I’m literally writing this after picking up my emotional support cat, Ollie, from his lavender infused aromatherapy bath in midtown. Running backwards and forwards between the pet shop, groomers, and campus has been much more exhausting than I previously thought.
A lot of people (and when I say a lot I mean A LOT) constantly come into my room and ask to spend time with the cat. The visit is followed up with “I’m really interested in getting an ESA – what’s the procedure?”
Here is a handy crib sheet on everything I’ve learnt, and everything I wish I knew earlier, from having my Scottish Fold Ollie.
(First and foremost, check out this website for the basics e.g. What is an ESA? What laws are they covered under?) https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Reference/AnimalWelfare/Pages/Service-Emotional-Support-Therapy-Animals.aspx
- It is literally like having a child. Having an ESA is far from looking after the family pet. You are literally on your own as the college expects you to take full responsibility for it. This means planning insurance, booking vaccinations, deworming, grooming, vet visits, shopping, ordering passports and flights back to London, exercise and walks etc every single month. My iCal is dominated by this kitten.
- There is a big price tag attached. In addition to the startup cost of purchasing the ESA and all its necessary furniture, there’s a chunky running cost that comes with your furbaby. I spend about a fair sum on Ollie on average – I completely understand that I spoil him excessively and for other students, the spending will vary. Nonetheless, ESAs are by no means cheap. They will not be subsidised by anyone, and having one requires strict budgeting.
- Here’s an idea of some of the costs: registering your ESA: $200-300; microchipping: $40; grooming: $50; vaccinations: $100-200; food and toy upkeep: $50; insurance per month: $60 and so on.
- Getting an ESA involves a lengthy process with ODS. After initially emailing ODS, one is subjected to multiple meetings, filling out forms, psychiatric evaluations, involvement with res-life, your roommate’s permission (if you have one), outside information and telephone calls with therapists and doctors, and more… It takes months.
- A note on ODS. As you can see, there are fairly few ESAs on campus (there are two including me in the Barnard quad right now), because ODS maintains the right to deny students an animals, even if they have all the correct documentation. It is not them disregarding your mental health, but instead deciding an ESA may not be the best fit with you. For example, part of the reason I was granted an ESA was that my competitive horse-riding doubled up as both sports AND therapy. I had spent multiple years looking after my horse, and animals had been proven to be important to my process.
- You cannot leave your ESA alone/under the protection of someone else – not even for ONE night. Mmhmm. That means you cannot crash with your significant other because your rooms are far away or stay out until 6 am partying. Your pet is not allowed to stay with anyone other than you overnight. When you leave campus for even a weekend, your pet MUST come with you.
- Your ESA is only allowed in your room and outdoors. It is not allowed in public areas such as the common rooms or kitchens. It definitely can’t go into classes (although I have smuggled Ollie in once or twice…).
This is just a fragment of what it’s like to have an ESA. It doesn’t include the 4 am wake-up yowls in your face when they want attention, or the messes they make when they’re still learning their way around the litter tray. I have grit in my bed and shoes, cat treats all over the bottom of my bag, and Ollie likes to put my beauty blender in his wet chicken food on the daily.
This being said, he has quickly become my everything. I have been so much happier here since I bought this kitten, and he brightens up the lives of everyone around him. At this point in time, he has literally fallen asleep holding my foot as I type. Needless to say, I am in love with that noisy bundle of fluff.
So! Here’s a quick summary:
DO NOT APPLY FOR AN ESA IF:
- You have no prior animal experience/have been around animals for less than approximately 3-4 years;
- You do not spend a good amount of time in your room;
- You spend several nights away from campus or are travelling frequently;
- You are not prepared for having a pet for a decade after buying it;
- You have not discussed it as part of your treatment plan with your therapist, psychiatrist, and parents;
- Your roommate is not down with it;
- You do not have much disposable income;
- You’re not ready to clean up faeces or vomit on a weekly basis.
If you have any more emails about this, or simply want to meet and play with Ollie, shoot me an email.
Photo by Liv