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Q&A #10: Certifying an Emotional Support Animal

Q: I've lost two pregnancies, among other things, that have caused me to have depression and anxiety attacks. One year ago I got a kitten and she saved me. I still get some anxiety and suffer from depression at times, but not as frequently since getting my baby Ashley. The problem is that I live in an apartment where there is a no pet lease, and our neighbor has said that our landlord has been asking around and knows that someone in the building has a cat. I have nowhere to go if I get evicted and I can't lose my baby. I have seen a counselor at my college at times and spoke about my problems and feelings. How can I keep my baby or get her certified as an emotional support pet and not be evicted? Please help me; I don't know what to do.
--Anonymous

A: Certifying my cats as ESAs was very easy, actually. I have talked to my own counselor about my cats and the benefits I get from owning them; so he readily agreed to write a letter explaining that the cats are ESAs who help a person with a disability. That letter--from a doctor or from a psychologist--is really all you need. Legally, having a pet is an accommodation that you as a disabled person can request from a landlord; and this is part of the laws that require not discriminating against disabled tenants. So, what you would need to do is talk to your counselor and explain your problem, get them to write a letter explaining that your cat offers emotional support, and take that to your landlord.

Now, you have responsibilities, too. While an emotional support animal does not have to be trained to behave politely in public as a service animal might, the ESA must be non-disruptive, non-destructive, and generally well-behaved. If the animal damages anything, you are responsible to pay for repairs, as any tenant with a pet would be. The animal cannot disturb the neighbors. If you haven't already had your cat spayed, I recommend you do that; during her heat cycles, she will tend to become noisy and attempt to escape--this is dangerous for her and annoying for the neighbors, and if she gets out, you don't want to be dealing with kittens. Call the humane society in your area and ask if they subsidize low-cost spay/neuter. You can often find vets who will alter pets at cost (i.e., you pay what it costs them to do the operation only); they know how many kittens are euthanized in shelters and they don't like it one bit. You'll have to make sure she is using the litter box and scratching post appropriately, and that she is either collared or microchipped so that she can be recovered if she darts out the door.

I've found some links which might be helpful to you. Of course, you should do your own research as well.

Service Dog Central
Emotional Support Animals
Wikipedia article (Check the references)
ESA Law

As for approaching your landlord, don't start out confrontational. As a landlord, their fear is likely to be that your cat will be either destructive or annoying to the neighbors, and they will tend to be reassured that the law protects their property by allowing the landlord to require you to pay for any damages just as you would for a normal pet. They may also believe that your ownership of a cat will inspire other tenants, who do not need ESAs and might not be responsible pet owners, to obtain cats for themselves. Explaining that your cat will be in your apartment at all times, and will not be let out, may be useful here. Of course they will want to see the letter. In my case, my landlord was very good about it, and didn't even bother with the letter except for my filing it along with my application.

Some landlords will ask you to declaw your cat. Obviously, you don't want to do this; it's unnecessary and cats need their claws. You can usually get around that by using claw caps like Soft Paws, though most owners do just fine with simply providing the cat a scratching post or pad (or two, or four), and possibly luring the cats to the scratching surfaces with catnip. I have two posts and two cardboard scratch pads in my one-bedroom apartment and I partly credit them for my cats' thus far failing to cause any damage whatsoever.

If you are really worried that the conversation may become awkward or hostile, there is nothing wrong with bringing a friend along with you when you go to explain things to your landlord.

Good luck to you and your cat. I know how helpful it can be to have an animal around, and I wish ESAs were more widely accepted and recommended. After all, it's a much nicer treatment to have a cat than to take a pill, because pills don't purr and cats don't stick in your throat and taste bitter!

Comments

My concern about this kind of thing is that some people choose to live in animal-free buildings because of allergies. Whether or not a cat supplies emotional support or not, if you're allergic, you're allergic. Hopefully all the potential allergens could be confine to the owner's apartment.
Yes; that would be a requirement for any ESA in an apartment--the animal would have to be kept in the apartment, and not allowed out (except on a leash and with the owner). After all, the person with the allergies is entitled to reasonable accommodations too--including not having to walk through a hallway with the neighbors' cats lounging in it!
As both a landlord and someone who keeps cats and the occasional dog, I see both sides of this issue. I feel you've written a very balanced and caring response.

Thank you

(Anonymous)

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Honestly have no idea. I'm only a blog writer, not a designer. See if you can find yourself an FAQ, help site, or forum for your particular blog software or site, and ask there. Be sure to define the problem as fully as you can and list the steps you have already tried to solve it.

Edited at 2013-02-05 11:07 pm (UTC)