If you suffer from an emotional, mental, or psychological disability, you may have a hard time navigating everyday life.
An emotional support animal, also known as an ESA, can make it easier to function on a day-to-day basis. They can provide you with companionship and alleviate feelings of stress and loneliness. People with disabilities appreciate having an assistance animal around as a non-judgmental companion who can distract them from anxiousness.
Emotional support animals are most often cats and dogs, but other animals like horses, rabbits, and turtles can similarly fulfill the role.
What Makes an ESA Different Than a Service or Therapy Dog?
Emotional support animals are often lumped together with service and therapy animals. People will toss around the words “emotional support animal,” “service animal,” and “therapy animal” interchangeably. While all of these pets are meant to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities, there are some significant differences to note:
- Training: Unlike therapy and service animals, ESAs do not require advanced training to perform their roles.
- Protection under the law: Emotional support animals are covered under the Federal Fair Housing Act and Air Carrier Access Act, so they are allowed to limited places. Service dogs are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, so they are permitted to go wherever their owners go. Therapy animals are not granted access to public places and aren’t covered under any specific law.
- Specific roles: As mentioned earlier, the main goal of emotional support animals is to provide their owners with companionship and relief from distress. Service dogs help individuals with disabilities complete certain tasks. These tasks could include reminding a person to take their medication, helping a blind person navigate around a public place, or alerting others if the owner has a seizure. Therapy dogs are most often found in hospitals or schools. Their calming presence can aid with physiological and psychological healing.
Emotional support animals are subject to different regulations than the other two kinds of pets, but they still have certain rights you should be aware of.
You can’t just assign any pet the title of “emotional support animal.” Each state has different laws for the process of obtaining an ESA letter which entails meeting with a doctor or therapist to assess need. Once you obtain one, you can enjoy the benefits of owning this kind of animal. Some of these benefits include flying and housing experiences where you can bring your pet along.
Are you ready to obtain an ESA document? Check out our guide to learn everything you need to know about securing an ESA letter in NJ.
Do You Qualify for an ESA Letter in New Jersey?
Before learning if you qualify for an ESA letter in NJ, you should understand what it is.
An ESA letter is an official document that is signed and approved by an LMHP, or licensed mental health professional. This kind of professional can include your:
- Primary care physician
- Licensed counselor
- Licensed clinical social worker
- Nurse psychiatrist
The mental health professional who is composing your letter needs to have active therapeutic care and personal knowledge of your disability.
To qualify for an ESA letter in NJ, you need to have a mental or psychological disability. This disability often has a functional limitation or a major impact on an individual’s everyday life. The effects of a mental disorder are most commonly associated with sleep, focus, and social interaction. People with the following conditions will often benefit from an ESA letter:
- Learning disabilities: An emotional support animal can help an individual with a mental disability that makes it difficult to retain knowledge.
- Anxiety disorders: Consistent worry or fear can make it difficult for a person to complete everyday tasks. An emotional support animal can lessen these feelings and help an individual lead a more normal life.
- ADD (attention-deficit disorder): This disorder, which causes impulsivity, poor concentration, or hyperactivity, can be managed with an emotional support animal.
- Depression: An emotional support animal can help someone who experiences prolonged periods of depression and a general loss of interest in activities that they once loved.
- Intellectual disabilities: An emotional support animal can help individuals with certain mental disorders and limitations in adaptive behavior function better in social settings.
An ESA can also help someone who is suffering from PTSD, panic attacks, certain phobias, and mood disorders.
The conditions we have mentioned above are not all-inclusive. You should discuss your symptoms with an LMHP so he or she can determine if you would benefit from having an emotional support animal.
What Kind of Animal Can I Receive an ESA Letter For?
Assistance animals are most often dogs and cats. However, when you seek an official ESA document for your pet, the type of animal does not matter. They are not meant to perform any specific tasks, and they do not need to undergo training. Therefore, your ESA can be any kind of animal including a bird, guinea pig, rabbit, miniature pig, or hedgehog. Still, it’s important to note that certain therapists won’t write a letter for animals they deem to be exotic. Thus, dogs and cats are universally seen as ESA’s, while a therapist won’t necessarily write a prescription letter for other animal types.
When people learn about the benefits of emotional support animals, they will often go out and purchase or adopt a pet to make it an emotional support animal. This is one way to obtain your emotional support animal. You can also seek an ESA letter for a pet that you already own and have owned for a while.
Emotional Support Animals Laws in New Jersey That You Need to Know
Under both the ADA and NJ law, public places are not required to allow emotional support animals onto their premises. This kind of protection is only extended to service animals.
Additionally, NJ employers are not required to allow employees’ emotional support animals into the workplace. Reasonable accommodations may be made on a case-by-case basis after speaking with your employer, but there are no specific legal protections in place.
NJ’s LAD (Law Against Discrimination) makes it illegal to discriminate in housing, no matter if an individual is purchasing, renting, or leasing a residence. You must be granted full and equal access to all housing facilities. You cannot be denied a place to live for the sole reason of owning an emotional support animal. The federal Fair Housing Act also lets you live in any building or residence even if it has a no-pet policy. It should be noted that you will not be exempt from paying for any damages that your animal causes.
When it comes to flying with an ESA in NJ, the Air Carrier Access Act allows you to freely do so. Your animal should be trained to behave appropriately. Before flying, you should offer the airline you’re traveling with 48 hours of advanced notice. This way, the airline’s crew members can provide you and your ESA with the proper accommodations.
Not only can you fly on airlines and live in residences in NJ with your ESA, but you should also not be charged any extra fees. With an ESA letter, you should be granted the same air travel and housing rights as other pet-free individuals.
How To Get An ESA Letter in New Jersey: Step-By-Step Guide
Getting an ESA letter in NJ is a very straightforward process. Below, you can explore our step-by-step guide.
1. Establish a Relationship with an LMHP
If you don’t already seek help from an LMHP, find a reputable one in your city.
Your LMHP will spend time with you and evaluate your condition to determine if you are a good candidate for an ESA.
Once they determine you are a good candidate, they will compose an ESA document. Your ESA document should clearly state that you are suffering from a mental illness. It should also specify that the companionship of an ESA will help you better manage your condition.
Once you have obtained your document, be sure to carry it with you at all times. Some people like to keep a physical copy on them, while others prefer to have an electronic copy on their phones. If you can, you should carry both versions with you when you know you may need to show your document. This will minimize issues with your housing or flying arrangements.
If a landlord or cabin crew member needs to verify your emotional support animal, they can contact your LMHP by reaching out to the contact information in your document’s letterhead.
2. Use Online Resources
If you don’t want to apply for an ESA document with your in-person LMHP, you can turn to online resources. However, you should be very cautious if you choose this method. There are a lot of scams online that will provide you with false documents.
It’s illegal to even unknowingly use false ESA documents. The federal fine can be as high as $125,000. If you use online resources, never pay to directly receive a letter. You should only pay for time with an LMHP. This professional will evaluate your mental health and determine if you will benefit from an ESA.
3. Find an Animal
Once you know if you are a good candidate for an emotional support animal, you can start the process of looking for a pet. If you have one already, you can choose to use your current pet as your ESA.
If you don’t already have one, find one from a local pet shelter, private pet rescue, or reputable breeder. Remember, you do not have to limit your options to a dog or cat.
When picking out your new pet, ensure that it will make a good emotional support animal. Evaluate its temperament, size, and space you have available to accommodate it.
4. Understand the Renewal Process
Air travel ESA documents expire after one year, according to the Air Carriers Access Act. Under the federal Fair Housing Act, ESA letters do not have an expiration date. However, ESA housing letters should ideally be renewed once a year to prevent problems with landlords.
5. Stay Current On New Jersey Laws
Once you obtain an ESA document, the process of learning about ESAs shouldn’t end abruptly. Rather, you should do everything you can to stay up to date. You don’t want to be left behind if there are changes in NJ law concerning ESAs. You can register your ESA with us today for free! By registering, you will receive regular updates on pertinent information and legal changes regarding ESAs.
A lot of people will often go without an ESA letter because they think it’s too difficult to one. However, the process is actually quite simple, as we have outlined above. Even if obtaining an ESA document requires a little time on your end, it will save you a lot of hassle in the long run. You shouldn’t experience trouble with taking your pet to certain places. For example, you will be free to travel with your dog on an airplane and move into a rented accommodation with no extra fees.
You don’t want to end up in a circumstance where you need an ESA letter but don’t have one. You may be charged extra fees are required to travel without your pet. Being without your assistance animal can cause stress and anxiety that would have otherwise been avoided.
Start the process of applying for a dog today. Register on our website so we can inform you of everything you need to know about how to properly use your ESA document!