Have you been wondering how to get an emotional support animal? The process may seem confusing or difficult at first. You may have heard there’s a lot of scammers online wanting to trick you into buying a fake ESA (Emotional Support Animal) letter. That’s why we’ve made a list of everything you need to know in order to become an informed ESA owner and register your companion animal.
What is an emotional support animal?
An emotional support animal (commonly called an ESA for short) is an animal companion that helps a person with a disability. Typically, they provide mental health benefits to a disabled person they are helping by being a companion and giving emotional support. ESAs might help with anxiety, loneliness, or self esteem, as well as many other health or mental needs.
Any kind of domesticated animal can be an ESA, so long as you can explain what kind of emotional support your companion provides. If your cat, dog, rabbit, bird, rat, snake, or other domesticated pet helps your mental health, they can be registered as an emotional support animal. Your animal companion’s age and breed does not matter. The best ESA to get is one that makes you feel best and helps you most with your struggles.
You can have as many ESAs as a licensed mental health professional will write you letters for. Keep in mind that if you are renting, you must reasonably have enough space for your emotional support animals.
You must be legally prescribed an ESA by a licensed mental health professional in order to officially call your companion an emotional support animal. To learn more about this process, please click here to go to the section of this article titled “How do I sign my up pet up to be an emotional support animal?”
What is the difference between an emotional support animal and a service dog?
ESAs can be any kind of prescribed animal companion that provides support and friendship to someone with a disability. They do not have to undergo any kind of training or certification. Emotional support animals only need a licensed mental health professional to prescribe them as a care treatment method.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the ADA) 2010 regulations define a service animal as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties.”
So, in short: service animals are dogs that assist people with various types of difficulties. They do this by performing specific tasks that they have been trained for. If you think a service dog would better suit your needs than an emotional support animal, you can read this article about how to get a service dog.
Does your ESA helping you with an event such as an anxiety attack qualify your companion as a service animal? As long as your ESA is a dog, the ADA says it depends. If your dog is merely reacting to the attack and coming to comfort you, this does not qualify your ESA to be a service animal. If your dog has been trained to sense the attack and take action to avoid it or lessen its impact, then your companion qualifies as a psychiatric service animal.
Can my emotional support animal come with me to public spaces?
An emotional support animal does not have the legal right to go anywhere its owner wants outside the home.
This right is reserved only for service animals, who can go into any space the general public can be. This includes restaurants, stores, hospitals, and movie theaters.
Airlines are not required to allow ESAs on board. However, if you have an ESA letter, kindly and calmly explain the situation, and have a well-behaved companion, they may make an exception.
Can my landlord charge me to have my emotional support animal in my home?
No, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) says that assistance animals, such as your ESA, may not be considered or called pets. Your landlord may not charge you pet fees or restrict your ESA from being in your home. Breed and weight restrictions do not apply to emotional support animals.
The FHA also says that your landlord must make reasonable accommodations, which means they must be willing to change rules (within reason) in order to treat a disabled person fairly.
Your landlord is legally allowed to ask to see your official ESA letter to verify your companion’s status. Most ESAs should be allowed, but a companion like a horse may not fall under reasonable accommodations if you are living in an apartment. If your landlord asks if your ESA is trained, you may tell them that they are as trained as the typical pet, since ESAs do not require special certifications or training.
Your landlord is also allowed to charge you a standard security deposit and use it to pay for damages your companion may cause. They cannot charge you more on your deposit because of your disability or ESA. Your ESA will likely be required to be up to date on vaccinations.
Landlords may legally ask for proof of need of the animal, but they may not ask about what your disability is.
Below are circumstances in which landlords could potentially legally deny an ESA:
- Lack of reasonable housing or space for the animal
- Your ESA is trespassing on the rights of others
- The provided ESA letter has expired or is not legitimate
- When overall requests are unreasonable
If your landlord has illegally denied your ESA, you can read this article about housing discrimination to find out your next steps. The article will also cover any legalized exemptions from the FHA for housing.
How do I sign my pet up to be an emotional support animal?
You must have a mental health diagnosis and seek an ESA prescription letter from a licensed mental health professional in order to have your companion officially be considered an emotional support animal. To get this letter, the professional (such as a psychologist, therapist, or psychiatrist) will assess your needs and how your companion helps you. You can get this letter by meeting a professional in person or online. You usually will have to renew your ESA letter every year.
If you meet with a professional in person, it helps if you have an established relationship beforehand. Most professionals want to ensure there is a genuine medical necessity and benefit for an ESA. Discussing getting an ESA with a mental healthcare provider you have been seeing for a while can help them best understand you and your needs.
Be prepared to discuss your mental health diagnosis, your struggles, and the specifics of how your animal companion is able to help you with the professional. It may take several visits to determine your needs and get your letter. Having an emotional support animal should be considered an addition to your therapy and other mental health care.
Getting an ESA letter from an in person professional can be free or around 70 dollars. The cost will depend on your professional, so be sure to ask them.
It is generally considered to be much safer to get an ESA letter in person due to the amount of scammers online. If you still prefer to get your ESA letter online, please be wary of who you share your personal and financial information with.
Most online ESA letter services still require that you meet online or over the phone several times with a licensed professional. Do not trust one-and-done types of interviews or services.
Make sure that the payment page has a padlock at the top of your screen, says the word “secure” when you click on the padlock, and has https at the very beginning of the URL. If in doubt, ask for help. Otherwise, hackers could steal your information.
A legitimate ESA letter should be written by a licensed mental health professional in your state. It should be written on their official letterhead and contain the following details:
- Professional’s name, signature, license numbers, state of issuance for their license, date of issuance for their license
- Your name and animal companion’s details
- Issuance and expiry date of letter
- Contact information for the professional
Who can issue your ESA letter and what it should contain will vary by state as well, so be sure to verify with your professional that the letter is meeting all standards of the law.
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