Fake Doctor Online: Not All ESA Letters Are Created Equal
Having a mental or emotional disability can be every bit as challenging and debilitating as a physical limitation.
But sadly, many people underestimate the severity of mental and emotional disabilities, simply because their symptoms often go unnoticed.
However, that doesn’t make them any less important.
Many people do not understand the significance or prevalence of these disabilities, and many are still unaware of alternative forms of treatment, such as Emotional Support Animals (ESAs).
Additionally, many landlords and businesses are still resistant to ESAs.
Thankfully however, the United States government has been working towards further protecting disabled individuals from discrimination.
The primary laws concerning ESA owners are the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). Laws like the ACAA provide specific guidelines for individuals traveling with an Emotional Support Animal or service animal.
The ACAA requires airlines to allow individuals with ESAs to fly with their ESA in the cabin, for free, rather than requiring them to check their animal in as cargo like a pet.
However, in order to qualify for these protections, individuals must have a valid ESA Letter, which serves as a prescription for the ESA.
There are many sources to obtain an Emotional Support Animal Letter online, but unfortunately, not all of these sources are legitimate or in full accordance with the law.
The Day Everything Changed
Six years ago, I was in a nasty car wreck and endured a very personal loss.
To this day, I still suffer from depression and anxiety, and as part of my recovery process, my doctor suggested I get a cat, to serve as an Emotional Support Animal.
“But how would I train it?” I asked. I’d never owned or cared for an animal before.
Being a cat owner herself, my doctor assured me that cats are relatively low maintenance creatures, and that a cat would probably be quick to “train me.” She insisted that a companion animal was what I needed.
She pointed me towards a local animal shelter, and that’s where I met Tigger.
For the last six years, my cat Tigger has been my faithful companion and closest friend. He’s been there for me through everything and has helped me cope with my disabilities.
How a Fake ESA Letter Ruined My Vacation
Recently, Tigger and I decided to take a much-needed vacation.
I decided to get an emotional support cat letter so that he could fly with me.
Wading through all the laws and airline regulations became very tedious, and I hastily chose an online ESA registry that was quick to promise that all I had to do was pay them and I’d get my ESA Letter.
No questions asked.
I didn’t know any better, so I did it. I quickly paid them and within a few days I received a letter that I believed to be completely legitimate.
A week later, Tigger and I headed to the airport.
I couldn’t wait to work on my tan.
But when we got to the airport, something was wrong.
The airline attendant locked her lips as if trying not to smile and quietly shook her head “no” as she reviewed my ESA Letter.
Was Tigger on the No-Fly List?
My gut sank.
In fact, further investigation revealed that the “doctor” I bought my letter from wasn’t even a licensed mental health professional.
I was pissed.
Although my letter stated that my cat offered emotional support, the law required that it show a diagnosis of a mental or emotional disability, and it had to be from a Licensed Mental Health Professional, such as a Psychiatrist or Psychologist.
Additionally, the letter must indicate that the animal is a “reasonable accommodation,” i.e., assistive aide similar to a wheelchair, benefitting the individual.
I thought my letter would protect me from being discriminated against and would allow Tigger and I to fly without incident.
Instead, I learned not all ESA Letters are created equal.
That’s When I Found CertaPet
Since that unforgettable day, I did end up finding a better place to get my ESA Letter online.
This time, I found one that’s both completely legitimate, and fully recognized by every domestic airline.
Naturally, I was more than a little jaded after my first experience with buying an ESA Letter online but this time, I did my homework.
Instead of paying for some bogus ESA registration that’s absolutely meaningless, I decided to do it right.
This time, I used a highly recommended company that connected me with an actual, licensed mental health professional; one with verifiable credentials.
That’s when I found CertaPet.
This time, I was required to complete an online mental health screening, and unlike my previous experience, I knew that a licensed mental health professional would personally manage my prescription for an ESA and write my official letter.
I did my homework and obviously, so had they.
I sighed with relief, knowing my money was well spent.
Now I can travel with confidence and ease, thanks to CertaPet…
…and life’s never been better.
If you think you could benefit from having an Emotional Support Animal, click below to see if you qualify.
Updated, 2017: How to Tell if an ESA Service is NOT Genuine
1. Letters are NOT written by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP).
A licensed mental health professional can be a clinical psychologist, licensed professional counselor, mental health counselor, psychiatrist or a licensed psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner.
Depending on your state, a primary care physician, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner may also be considered a LMHP.
2. They don’t have an LMHP licensed to practice in your state.
For your letter to be completely valid, your LMHP must be licensed to practice in the state you are living in. We often notice landlords declining an ESA letter citing that the letter was not prescribed by a professional licensed to practice in the same state.
CertaPet works with 30 LMHPs who are licensed to practice in 45 US states. They will always connect you with an LMHP who practices in your state.
3. There is NO screening.
A screening ensures that you are indeed qualified to receive an emotional support animal letter, and the LMHP issuing the letter knows about your disabilities and believes an ESA would come to your aid.
If an ESA service is awarding letter to anyone without any screening, rest assured that the letter will be questioned and likely declined when you are producing it to request reasonable accomodation, be it your landlord or an airlines.
4. The Service calls itself a ‘registry’ and asks you to sign up for it.
There is no such thing as an “official emotional support animal registry.” This also goes for sites with names similar to “United States dog registry, “US Animal Registry,” and “Service Dog Registry of America.”
Again, to confirm, there is no national or state or city level registry for emotional support animals. An ESA is absolutely not required to be registered anywhere! Any service having the words “United States”, “US”, “National” added to the word “registry” is basically trying to fool people into thinking that their pet gets added to an ‘official registry’ (tell me about easy-money)! They often provide shiny add-ons such as a ‘framed certificate’, an ID card for your dog, dog tags containing the words ‘Emotional Support Animal’, etc. While the swags may be nice to have, they do not make your pet an ESA.
In short, there is no benefit in using a registry. Don’t use one.
5. There is no follow-on service.
You must make sure that an ESA service has a good support service that will help you even after your letter is delivered. They must be able to respond to verification requests, or be able to deliver follow-on services such as an Airline-specific authorization form.