Emotional Support Animal Guide: 2019 Update
Can you guess how many individuals in the U.S. have an emotional and/or mental condition?
1 in 4.
That’s roughly 81.5 million people who suffer anything from depression to anxiety to PTSD.
Getting the care and treatment to be mentally healthy isn’t always simple, fast, or appropriate for your situation.
But sometimes the easiest and best solution is sitting right in your lap.
Emotional support animals have improved and changed the lives of so many, and for those truly in need, having one of your own is only a letter away.
An emotional support animal is a dog, or cat, or other pet that helps alleviate symptoms of an emotional or mental disability through companionship and affection.
Also called assistance animals, ESAs aid your day-to-day life with structure and care.
Appropriate Emotional Support Animals
There is no set rule of what animals can or cannot be considered ESAs; however, many airlines, landlords, and, most importantly, licensed mental health professionals will not allow or write an emotional support animal letter for a pet who does not provide you with the proper care you need for an mental/emotional condition.
The animal must be beneficial for your health and not put you or anyone else in harm's way.
Overall, most dogs and cats are recognized as appropriate emotional support animals with the exception of a few outside breeds.
Be aware though, there are airlines that have banned specific dog/cat breeds for the safety of other passengers and flight attendants as well as for the breed itself. For example, brachycephalic breeds (short skull/snub-nosed dogs and cats) are not allow to fly due to the fact that their nasal passages are packed; and therefore, have serious respiratory problems more so than other breeds.
Also if specific breeds have show signs of aggression on past flights to either the crew, passengers, or even you, airlines can and do ban these dogs from boarding as emotional support or service animals.
Make sure to always check with your airline before you fly.
But before you go to book your flight or move into a new apartment with your animal, there is one main document you need: an ESA letter signed by an LMHP.
How to Get an Emotional Support Animal Letter
The process to obtain an ESA letter is simple.
Behind every letter is a Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP), such as a Psychiatrist, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, or Psychologist evaluating, working with, and testifying to their patient’s need of an emotional support animal.
Conditions which could qualify for an emotional support animal include but are not limited to:
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- panic disorder/panic attacks
- mood disorders
- personality disorders
- seasonal affective disorder
- social anxiety disorder
An ESA dog letter or Emotional Support Animal prescription will typically include the name of the patient plus details about the animal (name of the animal, breed type, etc).
An ESA Letter from CertaPet provides:
- Recognition that you are a patient on a case-by-case basis under a licensed mental health professional’s care for mental or emotional disabilities.
- Verification that you are significantly limited by an individual disability, such as depression or a similar condition, affecting your mental well-being.
- Prescription for an emotional support dog (also known as a companion dog), or other support animal, as a necessary reinforcement for your mental health within 48 business hour
Once you receive the letter, you are free to use it whenever you travel or live with your animal.
To better clarify, watch the process and see just how CertaPet helps you get the treatment you need. The right way.
Unsure Where to Start? Take the First Step Today
Free and fast, take a 5 minute pre-screening to determine your potential eligibility for an ESA dog, ESA cat, or other animal.
Completely confidential, our brief questionnaire only takes a few minutes to finish. From there, you’ll be one step closer to getting your own furry support system.
Find out if you qualify:
How Emotional Support Animals Have Changed Lives
Individuals are speaking up and speaking out about the true power of emotional support animals.
As most can attest, pets are an intrical part of most lives. So there should be no doubt that these animals can help people with an unbalanced mental state overcome struggles in their day-to-day living.
Every year, every week, and everyday, CertaPet helps these people get connected with LMHPs and get the treatment they need to better their emotional/mental health.
Learn about real ESA owners and how their lives have furever changed by having an emotional support animal at their side.
To those struggling with anxiety:
“I got my dog as a Valentine's Day gift from my abusive ex. When she was a puppy, I protected her from him, and she would lick away my tears when I cried. When I finally left him, I left with nothing: no clothes, no home, and more importantly no her. He refused to let me have her and the cops, despite text messages of him threatening her safety, wouldn't let me take her. I fell apart. During that time I suffered from depression, PTSD and anxiety. I was scared of my own shadow. Months went by and finally after a long battle, I got her back! She put me back together piece by piece. My ESA is special because she literally saved me.”
- Kailee Biesenbach
To those with post traumatic stress disorder PTSD:
“I love my cat -"Hope". She was named before I got her and she is my Hope! The previous owner said "She may not come to you at first”. She had been trained by her previous owners needs and she had only been with her. I went into the room when I first met her. She came right up to me purring like crazy. It was love at first sight! She is the best PSTD animal ever!!! She calms me right down every time I get near her. She even knows when I need her and she will come to me when I am upset or facing a panic attack. It is an amazing connection!! We clicked right away. It almost feels like she is human and yes she is my best friend. God always knows what we need!! Thank You for letting me share!”
- Tracy Huntington
To those fighting depression:
“After high school, I felt like there was nothing left for me. I felt I was living everyday - day by day. I also moved to a new city so had no friends or family to go too. I felt so lost and depressed. Then I got my ESA dog Chip, and my whole life flipped. I had a reason to be happy, a reason to enjoy life and go out again! Certapet helped make this all happen and thank you guys so much for that!!”
- Lyssa Helton
What NOT to Do When Getting an ESA
More and more people today abuse the use of emotional support animals. This can be anyone including:
- Individuals who bring their exotic pets to the airport requesting emotional support animal accommodation
- Websites and services claiming they offer emotional support animal certification or registration
- Those who bend the truth in order to fly or live with their pet for free
If you think your emotional and/or mental disability qualify for an emotional support animal letter, then there are 4 important items to make sure to NOT do in the process of becoming an ESA owner.
1 - Don't lie to your therapist
Though this rule goes without saying, please understand emotional support animals are not ordinary pets and trying to get one without a specific disability only hurts real ESA owners in the long run.
2 - Don’t Fall for Scams
One major reason individuals do not take the need for an emotional support animal serious is due to the fact there are sites and services out there that claim they certify/register the pet. You end up paying for non-legitimate documents that do not hold up in any court of law, nevertheless airports or accommodations.
A major repercussion of falling for ESA scams is not just denied access when traveling or living with your assistance animal.
The punishment for misrepresentation of an emotional support animal or any assistance animal for that matter (service dog/animal) could be:
- A Fine Up To $ 1,000
- Jail Time
- Hours of Community Service
- Revoke of your right to own an assistance animal
3 - Don’t go to websites offering instant approval
When a site offers an instant approval upon submitting a questionnaire or application, there is a good chance the service is a scam.
In order to properly become an ESA owner, you first need to fill out assessment, which will be reviewed by an LMHP. They will determine if you could benefit from an emotional support animal.
4 - Don’t receive assistance from a provider who does not offer any follow-on service or care
Getting an emotional support animal is not a one time occurance. You will need a provider who offers follow on care service after you receive your letter.
For example, many airlines require additional documentation and forms alongside the ESA letter. With follow on service, you will receive the assistance you might need to travel or live with your ESA.
CertaPet helps patients receive both follow-on service (additional forms after your letter) and follow on care through our platform in order for you to not only become an ESA owner but overall, to track your emotional/mental wellbeing.
Emotional Support Animal
Emotional support animal registration or emotional support animal certification is not real.
You do not need to register your ESA in any database to be a legal emotional support animal owner.
Emotional Support Dog/Service Dog Registration: How to Know If it is a Scam
All assistance animal registration and certification should be avoided at all cost. No matter if it is called “national service dog registry”, “emotional support dog certification”, or any of the like, stay clear.
To fight these scams, learn the 5 main elements to lookout for in an assistance animal service.
Frequently Asked Questions about Emotional Support Animals
What is an Emotional Support Animal 'Certification'? Do I need to get my ESA 'certified'?
No, you do not need to get your Emotional Support Animal certified. Frankly, it’s not possible.
Like the misconception of registering your ESA into some database online, Emotional Support Animal certification is just a piece of paper with no real use.
To be a real Emotional Support Animal owner, you must have an ESA letter awarded by a therapist after you have taken an assessment of your qualification to own one.
Many sites, as well as people, claim they sell official Emotional Support Dog certification or offer legitimate Emotional Support Animal registration, but remember all you need is an ESA letter from a LMHP.
Are Emotional Support Animal Registration Sites Legitimate?
We’re often asked if ESA registration sites are real.
The answer is NO.
If you see a site claiming to be a “national service animal registry,” “emotional support dog registration,” “official service dog registry,” "US emotional support dog registry," or a “US service dog registry” they’re handing out false information and only wanting you to pay for a “fake” document.
Do emotional support animals require training?
Unlike service animals, HUD does not require any special training for ESAs. However, we strongly encourage you make sure your pet understands basic commands, behaves well in public setting and is trained for travelling if you chose take it on a flight.
Does my dog need an emotional support animal vest to travel or live with me?
There is no law stating your ESA must wear a vest. Many ESA owners chose to still go with a vest to make their ESA easily identifiable.
Is the ESA letter all I need to become an emotional support animal owner?
What happens when the airlines staff or landlord ask to see my proof that I’m an ESA owner? Are they just asking for my ESA letter?
Yes! Just that!
The 2 Main Emotional Support Animal Laws
There are two main federal laws applicable to ESAs and their owners, these include the Air Carrier Access Act and the Fair Housing Act.
It is important that anyone considering obtaining an ESA letter be aware of the laws that apply to owners and what they should expect from Emotional Support Animal Letter provider under the law.
Flying Laws 101: The Air Carrier Access Act
The Air Carrier Access Act was passed in 1990 and works alongside Department of Transportation rules prohibiting discrimination of disabled individuals traveling by air.
According to the Air Carrier Act provisions, airlines are not allowed to refuse transportation, limit, or require advanced notice before offering service to individuals who are disabled, which covers the need to accommodate ESA owners who have verified identification.
The ACAA grants ESA and Service animal owners the right to bring aboard their assistance animal free of charge. But before you fly with your ESA, make sure to have:
- Your Emotional Support Animal Letter
- Any additional forms required by the specific airline
- Delta, United, and more are now requiring more than just the letter to board with your ESA free of charge. These forms may include:
- Veterinary Health Form (ensuring your emotional support animal or dog has been vaccinated and is registered - must be signed by a Vet)
- Copy of the Animal’s Current Shot Record
- Signed Testament to the Animal’s Behavior
- Delta, United, and more are now requiring more than just the letter to board with your ESA free of charge. These forms may include:
Check out CertaPet’s Airlines Pet and ESA Policies pages for more information on specific airlines rules
Housing Laws 101: The Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) allows disabled individuals with reasonable accommodations in which are necessary for the person to maintain residency.
The Fair Housing Act defines a person with a disability to include:
- individuals with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities
- individuals who are regarded as having such an impairment
- individuals with a record of such an impairment.”
Resource: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
HUD defines “reasonable accommodation” and obligates all housing providers covered under the FHA to allow ‘assistance animals’, including ‘Emotional Support Animals’, as a reasonable accommodation.
With a legal emotional support animal, you are able to live together with no added fees and within “no pets allowed” accommodations.
Emotional Support Animal vs. Service Animal vs. Therapy Animal
ESAs, service animals, and therapy animals all provided different aid to specific disabilities or situations. Learn the key difference between the three!
First, the term “assistance animal” only cover two types:
- Emotional Support Animals
- Service Animals
While therapy animals do give comfort and care, they do not have individual owners but rather are used in retirement homes, nursing schools, hospices, disaster areas, and more. Because of this, they are not eligible to receive the reasonable accommodations commonly extended to service dog or emotional support animal owners.
How to Differentiate Between Emotional Support Dogs and Service Dogs
Registries often (deliberately, we might add) confuse service animals and emotional support animals.
While an emotional support animal helps ease the pain of a mental or emotional disability through companionship and affection, a service animal (including psychiatric service dogs) is any animal that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a disabled person.
ESA are NOT service dogs.
We don’t advertise as so and is important for you to understand if you are wanting to obtain an ESA letter.
Here’s a quick rundown on what ESAs, Service Animals, & Other Companion Animals Can and Cannot Do:
A service animal may enter private establishments like a grocery store or restaurant (as allowed by the American with Disability Act (ADA)) while an ESA cannot.
As most cat and dog owners know, a service animal must be trained. But an ESA does not need special training to become a legal support animal.
Flying and Living
Service animals AND ESAs have the same rights as both can fly or live with their owner free of charge.
Note: Service dog vests and emotional support dog vests are not required but encouraged when traveling or in public places.
Emotional Support Dog for Sale? How to Find an ESA in Your City/State/Campus?
While the idea of buying an emotional support dog all ready to go is appealing, it is not actually possible. An ESA letter is awarded to a patient with a mental disability, not to an animal.
In case the patient does not have a pet yet, the therapist, psychiatrist, or another doctor will advise him/her to get a pet that can provide much needed mental support, and the newly acquired pet will be designated as an ESA.
When searching in your city, state, or campus for a suitable ESA, remember to keep the following in mind:
- There are specific protections and laws that differ in each state so read up on what to expect when flying, living, or working with your ESA.
- Know there will be exceptions to the rules depending on where you are, what animal you own, etc.; therefore, be proactive when getting accustomed to your city/state/campus housing!
- Punishment for misrepresentation of an assistance animal can be a hefty price, but all areas are different and some consequences will be stricter than others.
If you are in need, rescue shelters and animal adoption centers are always overflowing with supportive furry friends and are a great place to start when thinking about emotional support animals.
How to Ask Doctor for Emotional Support Animal Letter?
If you are significantly limited by a disability and believe that an emotional support animal will help with your mental well-being, feel free to confidently approach your doctor and request a letter. From there, they will determine if you benefit from an ESA.
If you are not seeing a doctor or a licensed mental health professional, CertaPet is always here for you.
Get connected with a LMHP today, and you could receive your ESA letter in as little as 48 business hours!
And remember - emotional support animals are more than just pets; they’re family.
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