A snake cannot be a service animal, but you can register your snake as an emotional support animal.
In this article, we will explain the differences in the rules for service animals and emotional support animals, and tell you how to register your snake as an emotional support animal.
It’s perfectly acceptable to be comforted by having a pet snake
Tens of millions of people find emotional comfort and support from their pets. They use their pets as part of their repertoire of coping mechanisms in good times and bad.
However, not all landlords, apartment supervisors, and homeowner associations permit pets on residential premises.
And some property owners permit dogs, cats, birds, and fish but not more “exotic” pets like snakes.
Every American has a legal right to have a service animal. Service animals do work and perform tasks for people with medically diagnosed disabilities.
For instance, a service animal might guide a blind person. Service animals pull wheelchairs, keeping people from falling, get emergency help when their owner suffers a seizure, or help their owner cope with PTSD.
However, since 2010, federal regulations have stated that only dogs can be service animals.
The Fair Housing Act only guarantees that a landlord or a tenant association or a homeowner’s association must accept your service animal if your service animal is a dog.
The Air Carrier Access Act only guarantees permission to board a plane with a service animal that is a dog. Other animals are not recognized by federal law as service animals.
However, there is a category that includes other kinds of animals. Some animals are recognized as emotional support animals.
These are animals that a doctor or a psychologist has designated as supportive of a patient’s emotional health.
Emotional support animals are most often dogs or cats, but it is also possible to have an emotional support snake.
Here’s what you need to know before you get started
You will avoid many problems in the future if you have a clear understanding of the differences in the legal definitions of service animals and emotional support animals.
Service animal or emotional support animal?
Service animals are trained to perform specific tasks for people who have been diagnosed with medical disabilities.
Emotional support animals help people who have been diagnosed with emotional disabilities but under a different set of criteria.
Emotional support animals don’t perform specific tasks. They help their owners cope with specific disabilities.
You don’t have to train your snake to be your emotional support animal.
However, to register your snake as an emotional support animal, your therapist will need to identify specific issues with which having your snake helps.
There is no single national registry for emotional support animals
There isn’t a single place to go that will guarantee your snake will be certified as an emotional support animal in all 50 states.
Apartment owners and other landlords are not required by law to recognize any kind of registration for an emotional support animal.
However, landlords and apartment managers are required to recognize a letter from a doctor or a licensed counselor or psychotherapist that a snake helps with a specific, diagnosed issue of the owner’s mental health or physical disability.
Now let’s take a look at the steps for registering your snake as your emotional support animal.
Registering your snake as an emotional support animal
There is no guarantee that your snake will be recognized as your emotional support animal if you don’t go through the steps for formal registration.
The process is lengthy, but not especially complicated.
Have an established relationship with a doctor or therapist
It’s important to understand that the certification that gets your snake status as an emotional support animal doesn’t require a professional evaluation of your snake.
It’s not like training a dog to be a seeing guide dog.
The professional evaluation that counts in getting your snake certified as an emotional support animal is your doctor’s or your therapist’s evaluation of you as their patient.
You will need to be seeing a doctor or a therapist for an identifiable professionally diagnosed health issue.
You will need to be receiving ongoing therapy for your snake to be considered an emotional support animal.
You may be able to find therapists or companies that will give you a letter of certification for your snake without taking you as a patient.
However, if your snake does something that causes a legal issue for you later, you may not have certain legal protections you would have otherwise.
Get your ESA (Emotional Support Animal) letter
It’s not automatic that a doctor or therapist will agree that an emotional support snake is what you need to help you with a specific psychological issue.
However, when they do, then it is time to request your ESA letter.
Your ESA letter explains how your psychological health is supported by your snake.
It explains your condition in general, and it tells how your snake supports your mental health.
The letter may disclose your diagnosis and the consequences of not allowing you to keep your snake.
Your healthcare provider must write your ESA letter on their letterhead. It is only valid for one year from the date of the letter.
Your ESA letter must document:
- Your full legal name.
- Your psychological or psychiatric disability as described in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM 5.
- Your inability to perform at least one of the important activities of daily life because of your disability as it is identified in the DSM
- The specific recommendation of a snake as your service animal.
- The federal regulations that protect you.
Most states will not have laws protecting your access to housing if you own an otherwise prohibited pet.
When you show your ESA letter to your future landlord, you need to be able to document your legal right to your snake.
(Optional) Register your emotional service snake
If there is a question of whether you had your letter before you leased an apartment or a house, registering your letter may help you in a dispute with your landlord.
It can also help in some kinds of discussions with animal control officials.
There is a fee to use any of the ESA registration sites. If money is tight, it’s not absolutely necessary.
But be advised that housing providers are not obligated to honor your request for an emotional support snake without documentation of your ESA letter.
Once you have your ESA letter, keep communications polite
The whole point of getting an ESA letter for your emotional support snake is to use it to get the housing you need that allows you to keep the snake that you need.
But you can sabotage your efforts by being rude about asserting your rights with a landlord.
Even if you have documented your need for an emotional support animal, there are other considerations that go into approving you for a lease.
Courtesy helps your case. Even if a landlord did not reject your application for a lease on the basis of your emotional support animal, they could find other reasons to reject it if you are rude.
If you have presented your ESA letter, and the housing provider doesn’t have other reasons to reject your application, but you aren’t able to rent the property, there are things you can do.
Contact your local tenants’ rights association for further directions.
An ESA doesn’t give you the right to take your snake on a plane, train, bus, or public transportation. You can always ask.
Is getting an emotional support snake really a good idea?
Snakes often make great emotional support animals for people with autistic spectrum disorders or bipolar disorder.
They can be helpful to people with depression. Snakes aren’t for everyone but there are reasons they can make wonderful emotional support animals:
- Snakes are easy to keep. They spend most of their time living quietly in glass enclosures. They don’t eat a lot, and the foods they eat are easy to find in pet supply stores.
- Snakes don’t cause allergies. Someone who couldn’t have an emotional support cat or dog because of allergies usually can have an emotional support snake.
- Snakes aren’t demanding pets. Most (although not all) snakes like being held, once they get to know you. But they don’t demand attention several hours a day or become anxious when you go to work.
Snakes are especially well suited emotional support animals for people who are easily startled.
Someone on the autistic spectrum who would be upset by a dog or cat jumping up to get their attention may react well to the slow, predictable movements of their snake.
And because the weight of the snake is comforting, like a blanket, people with other kinds of psychological issues may use their emotional support snakes to achieve feelings of calm and security.
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