Author Topic: Can/Should I register my dog as an ESA?  (Read 890 times)

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Offline soupernatural

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Can/Should I register my dog as an ESA?
« on: June 22, 2017, 03:27:02 PM »
Hello, everyone! So ever since 7th/8th grade, I've suspected I have depression/anxiety. The anxiety came first, and it became so bad that I never left my house, let alone my room. I asked my parents to order for me at restaurants, I avoided school dances and school in general. I had very low self-esteem and even felt isolated from my parents. I became extremely irritable, and despite me knowing I might be mentally ill I never brought it up to my parents because I didn't have a very trusting relationship with them. I basically "lived" with it, until it got worse after we moved across the country. I lived in a small apartment in Georgia for a year, and I became even more distant. I can recall three times that I left the apartment for anything other than school. I became very depressed and frequently thought about suicide, but my thoughts never manifested into behavior. During this time my parents were also fighting and attempting to get a divorce, so my mother spent a lot of time at her sister's house in another state. My dad worked 12 hours a day, and his exhaustion from his working paired with his bipolar disorder did no good on our relationship.
When we moved back to Arizona, I finally asked my mother to get me a therapist. I hated talking about it, so whenever she asked me about a potential person I just brushed it off. I'm not sure if I was ashamed or uncomfortable or what, but we eventually found a place and I got my first appointment. I talked to this woman for a while about what I was experiencing and she explained recommended that I see a psychiatrist and get medicated because my symptoms were interfering with my life. She even recommended my mother to turn off the news around me because it spurred on my fear of the world.
When we finished, I told my mother I did not want to go back. It wasn't a problem with the woman, I just didn't enjoy it. Perhaps it was just because it was my first time and my mother was in the room, but I didn't like the talky feely part and for whatever reason it made me feel worse about myself.
So, I continued living with my symptoms and avoided activities such as shopping, eating out, etc. I felt judged everywhere I went, and by the time I got home I was exhausted and irritable. I have friends, they just aren't very close and I only really spent time with them at school.
Then, a year ago I got my dog, Keeley. Because she was a puppy, she required all of my focus and attention and she really provided me with a sense of enjoyment. I felt proud as I trained her and I looked forward to spending time with her. At the time I did not have my license, so we didn't leave the house much because we couldn't go very far plus she didn't have all her vaccinations so I was paranoid about taking her anywhere. Now that I have my license and school is out, I do everything with her. I take her to the dog park and PetsMart and patio pet-friendly restaurants. She gives me a reason to not sleep through the entire morning and she is my best friend. If I'm ever having a particularly bad day she always gets a smile on my face one way or another. I've forced myself into social situations such as the dog park for her and it paid off wonderfully. I can hold a conversation with a stranger at the dog park, and while I might be a little awkward and insecure I've been getting better the more I do it.
Because I'm a senior in high school, I've been planning my college life and I need Keeley in that plan. I cannot even imagine going somewhere as stressful and scary as a college without her there to keep me grounded.That being said, I've done my research on ESA's and it would allow her to live in my dorm with me.(She is about 40-45 lbs and is only allowed in our living room and my room so I'm confident she won't mind the size if I get her to the dog park near the dorms every day.) I know that I will have to return to a therapist or a psychiatrist to get the letter. I'm not sure which I should go to, but I'll probably go to a psychiatrist because of what I was told by my therapist a year ago.
My fear is that the psychiatrist will think I'm only there so I can take my dog to college with me and that she doesn't really help me. I also don't want to disrespect the disabled community by trying if I don't really need to, but I really think I do. I'm willing to learn other coping strategies and learn to feel confident in my life without it always coming from Keeley, but she's all I have and I need her.
That being said, do you believe it is fair for me to request this from a psychiatrist?
**Sorry this is so long, I just wanted to be in detail as best as possible so you can understand what I've been going through and it doesn't sound like I'm just making it up. I tried to describe everything I've experienced but I didn't want to go too far into detail. Basically, I avoid social situations, can't form meaningful relationships, had thoughts of suicide, have a family history of mental disorders, and I am frequently irritated/exhausted by long amounts of social interaction, etc.
« Last Edit: June 22, 2017, 03:30:32 PM by soupernatural »

Offline Kirsten

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Re: Can/Should I register my dog as an ESA?
« Reply #1 on: June 22, 2017, 04:00:09 PM »
Registration is a scam.  It is legally meaningless, just an opportunity to give someone money for a worthless piece of paper.

If you have need of an emotional support animal in housing or on commercial aircraft then first you have to qualify for this accommodation.  That means you have to be disabled by mental illness and in treatment with a mental health professional.  The only legal documentation for either of those situations is a letter from the mental health professional who is treating you who feels you are disabled by mental illness and that the presence of the animal is an important part of their treatment program for you.  No treatment or a mental illness not severe enough to require treatment means you don't qualify for an ESA under either the FHAct or Title II of the ADA (for housing).  HUD's very clear about the person having to be under the care of a mental health professional.

Treatment is not typically pleasant or enjoyable (it requires a lot of difficult and painful work), but it does help a lot.  If you try a provider whose approach does not work for you, then try another.  And another.  Until you find the right treatment plan for you.  An ESA is only a small part of a treatment plan, not an entire plan by itself.  It's the medication and/or talk therapy that is going to make you healthier, not the ESA (which is emotional support during the difficulties of treatment).
« Last Edit: June 22, 2017, 04:04:35 PM by Kirsten »
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Offline soupernatural

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Re: Can/Should I register my dog as an ESA?
« Reply #2 on: June 22, 2017, 04:11:53 PM »
Thank you for responding! I do know that there is no registry and that I do need to be under the care of a professional. I realize now my title makes it seem that way, I just didn't know how else to word it. Sorry if I wasn't clear, but my question is that given the experiences I've described would it be reasonable for me to see a doctor to discuss this with them and have it be a possible outcome or should I find alternative options and not get my hopes up should myself or my previous therapist be wrong about my condition?
Looking back I realize this is a totally dumb question, I am going to end up with a psychiatrist anyway, I just want to know if there is any reason a psychiatrist would not support Keeley as my ESA and thus I'd have to change my plan for housing in college.
But yeah this was probably dumb so sorry about that. :headbang:
« Last Edit: June 22, 2017, 04:16:45 PM by soupernatural »

Offline Solace

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Re: Can/Should I register my dog as an ESA?
« Reply #3 on: June 22, 2017, 04:38:33 PM »
As Kirsten said, treatment is difficult.  But, truly, it is worth it.  Try again with a therapist.  Sometimes it takes a few to get the right fit.  I have been lucky in that regard, but many people really need to meet a few therapists before picking the right one.  But do try again.  Your peace of mind and quality of life is worth it!

Offline ccunnin3

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Re: Can/Should I register my dog as an ESA?
« Reply #4 on: June 22, 2017, 05:53:21 PM »
Is there any reason a mental health provider may not support your use of an ESA? Yes. Dozens of reasons. Some providers don't believe ESAs help. Some providers will refuse to write a letter for someone untik they have been treating them for a while. Your provider may not believe you are disabled. Your provider may think your dog is hindering your treatment. There are a ton of reasons why a provider may refuse to write a letter.

In my opinion, you shouldn't expect to go to one or two therapy sessions just so you can get a letter to keep your dog with you. Get treatment because you need treatment, not to skirt college housing requirements.
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Offline Kirsten

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Re: Can/Should I register my dog as an ESA?
« Reply #5 on: June 22, 2017, 06:03:47 PM »
There aren't any dumb questions.

When it comes to assessing what is likely to work for you, as a unique individual, and advise you on a course of action, I don't have the necessary data or expertise to be of any real use.  This discussion, of how to cope with college, whether that should include an ESA or medication or therapy or other management techniques, this is a discussion to have with a mental health professional who knows your medical history and has the professional skills to interview you, diagnose you, and advise you.  I'm, well we're (the community here) are an inadequate substitute for that relationship that you can have with a mental health professional who knows YOU and how this illness works within you.

I can tell you basic legal theory and some about managing an animal in a dorm setting, I can advise on training and sometimes on whether something can be safely treated at home or needs a vet visit.  I can tell you about my own experience with mental health treatment, that it is hard and at times quite painful, but completely worth it.  I can tell you that different therapies work differently on different people and that many if not most people with disabiling mental illness are probably going to have to try multiple different therapeutic approaches before finding the treatment or combination of treatments that works for them.  I can tell you that CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) had a significant positive effect on my ability to manage symptoms and function, but I know that it's not the right fit for everyone.  I just can't tell you whether this plan is likely or unlikely to work for you or what plan would be the most likely to work for you.  The very best person to discuss that with is your own mental health care provider.

So the very best advice I can give you is to seek out that professional and not let any barrier get in your way.  If one person simply is not a good fit because of a personality conflict or because their approach just doesn't do anything for you, then seek out another until you find the right one.  Find the mental health professional first, give her or his approach a fair shake (give it at least six weeks if you can stand it before asking to try something else).

I tried a number of medications and therapies that did nothing for me.  EMDR, for example was a huge dud for me, and yet there are people here on this forum who found it very helpful to them.  What I know, what I believe with absolute certainty, is that there is a professional out there who has a treatment that will make a significant positive impact on your life and that finding that person should be your number one goal.

Are there some professionals who won't sign a letter for an ESA?  Sure.  Some will and some won't.  They can't be forced to do it.  It has to be something they believe in, that they believe will assist their client/patient with their treatment.  One thing I have noticed though is an increase in college mental health professionals refusing to sign ESA letters, so statistically you're best off getting treatment now, in your home town.

What is the likelihood a psychiatrist or other mental health professional will agree to writing a letter on their first session with you?  Very low.  I think the vast majority of professionals are going to want to get to know you and how you respond to their treament plans before discussing an ESA.  I also think your odds of finding a professional who is amenable to using ESAs in treatment is perhaps higher with someone who specializes in talk therapy over medication.  I'm not suggesting talk therapy is better than medication (or the reverse) just that the mind sets of the professionals who work in those two areas tends to be a little different and it appears to me that LCSWs are probably more likely to agree to using an ESA in a treatment plan than a psychiatrist is.  That's going to vary from one professional to another, but I think on average that will be true.
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In loving memory of Cole (1/11/99 - 6/26/12)  He gave me back my life.

"The one absolute, unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world -- the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous -- is his dog." -George G. Vest

Offline Moonsong

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Re: Can/Should I register my dog as an ESA?
« Reply #6 on: June 22, 2017, 06:28:27 PM »
To purely give you my opinion on your question:

I think you may be overthinking things a bit. You said that you were going to go to a psychiatrist anyways, right? If that's so, then I wouldn't get too worked up about whether or not they'll agree to write you an ESA letter just yet. Animals can be a great source of help, but I think a lot of us with SDs, SDiTs, and ESAs would prefer not to need them at all as opposed to having them. So pursuing treatment, with getting better in general as the goal, I think is a better option than holding fast to this one idea and therefore narrowing your options, your perspective.

What I would suggest is, once you've gotten to know your therapist and they've gotten to know you a little bit (so not, like, during the first session, as learning about your conditions and situation are much more important than discussing the ESA at the moment), maybe bring up the ESA idea and see what they think about it. Just be totally honest with them about it too; don't go out of your way trying to 'convince' them.



Anyways, separately from that, welcome to SDC! I do relate with you on several of the things in your posts (even about living in Arizona :biggrin:), so I empathize. I hope that you do find help in treatment, and feel better.
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