More and more people are finding comfort in the company of animals, using their companionship as a coping mechanism and support during the hard times as well as the good ones.
However, some apartment supervisors, landlords, and other types of housing regulations forbid pets on the premises.
Doctors and therapists have worked with lawmakers to create a space to support those whose mental and emotional health would benefit from animal husbandry and companionship.
So, the emotional support animal enters the scene. The most common emotional support animals are dogs and cats, but other animals are allowed.
This begs the question: Can a snake be an emotional support animal? The answer is a surprising yes!
It is important to understand the difference between an emotional support animal (assistance animal) and a service animal. A service animal is one that has been specifically trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities.
A snake cannot be a service animal. However, an emotional support animal or assistance animal is a different legal classification.
The Human Society explains an assistance animal this way: “Assistance animals are in a different legal classification than pets who are not assistance animals, which is why pet restrictions and fees are waived for them.
They are animals that work, assist, or perform tasks and services for the benefit of a person with a disability or provide emotional support that improves the symptoms of a disability (“The Fair Housing Act and Assistance Animals”).
Contrary to common belief, there is not a single national emotional support animal registry, and housing authorities are not required by law to recognize a registered ESA.
However, they are required to reasonably accommodate an ESA with a recommendation letter from a doctor or licensed counselor (ESA Doctors). So, the first step in the emotional support animal process is to talk to your doctor or licensed counselor.
A licensed counselor will work with you to see how a snake or other emotional support animal could help your recovery or day-to-day physical, psychological, or emotional disability management.
Step 2: Get an ESA Letter
Once you and your doctor or counselor decide a snake or other animal will, indeed, be a beneficial addition to your daily life, your doctor or counselor will issue you an official ESA letter explaining how this animal supports you.
The letter should explain your condition in general and tell how the animal provides assistance or support.
The letter must be signed and on letterhead from the doctor or counselor’s office and will only be valid for one year.
The professionals at ESA Doctors give this helpful checklist for your ESA letter. It should include:
- Your full name
- That you have a disability as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders
- You are unable to perform at least one of the most essential activities of your everyday life because of this disability
- The ESA is recommended to you by a licensed mental health professional
- The Federal Regulations that protect you
Step 3: Register your ESA animal (optional)
Another step that may be helpful for your emotional support animal is to register. Although this is not necessary, it can be helpful in conversations with housing authorities.
Registration is easy to complete on any number of websites. A couple of ESA registration websites that provide registration services for your ESA animal include the following: US Service Animal and Support Animal Registry and ESA Registration. These sites are among a number of other sites that offer the same services.
Something to note is that most ESA registration sites require payment for their services, so if money is tight, don’t worry and just skip this step.
Remember, ESA registration does not have the same weight or legal authority that an ESA letter holds; housing authorities are not required to accommodate an ESA registration without an attached official ESA letter from a doctor or counselor.
Step 4: Politely communicate with your landlord
This is probably the most crucial step in your ESA journey.
Once you have worked with your doctor or licensed counselor, received your letter, and completed the ESA registration, if so desired, you need to communicate with your landlord.
Please give them a personal statement with the letter asking for accommodation, but also realize that kindness will go a long way with people!
If the landlord absolutely refuses to accommodate you reasonably, and your need and letter are legitimate, there are resources to help you.
According to the Humane Society, the Fair Housing Act gives you certain rights: “If your request for a reasonable accommodation is denied by the landlord, you have the right to request that a government agency investigate your claim that the landlord is discriminating against you.”
Although snakes cannot be service animals, they can make magnificent emotional support animals. They are easy to keep and clean.
They are especially beneficial for those on the autism spectrum and those with psychological disorders like bipolar disorder and depression.
Snakes are easy to keep
One of the “pros” of having a snake as an ESA is they are relatively easy to take care of. Snakes live in enclosed glass tanks or habitats.
Unlike a dog or cat that has the run of the house, snakes stay contained. Snakes also do not have the dander and shedding hair to which many people are allergic.
This gives allergy sufferers the option to have an ESA; whereas they would not have the option if they were limited to a dog or cat.
In addition, snakes have less timely demands than a dog or cat (Mango Clinic 2020). Because dogs and cats are more social, they require more attention from their owners to live a vibrant life.
Snakes can be happy to be held and equally happy to be left to their own devices. This takes the pressure of intense care off while maintaining a reasonable schedule for the owners.
Snakes are beneficial pets for those on the autism spectrum
People on the autism spectrum often struggle with overstimulation, and snakes provide a soothing alternative to more traditional emotional support animals.
Dr. Laurie Hess, a veterinarian and author of “Unlikely Companions: The Adventures of an Exotic Doctor”, recommended having a reptile-like snake or chameleon because the hyperactivity of a dog or darting behavior of a cat can be overwhelming for patients:
“Having a reptile that is slow-moving and calm, really interesting to look at, that you learn about, learn to take care of are great for kids on the autistic spectrum” (Ramsadeen 2017).
Snakes are helpful with certain psychological disorders
In addition to being easy to keep and beneficial to those on the autism spectrum, snakes are also great assistance animals for depression and people living with bipolar disorder.
In Birmingham, there has been success in using snakes as therapy animals. Dale Preece-Kelly, an Animal Assisted Therapy Practitioner, explains how snakes are a draw for those with bipolar disorder.
“They have a massaging effect as they slither over you,” he says. “It’s three-fold because you feel the cold of its skin, its weight — which can be 20kg if it’s a boa constrictor — and the movement itself. That provides the sense of thrill that manic patients often crave” (Holden 2016).
This is not an isolated case. In a recently published psychiatric study, Kakunje et al. described the benefits that a hospital in Huntercombe Hospital Roehampton, London, England, saw with their therapy snake, Angel:
“Doctors in this hospital have observed that those participating in this animal‑assisted therapy have shown significant improvement.
Those that are in the strong grip of depression often find it hard to get out of bed in the morning, yet “Angel” and other snakes serve as a great motivators to get up and get moving.
Taking care of the snakes is reported to be a stimulating activity, and it also gives patients an undeniable sense of responsibility. This provides the motivation they need to step through their depression and take their first steps to start their day each morning” (Kakunje 2019).
According to the ADA, “A service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.
Tasks performed can include, among other things, pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, alerting a person to a sound, reminding a person to take medication, or pressing an elevator button.”
Because snakes cannot be trained to perform tasks like a Guide Dog or Seizure Response Dog, they do not qualify as service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
However, snakes are an excellent option for an Emotional Support Animal, and they are easy to keep and provide numerous benefits to their owners.
Registration is not necessary but is an option for you and your ESA; however, getting an Emotional Support Animal letter from a licensed counselor/therapist or doctor is absolutely crucial.