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How To Get An ESA Letter: 3 Simple Steps For A Legitimate One 2024
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If you suffer from anxiety, depression, or any other mental or emotional disability, perhaps you have considered getting an emotional support animal or ESA. Emotional support animals are not the same as service animals, which are highly trained, certified animals.
If you’re thinking about getting an emotional support animal, there are a few things you need to know first, including how to get an emotional support animal letter.
Without this letter, taking your emotional support animal to school or work, on public transportation, or in any other public space might be difficult. And you might be at risk of paying extra pet fees and fines.
There has been an increase in online scams selling fake ESA letters, which means there has been an increase in requirements for emotional support animal owners.
If you have a companion animal that you want to make an official support animal, you will need to get a legitimate ESA letter.
How To Get A Legitimate Emotional Support Animal Letter?
- Get your free screening test.
- Talk to a licensed doctor.
- Get an ESA letter.
How To Get An ESA Letter: 3 Simple Steps
Get Your Free Screening Test
The first step in getting your ESA letter is to get a free screening test. This test determines whether or not you are a good candidate for an ESA letter.
This is not the same as meeting with a licensed mental health professional to evaluate your mental health condition. This test determines whether or not you fit the criteria for an ESA owner.
The screening at Certapet is free, easy, and confidential. Once your application is screened and approved, you will receive an approved list of licensed mental health professionals in your state.
Some of the screening questions include questions about your past and current mental health, recent behavior changes, and thoughts of suicide. It is not intended to diagnose any mental disorder or illness. Only a licensed professional can diagnose mental disorders per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)
If you do experience thoughts of suicide, please get in touch with a mental health professional immediately.
Talk To A Licensed Therapist
Whether you suffer from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or some other mental or emotional disabilities, a licensed medical professional can offer sound medical or psychological advice regarding treatment.
If you don’t know where to start, consult your family doctor for a referral to a family therapist. You can also seek out other independent mental health professionals, like licensed clinical social workers. You may also get connected to a licensed health professional when applying for an ESA letter online.
The important thing is to make sure you are meeting with a licensed mental health professional who can assess a patient’s mental health condition. Talk to your therapist about your mental health history, your current state of mental health, and your desire for an emotional support animal.
When selecting your licensed therapist, it is a good idea to ask first if they will write an ESA evaluation letter. Some therapists may refuse if they do not believe in the benefits of emotional support animals.
If you are going through an online ESA letter service provider, they will have a list of pre-approved therapists ready to write an ESA letter for you.
Your therapist will be the one to confirm your conditions and symptoms and suggest a support animal for treatment.
Get An ESA Letter
When you get your ESA letter from your therapist, there are a few things to check to ensure that it is a valid ESA letter.
The ESA letter is on your therapist’s official letterhead
The therapist’s official letterhead will include information like the name of the practice or office, the address, the logo, and other company information. ESA letters on plain paper or other stationery will not be valid.
The ESA letter includes all the proper information
In the ESA letter from your therapist, they must also include the therapist’s license number, date, and expiration information, as well as their direct contact information and signature. ESA letters missing any of this information will not be valid.
If you get your ESA letter and find any information missing, contact your therapist and have them reprint it with the full information.
Other elements of an ESA letter
Other information that may be included in the ESA letter includes the complete name of the patient, details about the mental or emotional disorder, the consequences of the condition, and why an emotional support animal would help the patient. It will also have a date of issue and expiration date.
Additional details may vary according to state law.
What Is An Emotional Support Animal Letter?
Think of an emotional support animal letter as a licensed mental health professional prescription. This official document states that you must always have an emotional support animal with you.
Emotional support animals can be especially beneficial for people suffering from various mental illnesses or mental disorders. However, because only licensed professionals can diagnose mental and emotional disorders, meeting with a licensed mental health professional is crucial.
Remember that emotional support animals are not the same as service animals, which have undergone specialized training. According to federal law, emotional support animals are not required to be allowed in all the same spaces as service animals, regardless of an ESA letter.
An ESA letter will give your support animal credibility, protect you from discrimination, such as unfair pet fees, and allow you to travel on public transportation with your pet.
Some Issues To Consider About The ESA Letter
Detect Scam ESA Letters
Fake ESA letters aren’t only bad for you as an ESA owner and all ESA owners. They harm the legitimacy of emotional support animals and damage the image of support animals and their owners. Don’t fall prey to the scams.
Protect yourself and your support animal by watching for these red flags:
There was no screening process required
Legitimate ESA letters require screening to determine if you meet the criteria. If an ESA letter service provider does not require screening, they are not legitimate.
A licensed mental health professional doesn’t write a letter
ESA letters must be written by licensed medical professionals or LMHPs specializing in mental health disorders to be valid. This can include mental health nurse practitioners, mental health counselors, licensed professional counselors, licensed psychiatrists, clinical social workers, and clinical psychologists.
The LMHP is not licensed in your state of residence
To get an ESA letter, the licensed therapist you meet with must be licensed in your state. If they don’t ask you or verify this, the service is a scam, and the letter is invalid.
This does not mean you can only see an LMHP in a medical clinic. You and your doctor can use online video consults as long as they are licensed in your state.
Because licensed mental health professionals must comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 or HIPAA, even video consults will be safe and secure.
The online service providing the letter claims to include a registry for your ESA
There is no such registry for emotional support animals at this time. It is a scam if a service says you will be registered with the Emotional Support Animal Registry, United States Dog Registry, U.S. Animal Registry, or Service Dog Registry of America.
The online service providing the letter guarantees lifetime validity
If an ESA letter service guarantees lifetime validity, it is a scam. Only a licensed healthcare professional can write the ESA letter, which must be renewed yearly. You risk losing your ESA owner rights if you do not renew your ESA letter annually.
Accommodation Law For Your Emotional Support Animal
Under the Fair Housing Act under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD, it is illegal to discriminate in the sale or rental of housing (or any other housing-related activity) to someone based on their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability.
Under federal law, a person with a mental illness or emotional disorder may request to keep an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation to a housing provider’s pet policy. This means as long as you hold an ESA letter from a licensed medical professional, you are legally allowed to keep your support animal, even in no-pet housing, without a pet fee.
This can be especially helpful for individuals with mental health issues and no pet housing options. The ESA letter also blocks any breed restrictions that the housing provider may have, as that would directly violate the Fair Housing Act.
Remember that a valid ESA letter is only good for one year after it is issued. Ensure you comply by getting it renewed annually and giving your housing provider an updated copy.
Air Travel With Your Pets
In recent years, traveling with an emotional support animal, even one with an ESA letter, has become more restricted, if not outright banned.
Under the Air Carrier Access Act or ACAA, a service animal is defined as:
“a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation does not recognize any species other than dogs as emotional support animals, companion animals, or untrained service animals.
Airlines can ask an individual with a disability if a service dog is required to assist them due to a medical condition or disability. Even with an emotional support dog letter, airlines are not required to give special accommodations to you and your dog.
However, this does not mean that you can never travel with an emotional support dog. It just means you may need to get a psychiatric service dog, pending certain qualifications being met.
You might be eligible for a psychiatric service dog if diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, etc. Talk to a licensed professional to determine if this is an option.
Because these dogs are highly trained to assist individuals with psychiatric disabilities, they are allowed on airlines under the Air Carrier Access Act.
Note that service dogs require more specialized training than emotional support animals, which require no special training. They are costly and should be considered only under serious, diagnosed medical conditions.
Don’t Abuse The System
Once you have an ESA letter, you can technically live and travel with your support animal for free. This is enough of an incentive to have people racing to find an online service to get their pet certified. Unfortunately, this system is fraught with many scams and people trying to exploit the ESA service.
Complaints of emotional support pets being aggressive, destructive, or disruptive can harm the image of support and service animals.
Don’t abuse the privilege of having an emotional support pet, and make sure your ESA letter complies with all requirements for validity.
Emotional support animals can provide a great service to ESA owners. Assistance animals can help calm anxiety, ease the effects of depression, and lift the mood of their owners. An ESA letter ensures that you can keep your pet in your home, regardless of pet policies.
Don’t fall victim to online scams; ensure your document meets the ESA letter requirements outlined above.
+ 5 sources
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- Schoenfeld-Tacher, R., Hellyer, P.J., Cheung, L. and Kogan, L.R. (2017). Public Perceptions of Service Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs, and Therapy Dogs. [online] 14(6), pp.642–642. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14060642.
- ASPE. (2023). Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. [online] Available at: https://aspe.hhs.gov/reports/health-insurance-portability-accountability-act-1996.
- Huduser.gov. (2021). Housing Discrimination Research | HUD USER. [online] Available at: https://www.huduser.gov/portal/publications/housingdiscriminationreports.html.
- Transportation.gov. (2021). Service Animals | US Department of Transportation. [online] Available at: https://www.transportation.gov/individuals/aviation-consumer-protection/service-animals.