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Emotional Support Animals and Service Dogs Should Be Covered By Insurance

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Last month, I finally moved out on my own after five years of living with my parents due to my mental health. As part of my safety plan due to my intense daily suicidal thoughts, my treatment team and I decided I would benefit from an emotional support animal. Two days after I was out on my own, I adopted my cat, Achilles.

Even in our short time together, Achilles has stopped me from engaging in behaviors I could use to seriously injure or even kill myself. He is just as important, if not more, to me as any other one of my psychiatric medications. As an emotional support animal, I am required to have a doctor’s prescription for Achilles that allows him to live with me without a pet fee in my apartment. This provision is considered law as part of the Fair Housing Act.

Emotional support animals and service animals allow their humans to live full, independent lives that they might otherwise not have access to. Achilles isn’t my pet. He is my lifeline, my flotation device on the days I’m struggling to stay above water and keep sight of my future. He is more than just a house companion.

Achilles forces me up in the morning and into a routine of basic care. He keeps me grounded when I am struggling with intense emotions by laying on me, purring, licking me, and meowing to get my attention. Achilles’ life and wellbeing require me to be alive and functioning on at least a basic level. I cannot kill myself without hurting him and his wellbeing, and that thought keeps me clinging to life on my worst days.

Many people with disabilities receiving government assistance, including myself, are in precarious financial situations. We are limited in the amount of income we are allowed and how much we are allowed to save just to keep the healthcare and other benefits we need to survive. Many of us live in poverty, paycheck to paycheck.

Often, people with disabilities receive multiple types of support through the government such as SSI, utility assistance, and food stamps. Even with these supports, after paying rent and other basic daily expenses, often too little is left to spend on the health and wellbeing of the animals we rely on for survival.

With that said, considering emotional support animals and service animals require a physician’s prescription, I believe the basic care these animals require – food, litter, vet appointments, vaccinations — should be covered as medical expenses just as any other medical procedure, therapy, or medication.

I propose that emotional support animals and service animals be considered medical necessities and the expenses that occur to take care of these lifelines be covered by a stipend from insurance companies.

When I took Achilles to the vet last week, I was told I should feed my cat wet food twice a day for optimal health and decreased risk of health problems in the future. With my financial situation, I am unable to feed my cat wet food twice a day. I am trying to compromise with wet food once a day supplemented by dry food, but even that is difficult. Food pantries don’t always have cat food available for those in need.

While some may say something along the lines of “well if you can’t afford an animal, don’t have one,” I must remind them that my cat, Achilles is keeping me alive. He isn’t an oral medication or injection I take every day that may be covered by insurance such as Medicaid, but he is just as important to my wellbeing as insulin is to a diabetic.

Emotional support animals and service animals are lifelines to our health and wellbeing. Socioeconomic status should not be a deciding factor on whether or not we have access to the animals we need to live a life worth living.

Originally published: January 24, 2022
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