If you are looking to make your pet an ESA, or Emotional Support Animal, you may have already encountered dozens and dozens, perhaps even hundreds of online companies and schools claiming to provide that service.
You might have seen words and phrases like “registration,” “certification,” and “ID card” and thought, “what do I even need for my pet to be a valid emotional support animal?”
The good news is that it’s easier than you think. Still, the bad news is that more and more scam companies are cropping up trying to convince animal owners that they need to pay for costly forms, certifications, and classes to enjoy the benefits of being an ESA owner.
In this guide, we’ll cover what these types of animals are, what ESA letters are, and how to know if your ESA letter is legitimate.
What is an Emotional Support Animal?
Don’t listen to the overly complex, mixed messages you find online surrounding what makes a legitimate ESA or emotional support animal. The simplest definition is a pet that has received a letter written by a licensed mental health professional verifying that they can help their owners with demonstrable psychological or emotional impairment.
Where service dogs assist with the physical tasks their owners are incapable of performing, such as airline travel, ESA letters are given to animals meant to assist with the emotional and psychological burdens of life.
Examples of tasks that these animals perform for their owners are companionship, support, affection, and attention and notifying the authorities if their owner has a mental health crisis, sniffing out proper and improper medication, and more.
ESAs do not need any special training, they do not need to be added to a registry, and they don’t need an ID card or any certification. All they need is for their owners to obtain a letter on official letterhead written by a licensed healthcare professional.
Are Online ESA Letters Legit?
If you live with an emotional or psychological condition such as depression, bipolar disorder, or chronic fatigue, this kind of companion may be right for you. But how should you go about obtaining an ESA letter? Are any of these digital programs that promise cheap and quick turnaround trustworthy?
The answer is yes and no. On the one hand, since all required for an animal to be considered a legitimate support animal is a verified letter from a healthcare professional, there’s no reason why the process can’t be conducted over the internet.
A study conducted by the CDC recently found that telehealth visits rose 50% in the first quarter of 2020 instead of the same time period one year earlier. So it’s perfectly reasonable for the sessions conducted with your therapist, psychiatrist, or other licensed mental health professional to take place over the internet.
Beware of Online Scams
Even though you can get a valid ESA letter online, buyer beware: not all services and practitioners are created equal. Many of them are bad faith organizations trying to prey on pet owners by taking advantage of misinformation around the process.
There are two reasons why so many scams have cropped up on the internet around support animals:
- A lack of clarity around what it takes to make a pet into a valid emotional support animal.
- The fact that you can obtain an ESA letter online.
Because there’s a lack of consensus understanding around the specific requirements needed to “verify” this kind of support animal, opportunistic scammers have rushed to fill the void. They’ll say you need to add your pet to a registry, that you need to take them to a particular pet training school, or that you need to pay exorbitant costs to get them certified.
All you need is an ESA letter penned by a licensed professional working in the mental health field. Then, the only money you need to pay is whatever your insurance doesn’t cover for the necessary amount of visits to determine that you are psychologically, emotionally, or otherwise fit to be assisted by an ESA.
So, yes, online ESA letters are legit, insofar as you can take part in telehealth visits with a licensed professional who can provide you with that letter after they’ve suitably assessed you.
How Do I Know If My ESA Letter is Legitimate?
We know now that all it takes to obtain a valid support animal is to have a letter from a mental healthcare pro attesting to the owner’s needs and the abilities of the pet. But even if you avoid the phony classes, registries, and everything else, how do you know the letter itself isn’t a fake?
Here are some factors to look for in obtaining your letter — what you should see and what you definitely should not.
Finding the right counselor, letting them get to know you, building trust, and receiving a proper diagnosis or feedback is time-consuming. Therefore, red flags should be raised whenever you see an ESA letter provider promising 7 days, 24 hours, or even quicker turnaround.
Sure, therapy and psychiatric sessions can be expensive if you have to pay out of pocket or aren’t adequately insured. But those visits should be the total extent of your ESA expenses.
Do not trust sites or organizations which claim they need you to pay for classes, registration fees, filing fees, or anything else.
Healthcare Professional Licensure
When you start seeing a professional for your ESA letter, make sure to check their board licensure. Only an ESA letter from a true pro counts.
An easy way to tip-off whether or not you’ve been scammed is by checking the letter stock the ESA letter was written on. Generally, healthcare pros use an official letterhead with their name, office, and license number printed on each page.
If your ESA letter isn’t printed on such a letterhead, it’s time to start investigating.
ESA letters tend to expire within a year of issue. So it’s fair to be suspicious of organizations or individuals which promise a “forever license.”
Better Business Bureau Accreditation
Finally, check the BBB, or the Better Business Bureau, rating and accreditation of the given individual, practice, or organization you’ve chosen to go through to receive your emotional support animal letter.
Accreditation through the Better Business Bureau is not mandatory for operation, but it is a good sign. It means that the company has subjected itself to a battery of strenuous ethics, financial, and practice tests and has passed with a clean bill of health.
Contact a Real Professional
If you have any lingering questions on what it takes to obtain a legitimate ESA letter, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the professionals at ESA Registration of America.
Learn about what conditions qualify you as a pet owner, what kinds of animals can be considered, whether or not you can fly on airlines with your ESA, and more.