A hand petting an emotional support cat

Getting an Emotional Support Animal

A year into the pandemic, my anxiety, depression, and chronic pain were at all-time highs. I'd had my first excision surgery to remove extensive adhesions, two big endometriomas, and endo on my bowel. Recovery went slowly, and my pelvic pain persisted, as did intense heel, ankle, and knee pain that made walking and going upstairs difficult.

I'd already tried my usual self-care tools, such as being in nature, therapy, meditating, gentle yoga, reading, and watching shows, but my anxiety and depression wouldn't budge. This was before vaccines, and I worried daily about contracting COVID even though I exercised extreme caution.

What is an Emotional Support Animal?

It had been five years since I’d had a pet. Our landlord didn’t allow them, and because the rental market was tight, my ex and I took the apartment even though we wanted a cat. I often thought about how much my life would improve if I could have a cat in my life.

One day, after listening to me complain about not having a cat, my therapist asked me if I’d ever considered getting a cat as an emotional support animal (ESA). These animals differ from service animals that receive special training to support disabled people.

Instead, ESAs assist people by providing emotional support and comfort. Although they are not considered service animals, federal and state fair housing laws protect ESAs.

What is the process for getting an ESA approved?

Therefore, landlords must allow tenants to have an emotional support animal even if they have a no-pet policy. That’s because ESAs provide specific services and are not pets.

Tenants are often asked to provide documentation of their ESA, and many people get a letter from their doctor or therapist.

I felt nervous about the process, but my therapist assured me it was straightforward. She wrote me a letter explaining my disability and why she prescribed an emotional support animal.

I had already lived in my home for five years, so I reached out to my landlord to let him know about my intentions.

My landlord tried asking me to pay to have the carpet professionally cleaned before I moved out, but the laws in my state were such that a landlord could not charge tenants for professional cleaning upon moving out if they have an ESA.

If an ESA causes damage to the apartment, the landlord can use a tenant's deposit to make repairs. However, landlords cannot charge pet rent or a pet deposit for an ESA.

Once we cleared the cleaning and deposit questions, I was free to get a cat, and we amended our lease. Within a week, my ex and I adopted an adorable gray-and-white cat we named Harvey. Harv has his own Instagram account: @harveymilkmartin.

Having an ESA can help you through rough times

My pain improved, my anxiety lessened, and I felt more able to cope with my chronic illnesses.

In the year since I’ve had Harvey, I have lived through a second excision surgery with extended and difficult recovery, the breakup of my marriage, and a cross-country move from Vermont back to Colorado, where I’m from, not to mention the ongoing pandemic.

I don’t know how I could have gotten through these major upheavals without my little furry companion. I was lucky enough to bring him with me to Colorado, and having him on the trip, even with the extra work it meant, was invaluable.

Now we are settled into our new apartment, and the cuddles and playtime abound. I know he will be a significant part of helping my heart heal, and I’m thankful to my therapist for suggesting I bring a cat into my life again.

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