Registering cats as emotional support animals?
April 8, 2016 8:10 AM   Subscribe

My SO and I have two lovely cats, and are moving from Canada to Hawaii in a few months. We both have well-managed anxiety/depression. Is there a way we can register them as emotional support animals?

A few quick notes:

- Neither of us take medication, and diagnoses were many years ago. I currently see a counselor, not a psychiatrist/psychologist. I don't think either of us would qualify as having a disability due to mental health, but it does affect our lives.
- The cats were not obtained specifically as ESAs, but (anecdotally) provide a lot of mental health support.
- Cats are otherwise prepared for Hawaiian immigration (vaccinations, blood tests, etc.).

I've done some google searching, and a lot of the online "certification sites" seem kinda scammy to me. What is the legitimate way to go about this? Does anyone have any specific advice, even if from a US-based standpoint? Thanks a lot!
posted by Paper rabies to Pets & Animals (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
From a US Standpoint, here is a handy pamphlet about Service Animals (and the category of service animal is currently limited to only dogs). Basically, "Emotional Support Animals" are not a legally recognized thing under the ADA so the certification sites probably are a bit scammy.

What advantages are you expecting to have from having them registered?
posted by Apoch at 8:23 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Of course there's a legitimate way: By getting your doctor or mental health professional/counselor to write a letter supporting the cats as ESAs if they confirm you have a qualifying mental health issue. Those online certificates are scams.

I found this Q&A to be very helpful. More on the DSM IV/mental health professional requirement here. (These sites both refer to dogs but the same rules apply.)
posted by mochapickle at 8:29 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Since there's no legal recognition, there's no particular way to go about it. You could ask your therapist if they're willing write a letter stating that the cat is an emotional support animal (generally it's one emotional support animal per person, so your SO would need a separate letter for the other cat), and then just hold on to the letter in case a landlord asks or if you want to get around a no-pet policy.
posted by lazuli at 8:29 AM on April 8, 2016

Yes, there is an official way. You must have a prescription for an ESA written on the letterhead of a therapeutic professional.
posted by xyzzy at 8:33 AM on April 8, 2016

Some official web sites that may be helpful to you. Guide and Service Dogs Entering Hawai'i. Specifically excludes emotional support dogs. Also How do I qualify my dog or cat for the 5-day-or-less quarantine?
posted by Nelson at 8:59 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also, you don't mention whether you know about Hawaii's very tough quarantine laws... check here for info. There are service dog exceptions, but nothing about ESAs. The process takes at least 4 months.
posted by Huck500 at 9:01 AM on April 8, 2016

You can do this as others have said above, because there is no legal standard right now. From an ethical standpoint, though, I'd really ask you to reconsider. This process of naming animals as ESA after the fact does damage to legitimate service animals who, along with their handlers go through rigorous training for very specialized services. ESAs are for the most part not rigorously trained and the process of being on a plane or out in public can be stressful for the animal and potentially dangerous for them and others (e.g., bites from animals not used to being in public).
posted by goggie at 9:01 AM on April 8, 2016 [20 favorites]

Thanks all - this confirms what I suspected. Goggie - that article is excellent.
posted by Paper rabies at 10:05 AM on April 8, 2016

On preview: sorry if this is rehashing

It's probably pretty easy to get such a letter - if you have proof of diagnosis (even if old), there are plenty of unscrupulous doctors (any "mental health professional" will do, here's an example from Delta) who will write it for fringe cases since it is not directly harmful. However, if you don't *need* it, you might reconsider. It's recently become a widely abused program and if you care ethically about the program remaining accessible to those who need it, I really wouldn't do this.

Do you want the ESA certification for flying, for landlord accommodations, or for something else? In the case of flying, keeping the cat in the cabin (in a carrier) is still very possible without an ESA and getting certification in order to keep the cat on your lap, if it is done more for the cat's peace of mind than yours, is not the point of the program and may unnecessarily exacerbate allergies of anyone sitting nearby. In the case of landlord accommodations, you might consider just expressing the truth to the landlord ("they are great tenants and very important to us, would you consider writing them into the lease?") or finding a new landlord (bonus: you're voting with your dollars for more pet-friendly apartments!)

Also, you don't mention whether you know about Hawaii's very tough quarantine laws...
OP mentioned vaccinations and blood tests, so is presumably aware of the process for 5-day-or-less/direct airport release.
posted by R a c h e l at 10:13 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

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