Any owner will tell you that their pet positively impacts their overall happiness. But for some people, an animal is an essential component of their health and mental wellbeing.
Thankfully, there are legal protections for people struggling with mental health conditions or a disability who may qualify for animal-assisted support.
But to enact these protections, you’ll need to follow a series of steps and have your pet recognized as an emotional support animal. This process differs slightly from state to state but typically begins with getting an ESA letter from a licensed health professional.
If you’re hoping to get an ESA letter in Alaska, here’s what you can expect and prepare for to receive all the protections under the law.
Do You Qualify for an ESA Letter in Alaska?
Qualification for an emotional support animal in Alaska is pretty straightforward. You may have a legal right to an ESA if you have a physiological disorder, such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. If the therapeutic presence of an animal lessens the symptoms or hardship of your condition, you could qualify for an ESA.
Additionally, it’s important to note that you don’t need to have a pet already to be eligible for an emotional support pet. While some people have a pet before seeking official recognition, others seek an ESA letter before adopting a pet. This information can be helpful if your landlord doesn’t allow animals in your building—more on that later.
Who Can Write an ESA Letter in Alaska
An ESA letter can be written by any licensed or certified health professional. Typically, this is a mental health professional who can assess a client’s need for an emotional support pet.
Licensed mental health professionals (LMHPs) can include psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed counselors, clinical social workers, and mental health nurses. While mental health specialists commonly provide ESA assessments, physicians and physician assistants can write ESA letters.
Watch out for “too good to be true” online services that claim they can write you an ESA letter for a small fee or provide a letter instantaneously. While some online companies staff legitimate, fully licensed professionals, there are many scams. Look up reviews or references before signing up for a service.
While it may be tempting to take the easy way out, forging an ESA letter is a punishable offense that could lead to steep fines or jail time.
What’s Inside an Alaska ESA Letter?
While there isn’t one specific format for ESA letters in Alaska, these documents generally contain a few essential components.
First, the letter will state the date written and indicate who wrote it. This information provides legitimacy to the timeframe of the need for an ESA. Also, it establishes that the letter was written by an eligible professional.
The letter should also include the LMHP’s contact information, credentials, and an address for the person writing the letter if any follow-up is needed. The contact details also allow a landlord to verify the writer has the qualifications to make an ESA recommendation.
The body of the letter explains the need for an ESA. The LMHP will handle this part tactfully, without going into too much detail, so that the patient’s medical information remains confidential. This section states the patient’s full name and specifically must indicate that they have been deemed eligible for an ESA.
To conclude, the letter includes a handwritten signature to authenticate the letter and the letterhead of the LMHP.
Benefits of Getting an ESA Letter in Alaska
While getting an ESA letter in Alaska takes some effort, there are many advantages that will make the time spent worthwhile. Here are a few of the top benefits that an ESA can provide.
Studies have shown a prevalence of Seasonal Affective Disorder in Alaska due to the grueling climate conditions. People that struggle with SAD experience moodiness, lack of energy and motivation, and general symptoms of depression during the dark months in Alaska.
But an emotional support pet can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Having a pet forces someone to get out of bed, go on walks, and care for something outside themselves.
Not only does the harsh climate in Alaska enhance depressive tendencies, but loneliness is a leading factor that contributes to depression. Even in the larger, more densely populated areas of the country, people can struggle to stay connected to others. Alaskans are just as vulnerable to loneliness and the depression it can induce. It is especially true during dark months, as many people suffer from extended periods of isolation.
An ESA can provide essential companionship during bouts of loneliness.
Relieves Anxiety Disorders
Animals can help people remain calm in moments of extreme panic or anxiety. They can help reduce stress levels and give those struggling with anxiety an external focal point, which can be incredibly grounding. Studies show that even a brief interaction with dogs can have lasting positive impacts on mood and stress regulation.
Protections Under the Law
Finally, an ESA letter can qualify you to receive accommodations in housing, airline travel, access to public areas, and more.
These protections can be vital as there may be times when you need your ESA to accompany you to places that otherwise may not allow pets. We discuss the specific legal protections in the next section.
Emotional Support Animals Laws in Alaska
Like all states, Alaska abides by ADA requirements for service animals. But where do they stand on ESAs? In Alaska, the laws are not the same for service animals and ESA, but to understand why, it’s important to identify the differences between emotional support pets and service animals.
Distinguishing Between Service Animal and Emotional Support Animal Protections
In Alaska, service animals are miniature horses or dogs that have undergone individualized training to perform a task in support of a person with a disability. The law also specifies that a service pet’s work must be directly related to its owner’s disability.
A guide dog can be a service animal for a blind person, but a dog trained to do tricks will not be recognized as a service pet because tricks offer no support to the disability. That said, the definition is broad enough to encompass a wide variety of tasks, from retrieving medicine to warning of an oncoming seizure or panic attack.
Service animals have protection in any public setting and can accompany their owner anywhere. They can access any form of housing, public transportation, or public space like a grocery store or movie theater. The service animal must be leashed and can only be removed from a public place for being out of control or not being housebroken.
Emotional Support Animal Protections
In Alaska, emotional support animals do not have the same legal protections as service animals.
For one, emotional support animals are not allowed to accompany their owner to all public places. While some individual businesses may be fine with pets on their property, no law stipulates this. This distinction is partly because ESAs do not require the same rigorous training as service pets. The lack of training can lead to unruly or disruptive behavior in public places.
The primary legal protection for ESAs has to do with housing. The Fair Housing Act grants protection for emotional support animals to live with their owners, whether the building owner typically allows animals or not. Additionally, landlords are not allowed to charge additional fees because of the pet.
Until recently, federal transportation laws allowed ESAs to accompany their owners while traveling by air. But in 2021, Alaska Airlines banned emotional support animals from their airlines. While disheartening, this was an action taken by airlines across the nation after a change to the Air Carriers Act that left ESAs unprotected during air travel. It may still be possible to fly with your pet, but we suggest contacting the airline ahead of time and inquiring about their ESA policy.
It is worth noting that, while only dogs and miniature horses can qualify as service animals, almost any pet can qualify as an emotional support animal.
How to Get an ESA Letter in Alaska: A Step-by-Step Guide
Here are the basic steps for getting an ESA letter in Alaska:
1. Identify the Need
Before contacting a professional, consider why you need an ESA. Are you struggling with a mental health condition? Do you believe having an animal could alleviate the burden?
Think this through and be honest with yourself. The more genuine insight you can share with a mental health professional about your experience, the more likely they are to write you a letter.
2. Contact a Professional
The next step is to find a reputable mental health professional and schedule an appointment. While there are online services, it’s best to find someone who has a proven track record. Getting recommendations from friends or family is a great place to start.
Make sure the professional is licensed and able to write ESA letters before your appointment.
3. Get Assessed
Sometimes, a mental health professional will issue a letter after a few sessions of talk therapy. In other cases, further assessments may be necessary, such as formal testing. Go along with the process and trust that your mental health therapist has your best interest in mind.
4. Keep Your Letter on Hand
Once you have your ESA letter, make a copy and keep the original in a safe place. If your landlord requires proof of emotional support animal eligibility, provide them with a copy of the letter. And don’t forget your rights! You have legal protections to have your emotional support pet in your home with you.
Having an emotional support animal can benefit people everywhere, but ESAs have a special place in the lives of Alaskans. Due to the extreme weather, bouts of darkness, and the isolation in Alaska, having a companion by your side is more important than ever.
An emotional support pet can provide essential support to people struggling with mental health conditions. Don’t jeopardize your ability to have your beloved support pet in your life. If you follow the proper steps to get an ESA letter from a reputable provider, your emotional support animal can be by your side for the long haul.
At ESA Registration of America, we provide an extensive network of LMHPs, including specialists who can conduct video calls for your assessment. Start the process today to receive all you need for an ESA letter.