Emotional Support Animal (ESA) – Everything You Need to Know
Is your pet a comfort to your mental or emotional illness? We talk about the process and requirements to get an ESA Letter.
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In Partnership with OnePet
Let us take a moment to celebrate that mental illness is finally starting to shed the weight of stigma and discrimination. After all, mental and emotional disabilities globally impact more than 264 million people of all ages. In America, approximately 20.6 percent of all US adults suffer from a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder, with depression being the leading disability.
No one should have to carry the burden of mental illness alone. Medical intervention, therapeutic support, and a healthy lifestyle and relationships are all parts of managing your mental health. An animal companion can also form a part of your treatment plan. If your pet is an emotional comfort to you, you can seek out an Emotional Support Animal Letter that allows your pet to live and travel with you.
What Is An Emotional Support Animal?
An emotional support animal (ESA) is a pet that can provide emotional support and comfort to a person who struggles with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or any other mental health disability, from mild to severe.
Emotional support animals do not need any training or registration to support a person with a mental or emotional disability. Their role is to provide relief from symptoms of mental illness by offering companionship, devotion, and affection to their owner. Emotional support animals are non-judgmental companions that make life that little bit easier. Research highlights that the human-animal bond lowers blood pressure, increases endorphins, and eases our stress. An emotional support animal is sensitive to our emotions and can show empathy when we need it.
Get An ESA Letter With CertaPet
Certapet is a telehealth company dedicated to connecting people to licensed mental health professionals to get treatment from the comfort of their homes. They offer a safe, affordable, and highly-rated service that specifically focuses on individuals who want legitimate Emotional Support Animal Letters.
Unique features of Certapet include:
- Free 5-minute screening.
- CertaPet services are available for all 50 US States and some Canadian provinces/territories.
- If approved, you will receive an electronic copy of your ESA letter, as well as the option for a physical copy via USPS Priority Mail.
- CertaPet has helped over 65,000 pet owners.
- CertaPet is BBB Accredited.
- Offer 10% discount code
Other ESA Registration Agencies that you can trust:
How To Qualify For An ESA Letter?
To obtain an ESA Letter, you will need to meet with a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) or medical professional who can assess your mental health and verify your need for an ESA.
Any mental disability listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) qualifies for mental health treatment, including an ESA Letter that allows one's pet to reside with them in no-pet housing establishments.
Keep in mind that mental health conditions that qualify for an emotional support animal do not have to be severe. Patients that benefit from an ESA prescription are individuals with mental or emotional disorders or a disability such as:
- General Anxiety Disorder
- Phobias and fears
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
- Panic attacks
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Impulse Control Disorder
- Bipolar Disorder
- Post-partum depression
- Seasonal Affective Disorder
- and more.
How Do I Get An ESA Letter?
You've recognized your need for help, and you realize that an assistance animal might be the companionship and support you need. There are three types of ESA letters; being aware of what these letters do will help you to decide if an ESA evaluation is applicable:
- ESA Letter for Housing
- ESA Letter for Travel
- Combined ESA Letter for Housing and Travel
You can find out if you qualify for an ESA Letter online by visiting Certapet and starting their free, online 5-minute screening process. If you pass that stage, Certapet will direct you to a therapist licensed to practice in your area. The licensed professional will meet with you online and determine if you benefit from the presence of a companion animal. If you qualify, they will then issue you an ESA Letter, depending on your need.
ESAs are not the only solution to your healing. You might need to include other things in your treatment plan, such as speaking to a therapist regularly to discuss coping techniques. An LMHP will help you with a holistic treatment plan that works for your specific need and disability. Alternatively, you can meet with your GP or licensed therapist and ask them about ESA Letters.
Emotional Support Dog Differs From Psychiatric Service Dog
Emotional support dogs and psychiatric service dogs are not the same and have distinct legal differences under federal law and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
You may be familiar with service dogs and other service animals that have a therapeutic benefit to people with disabilities. These dogs are trained to perform tasks to help protect and aid their handler. A person's disability dictates the training and work that their service dog can perform. While some disabilities are visible, mental illnesses are often unnoticed. In this case, a Psychiatric service animal may be of service.
A psychiatric service dog can perform tasks for a person to "enhance the ability to live independently and participate fully in society." They recognize a need and respond to it actively and intentionally.
Assistance from Psychiatric service dogs (PSD) can be physical or require the dog to use their natural senses. Psychiatric service dogs may help in the following situations:
- Selective solitude or reclusiveness – Psychiatric service animals may encourage individuals to leave home and engage with people when they usually hibernate.
- Ease claustrophobia – A Psychiatric service animal may act as a non-protective buffer by standing between its owner and others so that their handler is comfortable.
- Sense panic attacks – A PSD can remove their handler from situations that cause them anxiety and panic. They will recognize the physical stress signs and lead their human to a spacious area.
- Assess any threats – People with PTSD sometimes struggle with hypervigilance. Psychiatric service animals can be trained to perform a room search before entry to put their handler at ease.
- Relief from sensory overload – Handlers can signal to their PSD to remove them from a stressful situation. Psychiatric service animals may do this by tugging on their leg or lead and giving their handler a chance to regain emotional control.
- Therapeutic and tactile distraction – A PSD can perform pressure therapy to help ground their handler when distressed.
- Assistance during dissociative fugue – A PSD can protect individuals with a desire to flee by redirecting their person to a safe location.
- Medical reminders – Psychiatric service animals can remind their handler to take medication.
What Are The Legal Differences Between an ESA and a PSD?
Service dogs are afforded many legal benefits, including Public Access Rights, Travel Privileges according to the Department of Transportation (DOT), Fair Housing, and Educational Facility Access according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These benefits are in large part due to the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA ensures that those with disabilities are not discriminated against, especially when it comes to the need for a service animal.
For emotional support animals, the ADA doesn't apply. This is because an emotional support animal ESA is not recognized by federal law as a service animal. Instead, the main federal law that applies to ESAs and their owners is the Fair Housing Act.
Is An Emotional Support Dog Allowed On Flights?
A legitimate ESA Letter for Travel allows you to confirm with airlines that you have a diagnosed mental disability that is relieved by the presence of your companion animal. However, ESA owners should be aware that the current Air Carrier Access Act issued by the Department of Transportation (DOT) "does not require airlines to recognize emotional support animals as service animals."
A person who is hoping to travel with their ESA should contact their carrier of choice before booking tickets to learn more about the airline’s policies and restrictions for an ESA. Some airlines may view an emotional support animal the same way they would a pet. If this is the case, you may be required to pay a pet fee in order to travel with your ESA. You may also be required to use a specific type of pet carrier.
Things You Need to Know Before Traveling with Your ESA:
- ESAs are expected to behave appropriately and not cause a disruption, or they can be removed. Make sure your dog has been socially trained and responds to your instructions.
- Most airlines will only accept some dogs as ESA. Having a companion dog that isn't too large and can comfortably sit on your lap is also something to consider if you plan on traveling with your animal.
- Some airlines may have restrictions against certain breeds when it comes to dogs. Be sure to check in with your airline ahead of time to know if this applies to your animal.
- The airline may require that your ESA remain in a carrier.
- The DOT requires emotional support animal users to provide an ESA Letter from a licensed mental health professional.
- Airlines are permitted to require 48 hours advance notice of a passenger's wish to travel with an ESA to give airlines time to assess documentation.
- Airlines are not required to recognize emotional support animals as service animals and may treat them as pets.
- These restrictions are per the Department of Transportation's Air Carrier Access Act.
Housing Registration For Your Pet
The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, commonly known as FHA, requires landlords that ordinarily restrict pets to make "reasonable accommodation" for anyone with a legitimate ESA Letter under the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
With an ESA Letter for Housing, ESA Letters protect residents from being discriminated against by landlords with strict rules or pet fees when it comes to animals. This can help students who live in college residences, people living in apartments, or anyone who rents from landlords that enforce a no-pet policy.
Good practice would be to present your ESA Letter to your prospective landlord or current landlord, rather than suddenly bringing your assistance animal onto the property. Be aware that your landlord has the right to refuse your request if your pet is destructive or uncooperative to standard rules, even with your ESA Housing Letter.
Where Can I Get My Emotional Support Dog?
An emotional support animal can be adopted from a local shelter, rescue, trustworthy breeder, or can be a pet a person already owns. An ESA Letter is issued based on your mental state rather than your pet's breed or personality.
A patient with mental health concerns receives the prescription for an ESA Letter, not a specific animal. This means that should you already have a rescue dog or cat at home, as long as your dog or cat lifts your mental state with their companionship and affection, they can be recognized as an emotional support animal.
What Type of Animal is an ESA?
The only prerequisite to your assistance animal’s skills is that they offer the companionship and support you need to live with your mental illness. Emotional support animals can be any species and can come in any shape or size.
However, you may have a hard time when it comes to traveling with exotic pets, as many airlines only permit certain types of animals. Dogs, cats, and rabbits are the most common pets selected as emotional support animals, but ESA letters are sometimes also issued by mental health professionals for other animals.
Considering others and making sure your pet has behavioral training and social skills will aid in the societal acceptance of ESAs. A therapist may recommend a domestic pet such as a dog or cat due to these animals’ suitability for living accommodations and travel.
How Do I Know My ESA Letter Is Legit?
With an abundance of fake ESA letters on the internet, you want to be sure that you apply for a legitimate ESA Letter.
Warning Signs of Fake ESAs Include:
- You're told to register your pet in a national registry/database. Your dog does not need to be registered in any registry or database in order to be recognized as an emotional support animal. All that is required is an ESA letter that states the animal’s need as part of your treatment plan. This letter can only be written by licensed mental health professionals, or by medical professionals such as general practitioners.
- Instant ESA letters without a professional assessment. A consultation with a licensed professional is a non-negotiable to receiving a legitimate ESA Letter. If you do not speak with a licensed therapist at any point in your ESA letter process, it’s likely you’re being issued a fake ESA letter.
- Fake ESA letters are often offered at significantly low prices. Consider what a consultation with an LMHP or GP would normally cost. When it comes to legitimate ESA letters, the fees a person pays cover the cost of this consultation. Companies that try to sell a person nothing but a piece of paper are issuing fake letters.
An ESA Letter Must Include:
- Official information (phone number and address) and license number about the licensed mental health professional who issued you the letter.
- Your name and details (and perhaps the details of your animal too).
- Dates of issuance and expiry (usually one year).
Emotional Support Animal Letters, The Bottom Line
If the thought of receiving an Emotional Support Animal Letter makes you sigh with relief, contact Certapet or your licensed medical professional today. Additionally, educate yourself on the ADA and federal laws to remain aligned with your pet's legal restrictions and benefits.
For decades, animals have been known as man's best friends. Whether you want your companion animal to live with you or be able to accompany you when needed, many ESA owners have found that their emotional support animal can ease the feeling of isolation, fear, or anxiety that sometimes accompanies a mental or emotional disability and help them live a better life.
Frequently Asked Question
1. Are emotional support dogs allowed on flights?
An ESA letter for Travel allows you to confirm with airlines that you have a diagnosed mental disability that is relieved by the presence of your companion animal. However, the current Air Carrier Access Act does not require airlines to recognize emotional support animals as service animals. ESA owners should check an airline’s policies and restrictions before travel to find out about any necessary pet fees or pet carrier restrictions.
2. Can ESA dogs go on public transportation?
Service dogs are afforded Travel Privileges according to the Department of Transportation (DOT), which allows them on public transportation. Service animals are also permitted on board flights without their handlers having to pay a pet fee. Since ESAs are not service animals, however, they may be denied access to public transportation; airlines may recognize them as pets and require certain fees and restrictions.
3. Can an emotional support animal be denied?
Your dog can be denied if you do not have a legitimate letter, your letter has expired, you have an exotic animal, or your ESA is disruptive and threatening to others, including passengers on public transportation. Only licensed mental health professionals and other qualified medical professionals can issue a legitimate ESA letter, and ESA owners must still be aware of federal laws as well as local laws when it comes to service animals and emotional support animals. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and other laws like the Fair Housing Act are great resources to refer to.
4. Do I need to have a severe mental illness to qualify for an ESA?
No, mental health conditions that are eligible for an ESA do not have to be severe. Many individuals who seek emotional support animals live with mild anxiety or depression. A mental health professional can assess you and see if you qualify for an emotional support animal ESA. If you do qualify, you will be able to move forward with receiving an ESA Letter for your assistance animal.