One of the most interesting and unique forms of therapy comes in the form of emotional support animals. Emotional support animals are able to provide support and assistance in many situations where traditional counselors cannot - on the go, during travel, and while you’re at home. However, in order to make your pet an officially recognized ESA, you will need a letter from a licensed mental health professional.
In the age of tele-health, this can be done online, oftentimes in under 24 hours. The following list compares the best ESA letter services online. Each provider varies by features, however all of them offer support from licensed professionals. To qualify for an ESA letter, simply visit any of the below services for a quick online assessment.
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Up To 48 Hours
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Up To 48 Hours
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What Is an Emotional Support Animal?
Emotional support animals, or ESAs, also referred to as assistance animals or simply support animals, are animals that people keep as companions for the purported benefit that they provide for their mental health. ESAs are most commonly used by people who struggle with some sort of mental or emotional disability.
To qualify for an emotional support animal, you must have a medical professional verify that you struggle with a significant psychological problem that impairs your ability to function in daily life. People with issues like anxiety, depression, or panic disorder are well-qualified to use emotional support animal.
ESAs are a bit different than service animals. Service animals are animals that are trained so that they can help with specific functions or tasks, whereas emotional support animals don’t necessarily require any formal training. Support animals, instead of helping a patient accomplish their daily tasks, simply helps improve their well-being, improve their comfort, and offer support during their daily lives.
To qualify for having an emotional support animal, people in the United States must be federally qualified for receiving disability support and they have to have a letter signed by their healthcare practitioner asserting that the ESA helps them with their emotional health.
Different Types of Emotional Support Animals
There are many different types of emotional support animals that a person may use, though emotional support cats and dogs are generally the most common.
In determining whether or not an emotional support animal will be safe, it will have to be assessed regardless of the type of animal that it is. This will help to ensure that the animal won’t pose a threat to its owner or to others that they may encounter.
Domestic animals including dogs, cats, rabbits, mice, birds, ferrets, guinea pigs and even horses have been qualified as emotional support animals. Exotic or foreign animals, or certain animals that are prone to violent or aggressive behavior, are much less likely to be designated as an ESA.
Certain breeds of animals, such as short skull or snub-nosed dogs and cats - brachycephalic breeds - are also not accepted by some airlines as they may be more likely to have respiratory problems that can influence other animals.
Emotional Support Animal Training
As discussed above, there is no formal training that an ESA must undergo. As long as they are able to provide comfort and support for you, then an animal will be able to fulfill its function as an emotional support animal.
However, that does not mean you should not train your animal whatsoever. It’s especially important to ensure that your animal is trained well enough to behave in public and around other animals. Emotional support dogs in particular can become aggressive or show bad behavior towards other people or animals. If this happens, the animal will likely be deemed unfit to serve as an ESA.
Having proper training is important for more than just you, as well. Disorderly and untrained ESAs can be a detriment to the ESA community. Conversely, having a well-trained animal can encourage a positive opinion of emotional support animals and those who need them.
Who Provides Emotional Support Animals?
There may be some institutions that provide animals that are encouraged to become ESAs. However, in most cases, you do not require a specific animal provider to help you get an ESA.
This means that you will be able to adopt an animal from your local animal shelter or from a pet breeder and use that as your ESA. More important than the source of your ESA is the bond that the two of you share, their temperament, and their ability to help improve your mental health.
Since there is no formal institution designated to providing ESAs, there are many options for someone hoping to get themselves an emotional support animal.
After you have chosen your ESA, you will have to get an emotional support animal registration letter so that they can be registered as an ESA.
Emotional Support Animal Letters
Even if you have an animal that helps you manage your mental health, it will not be recognized as such in the eyes of the law unless you have an emotional support animal letter signed by a licensed mental health practitioner (LMHP).
These letters indicate that your animal has been proven viable to help manage your mental health problems. Emotional support animal registration letters will have to be backed by a psychiatrist, a social worker, a psychologist, or some other LMHP to verify that your animal actually helps with a diagnosed mental health condition.
These letters should be signed by the LMHP on their official letterhead with the date. Their license number and the place where their license was issued should be included on the letter for further verification.
In most cases, emotional support animal letters will be valid for a year after you’ve gotten it signed. It’s important to make a note on your calendar or to set an alarm to remind yourself to get your letter renewed when it’s necessary.
How Do I Get an ESA Letter?
To get an ESA letter, you will have to be diagnosed with a mental health condition. Some of the most common conditions that people with ESAs struggle with include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Anxiety and depression
- Mood instability
- Personality disorders
- Seasonal Affective disorder (SAD)
While these are some of the most common conditions that lead people to working with ESAs, they are by no means exclusive. In the United States, the practitioner must deem the condition to be serious enough to actually cause them a degree of disability in their daily lives. General discomfort or a strong desire to have a pet that you can bring everywhere are generally not deemed a good enough reason to qualify for an ESA.
Depending on your location, it can be quite difficult to find a psychologist who will sign for your ESA unless your mental health issue is extremely debilitating. Some of the states in America make it illegal for LMHPs to prescribe letters to people who are not serious disabled. These include:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
If you aren’t able to find a LMHP in your local area or are unable to access one due to physical disability, it’s possible to get an ESA letter online. Companies like ESA Doctors will help to get you connected with qualified LMHPs who can help you get yourself sorted out with an ESA letter.
Emotional Support Animals and Housing
People who have qualified ESAs may be eligible for some benefits with their housing situations.
Mentally disabled people are given a degree of legal protection when it comes to seeking housing. Landlords are legally forbidden to discriminate against disabled people when they are offering housing, and if a rental is sufficient enough to provide shelter and comfort for a disabled person, the landlord is obligated to provide the shelter.
In these cases, disabled people may be eligible to have rules such as a no pet policy waived to accommodate their ESA. To qualify for this waiver, an individual must be disabled, must have been rejected in their housing application because of their disability, and the landlord or other authority in charge of the housing must receive some assistance financially from the government.
Many landlords are resistant to having ESAs present on their property, for fear that this will encourage others to make false claims of their own mental health problems so that they can bring pets onto the properly. However, under the Fair Housing act, landlords are required to submit and accept ESAs for those who have signed letters and disabilities as diagnosed by an MHP.
Emotional Support Animals and Work
It is currently illegal for employers in the United States to discriminate against people who struggle with disabilities.
This can sometimes mean that people with ESAs are allowed to bring their animals into work. However, this is not always the case. Service animals are generally required to be permitted in workplaces, however, emotional support animals are not legally considered service animals.
At present, there is some debate as to whether or not ESAs are permitted into the workforce. There has been legal action taken in support of and against the idea. In most cases, with the proper documentation, employers will permit ESAs.
Emotional Support Animals and Pet Deposits
Many landlords require that new tenants pay a pet deposit to cover any potential damage that may occur as a result of bringing pets onto the property. If a dog, for example, rips up the wallpaper in an apartment, the pet deposit will not be returned so that the landlord can repair the wallpaper.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, landlords aren’t allowed to charge people with disabilities extra money to receive housing. Since ESAs as well as service animals can be considered paramount to a disabled person’s comfort and their ability to reasonably enjoy their homes, landlords are legally forbidden from charging them a deposit to bring their ESA onto the property.
That said, landlords are still allowed to charge the tenant for damage incurred by the animal - however, this money must come off the security deposit or from another arrangement.
Flying With an Emotional Support Animal
Airlines currently do not have to accept emotional support animals from people who have not had an ESA letter signed within the past year. Some airlines even mandate that the letter provided comes from a LMHP who is working with the individual’s mental health problem specifically.
People flying with their animals should be aware of the emotional support animal laws surrounding the use and transport of them.. The main law regarding this is known as the Air Carrier Access Act.
This act, which was passed in 1990, builds upon the Department of Transportation’s regulations regarding the discrimination of people with disabilities. This act states that no airline is allowed to refuse, limit, or require prior notice for serving people who struggle with disabilities.
This extends to people who are using ESAs to help them with their disabilities. As long as you have your ESA letter and any other forms required by the airport (a list of which should be available online) then you are legally allowed to bring your animal onto the plane.
Popular airlines, such as Delta and United, are asking ESA owners to bring more documentation than was required in the past.
- You may be asked to bring a Veterinary Health Form that ensures that your ESA has been seen to be in good health and has its vaccinations
- You may be asked to provide a record of your ESA’s vaccinations
- You may be required to provide a signed form testifying that your animal has an appropriate temperament
Currently, there is some discrepancy regarding individuals who have animal allergies. In many cases, they believe that they are treated unfairly because passengers with ESAs or service animals are generally given priority over the people who struggle with allergies. People who are allergic to ESAs may be moved to a different flight or have their flight rescheduled if there is a conflict between them and a disabled individual bringing an ESA on the flight.
Having Multiple Emotional Support Animals
As of yet, there haven’t been any cases dealing specifically with the use of multiple support animals. It would be safe to assume that the same rules apply to the use of several ESAs.
This means that you would need to have a signed letter from a LMHP stating that you require or are significantly benefited by the use of multiple support animals instead of just one. Each animal must be proven to be useful in helping to manage at least some aspect of your disability.
Forms for both animals would be required, and they would both need to have appropriate temperament and social skills. Certain air lines, such as Delta Air, only permit individuals to bring a single ESA.
Emotional Support Animals and Controversy
There are a number of issues and controversies surrounding the use of emotional support animals. As they become more and more popular, the use of ESAs becomes more abused or manipulated by people. There are a number of ways that people commonly misuse the ESA system:
- People hoping to bring exotic or forbidden animals across borders or onto airplanes may falsify claims about their mental health in order to get an ESA letter.
- There are a number of websites that claim to offer valid and verified ESA letters for pet owners, despite lacking authentic certification. This can get the owner of these animals into serious legal trouble.
- Many people bend the rules or falsify claims in order to get their ESA into a house that doesn't allow pets or into public transport.
There is also a degree of controversy surrounding the general use of ESAs, largely because of the impact that they can have on others. Many people are allergic to animals or otherwise wary of them, and the exemptions provided to people who have ESAs can often be a great inconvenience to people who are unprepared to deal with animals.
Furthermore, the lack of training required for ESAs can create issues. Service dogs and other service animals generally require extensive training that ensures that they are obedient, well-behaved, and able to interact with other animals without issue. ESAs do not require this degree of training, and are more likely to bridge other people’s boundaries without permission.
There have been cases of poorly trained emotional support animals attacking or even outright mauling other passengers on planes. The increasing number of animals found in places where they are not typically allowed, such as bus stations, airports, and subways, is causing concern among certain groups.
Scientific Proof of ESAs Being Helpful
Another issue regarding the use of ESAs is the fact that there is very limited scientific evidence that their presence actually helps people with their disabilities.
Anecdotally, ESAs are believed to be very helpful. However, objective research done in the area has yielded flimsy results, and some are wary about whether or not ESAs are actually useful to people struggling with disabilities.
Some studies performed have even indicated that emotional support animals have increased stress levels among their owners.
There are a number of things that you should be cautious about if you're hoping to get an emotional support animal and want to do so safely and legally. Many individuals have struggled with unnecessary legal complications or problems when trying to secure their ESA.
- Be honest. If you don’t struggle with an actual mental health disorder and you’re trying to get an ESA so that you can bring your pet traveling, this can be dangerous. Not only does this put you at risk, but it endangers the whole ESA community. Things like this make it more difficult for people in real need of an ESA to get a signed letter.
- Be aware of and watch out for scams. There are a lot of websites and services available that claim to provide documentation for your emotional support animal. Unfortunately, many of these companies will sell you falsified documents that won’t provide any legal support or allow you to travel by plane with your pet. Unfortunately, you may not know that your documents are falsified until you get denied while traveling. When this happens, you may be fined, issued a charge or given community service. You may be forbidden to own or register service animals and in serious cases may be sent to jail.
- Make sure that your LMHP offers follow-up services. Since an emotional support animal letter is only valid for a year, websites or services that don’t offer follow-up services may not be legitimate. At the very least, they will not be convenient in coming years when you need to get your letter renewed.