How do I find a doctor who will prescribe an ESA letter?2020-06-01
Connecting with the right doctor to secure an official emotional support animal prescription letter is simple.
To start, find a mental health professional in the area. A psychiatrist can prescribe your emotional support animal and provide you a letter detailing the prescription. Or, a licensed therapist can direct you to an appropriate resource like a psychopharmacologist to write the letter of prescription after their official recommendation.
However, not every person in need of an emotional support animal has access to this kind of medical help. If there are no mental health professionals in the area who can write prescriptions, you still have an option. Online counselors can deem someone eligible to receive a letter of prescription after HIPAA compliant video appointments to determine qualification. Please note that just because you’ve met with a therapist doesn’t automatically qualify you for an ESA letter. A proper, independent determination occurs by the therapist on a case by case basis.
Regardless of how you make arrangements, mental health professionals are the doctors who prescribe an emotional support animal and provide an official letter. Here's everything you need to know about the process.
What is the letter and do I need it to get my ESA?
The letter associated with an emotional support animal is the prescription letter from a mental health professional. This is what designates an emotional support animal as such and makes an ESA legally distinct from a pet. It can only come from a licensed mental health professional because it provides medical proof of the need for an emotional support animal.
Ultimately, the letter provides legal protection for your emotional support animal. Legal protections include the right not to be charged additional fees for this animal in housing and the ability to travel on planes with the emotional support animal.
While an ESA is not a service dog (like a guide dog for the blind), ESA owners with doctor letters benefit from more rights.
An individual cannot consider their animal an emotional support animal without the letter. They will not have any protection from potential policies forbidding animals from airlines and housing developments without proper documentation.
You can acquire this initial letter through a mental health professional online through a HIPAA compliant video appointment or during a traditional in-person meeting with a mental health professional in your area.
When do I need this letter?
An ESA owner needs a prescription letter to distinguish an animal's status as an emotional support animal. So legally, it is beneficial for an owner to have this letter as soon as possible.
However, owners will also need additional copies to show proof during many encounters in public. The two scenarios in which an owner will have to submit a prescription letter is when they apply for housing and book a flight.
Many landlords and rental companies will need to witness and keep a copy of a prescription letter for an ESA on file. Note that while landlords and rental companies can ask for this letter, it is unlawful for them to deny your application based on your emotional support animal alone.
All forms of housing, with very select exceptions, including dorms, houses, and apartment buildings, must legally make reasonable accommodations for an emotional support animal. This is true even when they traditionally bar pets from their property. Moreover, housing leaders do not have to be updated annually.
In America, one of the only times a landlord may legally bar an ESA from housing is in a place where the building has four or fewer dwellings and the landlord is an on-site occupant. The other is when a single-family accommodation is sold or rented without a real estate broker monitoring the sale. Beyond these very specific circumstances, no housing owner may bar an ESA from their property.
Furthermore, companies legally cannot require you to make your emotional support animal wear any gear (like a vest or collar) denoting their status as an emotional support animal at any time.
The next reason many people commonly require an ESA prescription letter is when they travel. Most major airlines, private and commercial, require this letter and advance notice of the emotional support animal to waive the pet fee traditionally associated with transporting an animal on the flight.
Many airlines require that you renew the emotional support animal letter on an annual basis. Check with your specific provider in advance of your flight to ensure you have the required documentation.
Is it illegal to have an emotional support animal without the prescribed letter?
While it is not illegal to have an animal that an owner considers an emotional support animal, they will not have the legal protections an emotional support animal has without a prescribed letter. In short, the prescription is what counts.
Many businesses, including airlines and housing developments, have the legal standing to deny the validity of an emotional support animal. As such, having a prescription letter from a licensed mental health professional is vital.
Once an owner procures a letter, they will have the protection of the Department of Housing under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Department of Transportation's Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).
Many ESA owners also find being added to an emotional support animal registration list is helpful. However, it is not legally required and does not affect the protections provided by the ACAA or FHA.
What kind of doctor can provide me with the letter?
Any licensed mental health professional who can write prescriptions can provide a legal ESA prescription letter.
If you already see a licensed psychiatrist or therapist, they may be able to write you a letter upon your next visit, if you fit the criteria.
If you do not have an established relationship with a mental health professional, you might qualify for an ESA prescription following a meeting with a counselor in-person or online after a video appointment that is HIPAA compliant.
Having an emotional support animal provides a clear benefit to the mental health of many. Having a prescription letter provides many ESA owners with the guidance and protection they need when it comes to their animals.
If you need these protections, connect with a mental health professional today to secure your prescription letter.
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