How to Get an ESA Letter in Hawaii: A Complete Guide2022-07-25
When animals become a consistent part of your life, they're more than mere pets. People worldwide adopt animals and swiftly realize the significance of this companionship in their lives. For many, pets are an integral part of the family.
This bond is especially strong for people who depend on their pets for essential emotional support and mental well-being. But unfortunately, there are no intrinsic legal protections to ensure you can keep your furry companion at your side, no matter how much you rely on them.
That's where the status of official Emotional Support Animal (ESA) comes in handy. By taking steps to have your pet legally recognized as an ESA by applying for an ESA letter, you can protect the special bond you have with your pet in the eyes of the law.
If you're in Hawaii, here's everything you need to know about getting an ESA letter.
Do You Qualify for an ESA Letter in Hawaii?
As in other states, you can qualify for an ESA if having a pet can lessen the burden of a psychological or physiological disorder, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, BPD, and more. Pets can be profoundly supportive and healing for many. If you can demonstrate that having a pet is therapeutic for your condition, you are likely eligible for an emotional support animal.
Some people have a pet before they receive any sort of formal diagnosis. It’s only later they realize their current four-legged or winged companion would be suitable as an ESA and sign up. Other times, someone can qualify for an ESA before adopting a pet and seek out a pet after being notified of the qualification. This option is helpful for getting an ESA if your current housing is not pet-friendly.
Who Can Write an ESA Letter in Hawaii?
Hawaii has many qualified experts that can help you get an ESA letter. An ESA letter is formal documentation from a certified professional that gives the patient and their pet a legal right to ESA protections.
A letter can come from any licensed mental health professional (LMHP) who can assess a patient's need for an emotional support pet. An LMHP can include mental health practitioners (like therapists, clinical social workers, and psychiatrists), doctors, and physician assistants!
If you're seeking an ESA letter, be wary of online schemes offering cheap and easy solutions. While there are reputable experts who provide virtual consultations for an ESA letter, there are also many scams out there. Make sure you're taking the proper steps by researching providers and asking your community for recommendations.
What's Inside a Hawaii ESA Letter?
There isn't one specific format that a Hawaiian ESA letter must follow, but these letters typically contain a few key components.
First, the letter should include a date and the credentials of the person who wrote it. This information proves the immediacy of the need and allows the reader to verify the legitimacy of the writer and the professional opinion they provide. Contact information and an address can give the letter more weight, allowing others to follow up and double-check that it's an authentic document.
Next, an ESA letter should include the patient's full name and explain the patient's need for an emotional support animal without giving away too much confidential medical information. It is against the law for someone to require additional details about a person’s medical history other than what a letter provides.
The letter should always conclude with the handwritten signature of the writer.
Benefits of Getting an ESA Letter in Hawaii
We all know that being around animals feels good, but there are other real-life benefits of getting an ESA letter for your furry friend. Here are a few of the top benefits that an ESA letter can provide to the pet owner, explained.
No-Pet Housing? No Problem
Federal protections allow anyone to have their ESA with them in their housing, no matter the rules of the building. If you rent your apartment or home, having an ESA letter means you can bypass the headache of convincing your landlord to allow your pet to live there. Plus, you won’t have to deal with any pesky additional fees.
Possible Travel Perks
While not legally regulated, airlines and other travel services, like trains and buses, often allow ESAs, even when they don’t accept regular pets. As such, you may be able to travel with your ESA, even if the company doesn’t typically allow pets. When in doubt, call ahead and ask about their ESA policy.
While it’s hard for animal lovers to comprehend, not everyone is thrilled by the presence of a pet in public settings. But when your animal is an ESA, people are more likely to acknowledge the creature's significance to your wellbeing and make accommodations. The ESA letter helps ensure you get the support you need from your four-legged or feathered friend, and they have their rights protected.
Emotional Support Animals Laws in Hawaii
In Hawaii, as in all states, there is a recognized difference between service animals and emotional support animals. Hawaiian law defines a service animal as any dog that works or performs tasks for a person with a disability. The definition of disability is broad and includes physical, intellectual, psychiatric, sensory, or other conditions. As a type of working animal, service animals have protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Hawaii has strict animal quarantine laws and fees. The state if Hawaii’s Animal Industry Division provides a broad overview for pet owners who are visiting or moving to the island with a pet. Lab testing, inspection fees, airport release fees, along with pet forms and checklists specific to the state of Hawaii are required by law. Pets plying into Kona, Kahului, and Lihue airports may require specific reservations and requirements.
ESAs do not have such straightforward legal protections. However, they do have more flexibility. Unlike service animals, any type of pet can be recognized as an emotional support pet, from dogs to birds to guinea pigs! This is true in Hawaii, as it is in all states.
A broad range of laws distinguish service animals from ESAs and ensure ESAs have legal protections, even if differentiated from their service animal counterparts. Here are a few of the critical protections they do have.
Warning: You must never try to pass your ESA off as a registered service animal. Misrepresentation of a service animal is a civil offense punishable by law. Attempting to pass your animal off as a service animal falsely could result in a fine of up to $250 for a first offense and more than $500 for subsequent offenses.
Fair Housing Act
Thanks to the Fair Housing Act, all assistance animals (including service and emotional support pets) are legally allowed to occupy any housing unit with their owners. The law applies even to properties that typically do not allow pets. Owners are, by law, forbidden from being charged an extra fee for having their ESAs present in housing.
Air Carrier Access Act
If you're planning to travel to or from Hawaii, flying is one of your only options. And until recently, ESAs also had legal protections on airlines. Unfortunately, in 2020 an update to the Air Carrier Access Act by the Department of Transportation determined airlines had the ultimate say in accepting or denying boarding to ESAs. Only registered service animals have the right to fly with their owners. Before traveling, contact individual airlines to learn about their policies regarding emotional support pets on flights.
Americans with Disabilities Act
As per the ADA, service dogs are legally allowed to accompany their owners anywhere unless the dog is not housebroken or is causing significant disruption to its immediate environment. For ESAs, this isn’t necessarily the case.
Under the ADA, emotional companion animals are not service animals. That said, if you can train your ESA dog to sense when an anxiety attack is coming on and takes action to lessen the impact, there’s a chance it could qualify to register as a psychiatric service animal under the ADA.
How to Get an ESA Letter in Hawaii: A Step-by-Step Guide
Want to get started? Here's how to get an ESA letter in Hawaii.
1. Consider the Need
Before you head into an appointment with a mental health professional, consider why you need an ESA. How would having an animal benefit you? Would a pet alleviate symptoms of a mental health disorder, and how?
Think about the challenges you face in your life and how having an ESA would help before seeking a letter. This way, you'll be prepared to answer any questions and go through an assessment.
2. Find a Reputable Professional
As we mentioned, there are scams designed to prey on those needing real mental health support. Don't fall for any schemes. Instead, find a legitimate mental health professional or doctor who can conduct an assessment.
This person needs to be fully licensed and their credentials legally recognized. When scheduling your appointment, mention that you are hoping to discuss getting an ESA letter.
3. Get Assessed
Assessments for an ESA differ from one setting to the next but should aim to determine the need for an emotional support pet. Sometimes, this will consist of talk therapy, wherein a counselor can learn about your mental health condition. Other times, there may be more formal testing. Whatever the path, trust the process and follow the guidance of your therapist.
4. Keep Your Letter on Hand
Once assessments are complete, the mental health professional can give their formal, expert opinion on the need for an emotional support animal. If they believe you could benefit from an ESA, they will write you a letter, and you can have protection for you and your companion moving forward.
Once you have it, keep your letter on hand! Make copies in case you misplace the original. Provide a copy to your landlord, if necessary.
An emotional support animal can be a vital part of a person’s mental health support network—just like family or friends! And indeed, ESAs are family, providing consistent companionship and encouragement to those struggling with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more.
Whether you're a native Hawaiian or just visiting, you can follow a few key steps to get an ESA letter. If you do, your pet can remain safely at your side.
Get started today with the expert help of ESA Registration of America! Our team of experts can give you pointers about getting an ESA letter in Hawaii and connect you with a network of LMHPs. With our help, you can move forward with confidence that your emotional support companion’s rights and yours will be protected.
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