Emotional Support Animals

Finding a place to live when you have a pet can be quite a challenge! Having a letter that confirms your pet is an emotional support animal would make such a difference, wouldn’t it? And it makes so much sense, after all… when your heart fills with something warm and tender, and it’s almost like darkness or anxiety take a step back. This feeling is very real. The impact these critters have on our lives is real.

Yet translating this impact into reliable research outcomes has been difficult. How do we decide that this pet is an emotional support animal and this other pet is just a pet?

Service dogs (who are protected under human rights and disability-related legislation) have to go through specific training and pass tests. So it is more about how they perform tasks, than about the emotional relationship that develops between a service dog and their person. We just do not yet have ways to reliably categorize this relationship. And therefore, it brings us back to the lack of established certifications.

Presently, no coherent set of criteria or process for this decision exists in Alberta. And validity of certification processes in the USA has been controversial, although this Psychology Today article provides a useful way of thinking through this conundrum.

Can I write you a letter? Yes, I can. Will it make a difference to your landlord? Likely – and sadly! – not one bit, because no laws cover emotional support animals here. Yet. Some organizations are developing voluntary standards but voluntary is kind of the key word here. Eventually, these standards will develop and hopefully make things easier for all involved. Although that’s… a cold comfort right now.

Politically, I came across this petition. I am not sure how effective it could be because this petition goes to the Psychologists Association of Alberta and to Service Alberta, instead of the Parliament. Yet this is a matter that requires a change in legislation. Recognition by mental health professional associations could be an important step towards such change, but it is not enough on its own. Similarly with Service Alberta, which only implements existing laws. So the number of signatures on this particular petition could show how many people care about the issue, but ultimately, we should be talking to MPs to make a difference.

In the meantime, searching for a new home with a pet can be hard and nerve-wracking. You can learn a lot more about your rights, obligations, and available options (in Alberta) here. Pet-friendly rentals and reasonable landlords do exist, so I truly hope you are able to find one!

Sources, as well as links to more information

From FAQ for AB landlords and tenants regarding emotional support animals:

Emotional support animals are not classified as service dogs in Alberta:

Tips on renting with a pet in Alberta:

Navigating letter requests for support animals in the USA:

Free and accessible overview of research into animal assisted therapy:

Overview of Canadian laws on service animals (all provinces but only dogs, so far):

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