’t understand what emotional support animals really do. They’ll make insulting comments like, “well, my dog makes me happy too, can he get certified?” However, ESAs do much more than make people happy. Any person can adopt a pet, but not everyone can have their pet certified as an ESA.
It’s very easy for seniors to fall into isolation. Their loved ones grow older and/or move away, and they don’t have jobs or as many daily tasks as they once did. Dogs and cats can help seniors feel an enhanced sense of purpose. They love unconditionally, they don’t judge you, and they’re always there! Any senior can benefit from having a pet around the house.
Seniors who struggle with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses can benefit more than others. If mentally or emotionally disabled seniors certify their pet as an emotional service animal, they can take their pet with them to public events to help them feel calm.
While ESAs are not required to go through training to be certified, certification is required for the animal to be allowed in unusual places. A senior who wants an ESA should speak to a mental health specialist.
In most cases, only mental/emotional health specialists can provide support animal certification. You’ll need to see a psychologist, therapist, or psychiatrist to discuss your condition and the possible benefits of an ESA. Usually, the specialist will first have to diagnose you with depression, bipolar disorder, a cognitive disorder, a motor skills disorder, or some other mental or emotional health ailment. Your certification letter must include the date, your condition and treatment plan, and the specialist’s license information. You will need to renew your certification according to your condition once per year.
While Medicare does not specifically cover emotional support animals, it does cover mental health treatments. If you have a client who is interested in adopting an emotional support animal and needs help doing so, your best course of action is to make sure their plan includes a good network of mental health specialists. Alternatively, help them get into a PPO or other Medicare Advantage plan that does not require referrals, so they can more easily see specialists.