An emotional support animal (ESA) provides therapeutic benefits to its owner via companionship, affection, and giving the owner purpose by being something to care for.
These companion animals help people deal with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and other emotional disabilities or psychological conditions.
Dogs and cats are a popular choice for ESAs, but ESAs have the potential to be any domesticated animal able to be safely taken to public places.
Fortunately, this includes reptiles such as Leopard Geckos!
Leopard Geckos are relatively easy to care for as a beginner animal for reptile enthusiasts and make great emotional support animals because they are easy to manage and hardy. Leopard Geckos are likable and friendly, mainly because of their apparently smiling faces and enormous eyes.
Leopard Geckos interact with their owners and are vocal when hungry, excited, or wanting attention.
They are easier to care for than many pets, take up less space, and are great for adults and kids.
Keep reading to learn more about how Leopard Geckos make terrific emotional support animals with proper documentation!
What Does It Take to Be an Emotional Support Animal?
ESAs are also known as assistance animals, comfort animals, and therapy animals.
Under the law, an ESA must be prescribed by a medical professional or mental health professional for an individual with a disabling mental illness or emotional disorder.
The animal’s presence must be needed for the patient’s mental health, such as by alleviating anxiety or giving them a purpose in life by caring for the animal.
An ESA is not a service animal and does not have the same legal protections.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service animals as “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.”
ESAs ARE protected by the Fair Housing Act (FHA).
Under the FHA, a patient and their support animal may live in a single-family living unit (house, apartment, condominium) even if there are existing policies against pets’ presence in housing.
A landlord may not discriminate against a tenant who uses an animal for assistance.
This protection does require your doctor or mental health professional to write a letter vouching for your need for an ESA.
However, you do not have to disclose details about your specific disability in the letter, just the need.
Due to abuse of the system and some notable problems aboard aircraft, ESAs are no longer protected under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) as of December 2020.
How Do I Register My Gecko as an Emotional Support Animal?
Unfortunately, there is no official registration database for ESAs.
You need official documentation in the form of an official letter from your licensed physician or mental health provider, on their letterhead with their signature, the date, and license number.
The letter must clearly explain why you need an ESA.
Online services offer ESA letters after a mental health evaluation by a staff member, but they cost money.
A popular organization is Emotional Support Animal Registration of America, which will help you register your animal companion as an ESA.
ESA certificates do not mean their owners may bring their pets to stores, hotels, trains, restaurants, taxis, buses, or parks.
You may purchase an optional vest for your animal to show they are an ESA, but since public places are not required by law to accept the presence of pets, it is more for your benefit than anything else.
What Is the Difference Between an ESA and a Service Animal?
A service animal has been individually trained to perform a job for the owner, such as alerting when their owner’s blood sugar is low or turning on the lights for someone worried about entering a dark room.
An ESA provides therapeutic support, such as comfort or cuddles for an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability.
An ESA is not the same as a psychiatric service dog, which requires extensive training to mitigate the effects of disabilities related to mental illness.
Talk to your qualified physician or mental health service provider for more information about your situation and what would be best for you.
Why Is a Leopard Gecko a Perfect Choice for an ESA?
Leopard Geckos are relatively docile animals and make good starter pets for new reptile owners.
They form bonds with their owners with gentle and frequent handling.
Leopard Geckos are quiet and non-threatening and are comforting for people afraid of large, noisy animals.
They require little space at 8-10″ inches, just their enclosure and whatever space their owner provides enrichment in.
Leopard Geckos live for about 15-20 years if well-cared-for, providing an emotional continuity a shorter-lived pet won’t.
How Do I Care for My Leopard Gecko?
Leopard Geckos require the standard reptile setup:
- A 15-20-gallon tank, minimally
- UVB light source
- A heat source such as a ceramic heat bulb or heating pad for belly heat
- Daytime basking spot of 88° degrees Fahrenheit (31° C) with a thermal gradient down to about 75° degrees Fahrenheit (24° C)
- At night, the temperature can drop to a range of 70 to 75° degrees Fahrenheit (24° C)
- Tasty food such as crickets, waxworms, and the occasional mealworm
- Always clean water in a shallow bowl, which it may soak in
- Hiding places for safety, security, and comfort
Handle your gecko regularly to get them used to you and form a bond.
They do not particularly like being held, so it will not come naturally to them.
Slowly introduce yourself to your gecko and build trust by giving them food.
The gecko will want to explore its living space and you.
Provide entertainment, such as obstacle courses, to keep your gecko active.
This is done inside their enclosure by adding tunnels or rearranging things, or outside their enclosure by using objects for them to climb over.
Leopard geckos need a humid environment.
Keep your gecko’s enclosure clean and sanitary, spot cleaning once a week and deep cleaning monthly.
Wash your hands thoroughly after handling your gecko to reduce the risk of salmonella.