When you adopt an animal, that pet swiftly becomes an essential part of the family. And if you rely on that animal for day-to-day support as you navigate a mental health condition, having your animal companion with you as much as possible is vital.
Maryland is a beautiful coastal state, but no amount of beauty and culture can prevent people from struggling with mental health conditions. Maryland supports those in their state by following federal guidelines for emotional support animals—and expanding upon them.
Here’s what you need to know about getting an ESA letter in Maryland to receive all the benefits the state offers to support animals and their owners.
Do You Qualify for an ESA Letter in Maryland?
Qualification for an ESA letter in Maryland is no different than in most other states. If you can demonstrate that you live with a mental health condition and that the presence of an animal could lessen the burden of that condition, you could probably qualify for an ESA letter.
The qualifying mental health conditions for an ESA letter are a broad category. From anxiety and depression to PTSD and BPD, almost any psychological or physiological disorder meets the requirements.
If you already have a pet, this animal could qualify as an ESA. Alternatively, you could get an ESA letter before adopting a pet and seek one out to be an emotional support animal.
Whatever path you pursue, getting an ESA letter is the first step to ensuring your support animal can remain safely at your side in many public situations.
Who Can Write an ESA Letter in Maryland?
In Maryland, ESA letters can be written by any licensed mental health professional. LMHPs include clinical social workers, psychiatrists, mental health therapists, and physicians.
Make sure your provider is licensed to practice in Maryland, as letters from out-of-state providers may not be accepted.
What’s Inside a Maryland ESA Letter
ESA letters generally follow the same format. Written by a licensed professional, the letter should include the following essential information:
- Letterhead and contact info for the provider
- The date of issuance
- Statement of need for an ESA
- Signature of the licensed provider
It is also worth noting that once you have an ESA letter, you can utilize that document for any animal you deem to be your ESA. The letter is issued to the client, not to a specific animal.
Benefits of Getting an ESA Letter in Maryland
Human-animal interactions are proven to impact health outcomes positively, but you can increase that impact by getting an official ESA letter in Maryland. Here are some of the key benefits.
Federally, ESAs receive housing protection. That means no housing provider, including no-pet rentals, can deny you and your pet access to housing if you have an official ESA letter.
It is also common for buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation to make accommodations for emotional support animals, so you can more easily travel with your ESA as long as you can provide an official letter.
It is not uncommon for apartment buildings, hotels, and transportation companies to allow some pets on their property. It is uncommon, however, for this to be available free of charge.
In many cases, pet owners must pay hefty fees to have their pets accompany them. But when your pet is an official emotional support animal, there is often greater leniency.
In fact, it is against the law for landlords to charge additional fees for an ESA to live with its owner. By investing time and energy in getting an ESA letter now, you could save substantially in the future.
Greater Social Acceptance
An ESA letter proves a genuine need for an animal based on mental or physical health. This evidence shows society as a whole that your pet is accompanying you for a legitimate reason. The letter may compel people to accept the animal when they typically wouldn’t and may offer more accommodations.
While ESAs do not technically have a legal right to enter all businesses as service animals do, many people are willing to make exceptions for your emotional support animal if you show your letter.
In the long run, having an ESA letter will lessen the need to explain yourself at every turn and minimize the stigma associated with both animals in public spaces and mental health conditions.
Emotional Support Animals Laws in Maryland
Maryland recognizes the federal laws and protections for service and emotional support animals, but the state has also chosen to offer additional services that can increase ESA access. Here’s how it all plays out.
The Americans With Disabilities Act
Established in 1990, the ADA provides essential protection for Americans with qualifying disabilities, ensuring they receive fair and equitable treatment. One right granted by the ADA is the right to a service animal. Registered service animals are legally allowed to accompany their owner into any public or private space, from grocery stores and movie theaters to libraries and hotels.
Unfortunately, ESAs do not have the same level of protection under the ADA. The difference is due to the rigorous training service dogs complete and their ability to perform specific tasks relevant to their owner’s disability—like bringing them medication or serving as a guide.
That said, Title I of the ADA requires workplaces to make reasonable accommodations for all people with disabilities and does not specify between service and emotional support pets. Therefore, allowing an emotional support animal to accompany its owner to work may be considered an accommodation. If in doubt, talk to your employer.
The Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act was a significant victory for people with disabilities by ensuring that no one could be denied housing or hit with additional charges for having their assistance animal accompany them in their housing. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development recognizes an “assistance animal” as any animal that assists, works, or performs tasks for a person with a disability. These tasks can include providing emotional support to mitigate one or more effects associated with a person’s disability.
Because this definition includes emotional support needs, ESAs have protections under the Fair Housing Act. Always have a copy of your letter handy to prove the legitimacy of your ESA. If a landlord tries to deny your right to live with your emotional support animal, you could take legal action.
The Air Carrier Access Act
Initially, the Air Carrier Access Act ensured that service dogs and emotional support animals could accompany their owner on any domestic flight. But after ongoing issues and complaints of customers taking advantage of the rule, the Department of Transportation changed the language of the ACAA.
As of January 2021, the DOT’s final ruling states it no longer offers protections to emotional support animals during air travel. That means that airlines can choose to charge customers a fee to bring their ESA along with them or deny them access to the flight outright.
While a blow to those who rely on emotional support pets nationwide, individual airlines may still choose to allow ESAs on their flights. Before booking your trip, always call and ask about an airline’s ESA policy.
Senate Bill 441
The US Department of Veterans Affairs has released data that shows staggering numbers of US military veterans experience PTSD upon returning from combat. Maryland has done its part to ensure these veterans have the support they need when they return home.
In 2017, the Maryland state senate passed Bill 441, establishing the Maryland Veterans Service Animal Program. This program funds organizations that connect Maryland veterans to service or support animals. Emotional support pets have an immense power to ease anxiety, depression, and other symptoms of PTSD in their human companions. This program makes ESAs more accessible to people in the state of Maryland who need them the most.
If you or someone you know is a veteran who could benefit from an ESA, learn more about the Veterans Service Animal Program and how you can get connected.
How to Get an ESA Letter in Maryland: A Step-by-Step Guide
The process to get an ESA letter in Maryland mirrors most states, but it’s worth reviewing, so you don’t miss any critical components. Here’s what to expect during the process.
Step 1: Determine A Need
First, you’ll need to establish your reason for needing an emotional support animal. Having a legitimate mental health condition and being able to show that an ESA could lessen the burden of that condition is essential.
Ask yourself: How would having an ESA improve your day-to-day life? What struggles do you face that an emotional support pet could support? Think this through before speaking with a mental health professional to help the process move forward smoothly.
Step 2: Find a Licensed Provider
Next, you’ll need to find a licensed provider that can write you a letter. The provider can be a licensed mental health counselor, a clinical social worker, or a physician.
If you can’t access an LMHP in person for any reason, you can also seek telehealth services. The only rule is that the LMHP must be licensed to provide services in your state.
Step 3: Complete Necessary Assessment
To get an ESA letter, you’ll need to undergo some assessment. It may be formal testing or a talk therapy session with a provider.
No matter the format, the goal is to determine the need for an ESA. Be truthful and open about your mental health challenges and trust the process.
Step 4: Keep Your Letter On Hand
After your assessment, the licensed provider will write you an ESA letter. Always keep a copy of this on hand in case you need to present it in a public space. Send a copy to your landlord and employer if you wish to bring your ESA to your place of work.
Emotional support animals play a vital role in mental health for thousands of Americans across the country and in the great state of Maryland. Interested in registering your pet but unsure where to begin? ESA Registration of America is here to make the process as easy as 1-2-3. Get started today to reap the benefits of an ESA!