Pet Guide 2022: You’ve Got a Friend in Me
Emotional support animals provide much-needed comfort to their owners.
Welcome to Orlando magazine’s, Annual Pet Guide 2022. In the past few years, we have brought you fascinating information on high-tech products for your pets, stories of remarkable canines who offer support to crime victims, and tips and stories that warmed your heart. This year, we’re getting back to basics, focusing on the physical and emotional bond we share with our special friends, along with guidance on reciprocating that selfless love. From an inside look at a local Orlando pest rescue to information about emotional support animals and essential tips, we think you’ll agree that there is nothing more special in life than our furry friends.
When Emilie Alfonso found Breeze at Orange County Animal Services, she learned he had been an escape artist, frequently leaving home for parts unknown.
After three years of escapes, his family gave up, and Breeze, age four, was homeless.
No one will ever know what Breeze had been searching for, but he found a human to love when Emilie Alfonso adopted him two years ago.
Alfonso, a volunteer manager at a local zoo and president of A Better Life-Pet Rescue, lives with depression. From the moment she and Breeze bonded, he has been her source of comfort when the low moods descend.
“Breeze is a very special boy. He likes to give hugs, and I do struggle with depression,” Alfonso says, adding, “Whenever I have times that are challenging for me, he will come and just sit right in front of me and wait for me to hug him.”
The Orlando resident is one of the thousands of people nationwide with a pet designated as an emotional support animal.
What does that mean? An emotional support animal, or ESA, is a pet that provides therapeutic comfort and companionship to an owner who suffers from a mental health or emotional condition.
“Breeze was approved to be an ESA last fall,” Alfonso says when she moved into an apartment with the 80-pound pit-bull mix.
A primary care doctor or a licensed mental health professional can prescribe an ESA as part of a treatment plan for various conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety, and phobias.
The patient receives an ESA letter with a consultation and diagnosis, essentially a prescription for a companion animal. The ESA letter entitles a person to certain protections under the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988.
Specifically, it protects the right of people with disabilities to keep emotional support animals in their homes, even if a landlord explicitly prohibits pets.
The owner of an ESA cannot be denied housing and cannot be evicted. They cannot ban an emotional support animal if it is a breed that is otherwise prohibited for being “dangerous.”
All pet fees added to rent are prohibited. Because the animal is a medical device, the landlord cannot charge the owner for its presence.
There are two exceptions to the FHA:
- If a landlord owns a building with four units or fewer and lives in one.
- If an owner of a single-family home rents it without the use of an agent.
Any discussion of an emotional support animal must include what it is not. An emotional support animal is not a service animal, such as a guide dog for the blind. There is no training required. Therefore, no special accommodations must be made for an ESA beyond those granted in the Fair Housing Act.
An online assessment and consultation is the usual method. Many online companies offer to guide clients through the process for a fee. Some, such as CertaPet, connect the client with an Orlando-area licensed mental health professional, who will grant the ESA letter.
Prairie Conlon, a licensed mental health professional and clinical director at CertaPet, warned that some online outfits seek to scam people out of their money by claiming to be an “official” ESA registry. There is no such thing, she says, and no need to “register” your animal.
All an owner needs is an ESA letter from a medical professional, Conlon says.