How to Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal

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puppy chewing on book wondering how to qualify for an emotional support animal

Maybe you already know that domesticated animals make great furry companions. They help individuals with disabilities live a normal and healthy day-to-day life. These assistance animals the perfect addition to any mental health therapy regimen. But do you know how to qualify for an emotional support animal in the United States? There are so many benefits to getting one, including legal protection! Keep reading to learn all there is to know about these altruistic animals.

What Is an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)?

Imagine a loyal dog or cat who will always be there for you when you need them. They love you so much that they can sense when you are sad or have had a bad day. What you’re picturing is exactly what an emotional support animal (ESA) is.

An ESA’s main job is to help their owner cope with their mental illness or emotional disability. They do this by showering their favorite human in love and taking their mind off their worries.

You might have also heard people call them an assistance animal. That’s because they’re cats and dogs with jobs! Service animals, psychiatric service animals, and therapy animals are in that category too. But don’t get them all mixed up! Each has a particular role and legal protection. For instance, only service animals are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They’re also the only ones who need to be trained.

Your ESA Has Legal Protection

In a nutshell, every emotional support dog, cat, and bunny is protected by two federal laws. The first is the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and it tells airlines to offer reasonable accommodation for ESAs and their owners in planes. The second is the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and it states that ESAs can live with their owners in rented housing. That’s great news for you if you’re a frequent flyer or a tenant!

man holding emotional support animal husky

How to Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal

Many people with a mental disability can benefit greatly from welcoming an emotional support dog or cat into their lives. It’s not like owning a pet. There are certain expectations and rights you’ll have as an ESA owner. But, before all that, you need to know how to qualify for an emotional support animal in the first place. Spoiler alert: you can’t buy a vest with the letters “ESA” on it and call it a day!

Anyone Suffering from a Mental Illness Qualifies for an ESA

The same way physically disabled people get service animals, people with a mental health problem can get an ESA. Having symptoms typical of mental disorders is usually a sign that you’ll be able to qualify for an ESA. So is being enrolled in therapy sessions to address your disability. So what should be your next step?

You Need to Be Diagnosed with a Condition Listed in the DSM 5

It’s not enough to feel the “Sunday Scaries” or the “Monday Blues.” You need to actually receive a diagnosis for your mental health problem or emotional disability. Only then can you get protection from the Fair Housing Act and Air Carrier Access Act. It’s thanks to these laws that your airline and landlord or housing provider have to make exceptions for you and your ESA.

Your licensed therapist may give you (amongst others) one of these DSM 5 mental illness or psychiatric disability diagnosis:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Major Depressive Disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Adjustment Disorder

woman with headphones looking at her emotional support dog

To Get an ESA You Need an Emotional Support Animal Letter

A pet and an ESA walk into a bar. How can you tell them apart? After all, ESAs don’t wear vests or fancy ID tags! Well, it’s pretty simple: you ask the owner for an emotional support animal letter—or ESA letter, for short. This document is the first step on how to qualify for an emotional support dog, cat, or bunny.

Not everyone can write an ESA letter. You can only get yours from a licensed therapist or licensed mental health professional (LMHP). Sometimes, a doctor’s note will also work. This letter attests that you have a mental or emotional disability. On top of that, it also says that your ESA’s presence is part of your therapy. Think of it as an emotional support animal prescription.

The Benefits of Having an ESA Letter

With an ESA letter, you can take on the world. Well, at least when it comes to reasonable accommodation. You’ll be able to fly with Fido or Mittens without paying a pet fee. Using your ESA letter for housing will also mean, as a tenant, not paying a pet deposit. Furthermore, it will mean bringing your furry companion to any kind of unit—even if it has a no-pets policy!

Just to be clear, there is no such thing as “emotional support animal registration” or “emotional support animal certificate.” Some companies will sell you those, even though they have no legal value. Be wary of online ESA scams!

You Have to Find a Licensed Mental Health Professional in Your State

Now you know ESA letters are a crucial step in how to qualify for an emotional support animal. You also know only a licensed mental health professional can write yours. So now it’s time to do the legwork.

Find a therapist who can practice in your state. Talk to them about getting your ESA letter. Once they agree that getting an ESA is in your best interest, it should be smooth sailing from there.

woman petting her golden retriever esa dog

CertaPet’s Process of Helping People Get Their ESA Letter

To save you the hassle, we do the legwork for you. We will connect you to one of our many licensed mental health professionals. There’s no need for you to frantically look for a therapist based near you. Instead, you’ll have one fewer task to worry about.

Take Our Pre-Screening to See Whether You May Qualify for an ESA!

Start by taking our 5-minute online pre-screening test. It asks you several questions about your mental health wellbeing. If you go past that stage, we’ll direct you to a therapist. They’ll meet with you, ask further questions, and (possibly) issue your ESA letter right there and then.

If you already have a pet, they could become your assistance animal. In only a few days, you could show your ESA letter to an airline, landlord, or housing provider. Talk about efficiency, right?

Common Questions on How to Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal

Are ESAs and pets the same thing?

Does my ESA need to wear a vest?

Where can I buy an ESA certificate?

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