In Illinois, individuals with an official emotional support animal (ESA) can live and travel with their ESA without fear of denial or additional charges.
Suppose you believe your animal qualifies as an emotional support animal and are interested in getting him or her officially registered in the state of Illinois. In that case, you might have a few questions.
How do I know if I qualify? How does Illinois law and federal law pertain to emotional support animals? How can I go about getting an ESA letter in Illinois?
If these are similar to some of the questions you have, you’ve come to the right place. Below, we’re answering all of these questions regarding emotional support animals and then some. Get started on your process of becoming the owner of an emotional support animal today by reading below.
Do You Qualify for an ESA Letter in Illinois?
Not everyone qualifies for an ESA letter in Illinois. If you are seeking an emotional support animal to provide companionship and therapeutic benefit, here’s what you need to know:
While you are not required to certify or register your ESA, you will need proper documentation to offer housing providers and travel agencies. You’ll need a full suite of documentation that supports and confirms the reasons why you would benefit from having an emotional support animal.
According to Illinois’ definition of disability (taken from the Americans with Disabilities Act), the following impairments mean you could qualify for an emotional support animal letter:
You have a mental or physical impairment that limits a major life activity – If you use a wheelchair, have a visual impairment, are deaf, or in some other way need assistance to complete daily tasks, you may qualify for either a service animal or an emotional support animal. Speak with your doctor to determine which method of training would best suit an animal in your life. Bear in mind that emotional support and service animals play very different roles.
You have a severe mental illness and it’s thought that an ESA would help in your treatment – People with depression, anxiety, PTSD, phobias, and other diagnosed mental illnesses are sometimes prescribed ESAs by their doctors in Illinois as part of their treatment plans. If you suffer from one of these conditions and believe a support animal could help you, speak with your doctor about getting their recommendation.
You have a disability that affects focus, sleep, or social interaction – Emotional support animals typically aid in these matters. Being able to prove that you usually experience the effects of a disability of this nature could qualify you for an ESA letter.
It’s thought that ownership of an animal would relieve your disability symptoms – Dogs and cats are the two primary kinds of animals that may be considered emotional support animals or ESAs. While some may allow other animals like rabbits or birds, it becomes a grey area. You’ll need to show that you have an animal that can relieve your most common symptoms of your disability (whether physical or mental health-related) and your disability affect on your daily life activities.
If you believe that you satisfy the above qualifications and can provide the correct paperwork, you’ll need to provide information to a licensed mental health professional for their evaluation.
Updated Emotional Support Animal Qualifications in Illinois
New updates to ESA qualifications in Illinois through the Fair Housing Act require that your mental health care professional has personal client knowledge of your disability and must connect an active therapeutic relationship between the disabled individual and their ESA.
Wondering what these terms mean?
Personal knowledge refers to the general level of information you share with your mental health professional to offer proper diagnosis and treatment. The term “therapeutic relationship” refers to the provision of medical care, program care, or personal care with actual knowledge of an individual’s disability and their disability-related need for an ESA by a licensed healthcare professional.
Proven Substantial Impact on Life Activity Needed for Emotional Support Animal
Additionally, you’ll also need to provide proof that your disability meets FHA’s definition of a “substantial major impact on life activity.” Many professionals in the industry have commented on this to clarify that an emotional support animal or ESA must go beyond the means of merely providing comfort and general companionship. They clarify that the emotional support animal shows a proven benefit beyond the general positive feelings of pet ownership.
Emotional Support Animals Laws in Illinois That You Need To Know
Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act clearly defines a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to do work to benefit someone with a disability. This definition does not include “emotional support animals,” though they often provide therapeutic benefit. Under the ADA and Illinois law, public places are not technically required to make reasonable accommodations to ESAs – only service animals.
However, employment concerns are also covered by the ADA, which allows service animals to be brought into the workplace. This law does not technically cover emotional support animals, but if you have an ESA letter, it’s worth showing this to your employer to find out whether they’ll allow your ESA into the workplace with you. Bear in mind that this is up to the employer’s discretion.
Air Carrier Access Act
The Air Carrier Access Act protects the owners of emotional support animals and the ESAs themselves in Illinois. Under the Air Carrier Access Act, anyone who has a registered ESA can travel with them as long as they can produce their emotional support animal letter when requested. Almost all airlines will require this letter as proof that the animal is truly an emotional support animal and that there is a legitimated, vested reason for the animal to be onboard the flight among the passengers.
Even if an airline has a policy that does not allow pets, this still does not affect those with emotional support animals. They will still need to allow the ESA into the main cabin without additional charge.
It’s good practice to let your airline know that you will be traveling with an ESA in advance of your travel to make things easier.
Fair Housing Act
The FHA offers certain protections for those with ESAs. According to the law, landlords have a right to request the individual’s ESA letter but are limited in asking a tenant candidate. They are only allowed to ask:
- If the person with the ESA has a disability, physical impairment, or mental impairment that substantially limits major life activities
- If the person with the ESA has a disability-related need for an assistance animal
They are also not allowed to apply limitations to dogs only, breed or size, actual animal behavior, or specific identifying emblem.
How to Get an ESA Letter in Illinois: Step-By-Step Guide
The process of obtaining a letter is simple if you go into it knowing the right steps. If you’re ready to get your ESA process started, here’s where to begin:
Step 1: Find a Mental Health Professional
First, you’ll need to find a licensed healthcare provider such as a family physician, psychiatrist, or mental health counselor. They must be licensed in their field to provide the ESA documentation you’ll need. Be sure that this is a legitimate person who has personal knowledge of your disability and overall health.
Step 2: Provide Information Relating to Disability and ESA
Sometimes, after meeting with your provider about your disability and concerns regarding it, they will recommend an ESA as part of your treatment program. Other times, the patient will need to ask the practitioner for the ESA letter. If you plan to do the latter, be sure to illustrate how your ESA provides comfort, companionship, and emotional support. If you can, also share how your ESA specifically alleviates your disability.
There’s a chance of running into a healthcare provider that does not author ESA letters. There is no right or wrong response. It is their professional and personal decision to do so. However, don’t get down on yourself if the first provider you try can’t give you what you need. There are plenty of other providers who are willing to prescribe ESAs and properly evaluate you to determine whether you qualify.
Step 3: Get ESA Letter
As long as your doctor has all the pertinent information about you and your emotional support animal that they need, they can then write you a recommendation or prescription for an ESA. You can then use this letter to get reasonable accommodation for both housing and traveling purposes.
With a legitimate emotional support animal letter, you’ll have the freedom to live and travel with your assistance animal as you please. While there are still some gray areas within Illinois and federal law regarding these animals’ public accommodations, the FHA protects individuals’ needs at home and while traveling.