Getting an Emotional Support Animal in Virginia

By: Kathryn Anderson Updated: September 16, 2021

In order to get an emotional support animal in Virginia, you’ll be required to consult a licensed mental health professional. However, this is not something that you can simply ask for and receive. There is a lot that goes into having an ESA and a lot that goes into even getting an ESA.

In this article, we’ll cover all you need to know about getting an emotional support animal in Virginia.

Emotional Support Animal in Virginia: Specific Protection

Getting an emotional support animal in Virginia may be a necessity for many people who suffer from some sort of mental illness. For example, many people require an ESA when they are traveling due to the anxiety.

Others require an ESA just for comfort to deal with day to day stress of life. However, for those who interested in owning an ESA, they need to understand that the laws differ from location to location on what constitutes an ESA and how to obtain the right to have one of these support animals.

In the state of Virginia, emotional support animal will be protected under two major laws. That is the Air Carrier Access Act and the Fair Housing Act.

Definition of Assistance Animal

Generally, assistance animals are classed as either ESA or service animals. A service animal is one that offers special kind of assistance to humans. Service animals, such as a service dog will have undergone a lot of training in order to perform tasks for their handlers.

ESA dog in Virginia playing with owner biting her nose

An emotional support animal that provides therapeutic benefits such as comfort. The main difference between ESAs and service animals is that an emotional support animal in Virginia can be any type of animals like pigs, dogs, cats, and even miniature horses.

But it’s wise to know that most own either a dog or cat.

How to Get an Emotional Support Animal in Virginia: Certapet’s Simple 5 Min Process

When you are looking at getting an emotional support animal in Virginia, you have to have the letter from a medical health professional that declares why you need one. You also need the verification of the issue you suffer from and the prescription for the ESA. From there, you can simply find an animal that is going to fit your needs.

For those who are interested in an ESA, you can take the Certapet’s pre-screening process that is only 5 minutes long. And it will tell you whether an ESA may be something for you to consider or not.

Travel Laws (Air Carrier Access Act)

For those who are looking at getting an emotional support animal in Virginia and want to travel as well as want to have their ESA travel with them, it may not be as simple as you think. But with the Air Carrier Access Act there is a way!

First, check with the individual airline to see if ESA’s are allowed on the plane. If they are, then you have to make sure that you are getting the other documentation that is required.

This documentation includes a letter from your mental health professional that is going to provide information that states you are under this physician’s care, the condition that you may be afflicted with that requires the ESA, and the prescription for the emotional support animal that supports your mental health (for those with post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD or for a disabled person).

In addition, you do need to give at least 48 hours’ notice to the air carrier that you may be traveling with. The airline may also have their own form that you need to fill out to fly with an ESA, this is something that you will have to check on. Sometimes they treat the paperwork on a case-by-case basis.

Employment Laws

Individuals with disabilities cannot be discriminated against because you own an ESA or a guide dog, and the employer cannot fire you or refuse to give you the job based on having an ESA.

However, the law does not require that your employer allow you to bring the ESA or guide dog with you to work. You can ask your employer and maybe even explain the reasoning behind the ESA, and he or she may agree if you have the documentation from your mental health professional (like for individuals with disabilities).

Housing Laws (Fair Housing Act)

For those who are looking at getting an ESA in Virginia, and are renting a home, the good news is that the landlord cannot kick you out for having an ESA, they should offer reasonable accommodations under federal law.

The Fair Housing Act states that the landlord must allow a person to live with their ESA (or psychiatric service dog)  without any additional pet fees. This is a law that is federal, so you should be safe no matter where you move or perform tasks within the state or out of state.

ESA Campus Housing

Campus housing is a bit different than renting a house. However, when it comes to an ESA or emotional support dog, the Fair Housing Act is still the dictating policy. A campus cannot state that you are kicked out of school for having an ESA or emotional support dog on campus.

Female student touching ESA dog on campus in Virginia while studying

However, they may wish for you to make other arrangements in your housing rather than living with numerous people. You cannot be discriminated against because of your disability, especially if you have the proper documentation that proves this animal is therapeutic to you.

This is something that will require putting in a special request to the housing department and possibly talking with the Dean of Admissions.

Exception to Rules

While an ESA is almost always allowed in public places that other trained service animals are allowed, there are times in which you can be told to leave or to not come in with the animal. For example, if you to be mistreating the animal, businesses can state that you have to leave. If your animal is a threat to others around you, then you can be denied into public places.

If your animal were to cause any damage in a place, then you are going to be held responsible for this. For example, while your landlord cannot prohibit you from having this, the damage that the animal causes can be charged to you upon moving out of the home.

Punishment for misrepresenting an assistance animal

Misrepresenting an assistance dog or animal is becoming more common. That is why many people are hesitant to admit that they even have an ESA.

However, when misrepresentation does happen, the person who does this could see a hefty fine, up to $10,000 in some cases. It is unlawful to claim that an animal is an ESA without the property documentation. It is also unlawful to claim that you need an ESA when you really don’t.

Facts You Need to Know Before Receiving Your ESA

Here are a few facts to know before getting an ESA:

  1. The emotional support animal letter you receive from your mental health professional applies to you, stating that you need an ESA. It does not apply to the animal.
  2. If you find that someone says you have to get an ESA certification, this is a scam. There is no such thing.
  3. Remember, an ESA is only allowed in those areas that are pet-friendly.
  4. An ESA can be any pet. There is nothing that states this has to be a dog or a cat. It can be anything that helps the person with the mental issues.

Where to Find a Suitable ESA!

As stated before, an ESA can be any animal like service dogs. Thus, finding an ESA just requires a trip to your local pet store or the humane society in your area. The key is to find the animal that you are going to bond best with, as you want something that truly understands you and you love.

Where to Take Your Emotional Support Animals

There are several places in Virginia that you can take your ESA. Here are a few of the dog parks, hotels, and restaurants that may be of interest in Virginia:

ESA dog biting a frisbee playing at dog park in Virginia

Dog Parks and Dog Runs

  • Shirlington Dog Park
  • Vienna Dog Park
  • Memorial Day Weekend at Williamsburg KOA Campground Event
  • First Landing State Park Beach

Dog-friendly restaurants and bars

  • Sheraton Virginia Beach Oceanfront Hotel
  • Abbey Road Pub and Restaurant
  • Rhodeside Grill

Resorts, fitness, and spas

  • Fur Frenzy Pet Spa in Virginia Beach


If you’re looking to take your pet out for a weekend of fun, check out these events:

  • Yappy Hour
  • Dog Day at the Winery in Haymarket

And many more, these are just a few ideas of what you can do in Virginia with your ESA.

ESAs in Virginia: How to Get Connected with an LMHP in Your State Today!

The first step in getting your emotional support animal in Virginia is to get connected with an LMHP aka licensed medical health professional. You may find that using the telehealth therapy service offered by CertaPet can put you in direct contact with someone who can help.

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