Emotional support animals are an increasingly popular and effective way to manage the symptoms of various mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. However, you can’t just designate your cherished pet an ESA. If you want the animal to have protected status, you need an ESA letter.
Getting an ESA letter in Pennsylvania requires going through specific steps for assessment, prescription, and certification.
Sound like a lot? Don’t worry—we’ve got you covered. This guide will take you through the entire process, including the specific benefits, relevant legislation, and a step-by-step guide.
Follow along for the complete guide to getting a PA ESA letter.
Do You Qualify for an ESA Letter in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, the only criteria you need to meet to acquire an ESA letter is a diagnosis from a medical professional. This diagnosis should confirm that your emotional support animal relieves your symptoms.
Getting a diagnosis requires setting up an appointment with your chosen healthcare provider. At the assessment, you’ll need to explain why you need an emotional support animal and why owning an ESA letter will help you further.
Speaking to a healthcare professional (or anyone!) about your mental health can be nerve-wracking, but it is absolutely in your best interests. It’s normal to feel nervous at your first appointment. Remember, you will thank yourself in the end, and you only have to get through that first appointment once!
Who Can Write an ESA Letter in Pennsylvania
Essentially, anyone with a valid medical license can diagnose your condition and provide you with an accompanying ESA letter. The licensure is essential for your letter to be legally binding. If their medical license is not valid in Pennsylvania or they’re not qualified professionals, your ESA letter will provide no legal benefits.
Some examples of professionals who can provide you with an ESA letter in Pennsylvania include:
- Physician’s Assistants
- Licensed Counselors
- Psychiatric Mental Health Nurses
- Licensed Clinical Social Workers
As you can see, there are many ways to acquire a valid ESA letter. If you are visiting a particular healthcare provider for the first time, check their credentials on their website before arranging your first appointment.
What’s Inside a Pennsylvania ESA Letter?
For your ESA letter to be considered valid within Pennsylvania, it must include a distinct set of criteria. Your chosen health provider must be aware of this before writing the letter so that they don’t miss any essential information, so make sure you make a note! Key criteria include:
- Your chosen healthcare provider’s details, including their name and signature
- Written and printed on a state-licensed health professional’s letterhead
- The date the medical provider issued the letter
- The license number of your healthcare provider, the date it was issued, and which state it pertains to
- Details relating to your specific emotional support animal
- Information about why your emotional support animal is required and how it may be able to help
If it helps you to remember, make a note of these before going to your first appointment, or present your healthcare provider with a list as a guide. This way, you can rest assured that your letter contains everything it needs when it finally arrives.
Benefits of Getting an ESA Letter in Pennsylvania
In the same way your emotional support animal benefits your life every day, possessing your own ESA letter will also. Multiple benefits come with this piece of paper. Let’s take you through some of the major ones.
Owning a legitimate ESA letter can save you a lot of money, perhaps in ways you didn’t initially expect! For example, your ESA letter provides legal proof that your animal is necessary for your mental and emotional well-being. It means they aren’t just ‘pets,’ so they can’t be subject to pet deposits or similar fees that landlords may demand.
Removing No-Pet Policies Restrictions on Rentals
Because an ESA isn’t merely a pet, no-pet policies won’t apply to you. The Fair Housing Act goes into more detail on this, which we will discuss further. Essentially, unless your emotional support animal exhibits significantly bad behavior, you can’t be discriminated against by a landlord from seeking housing accommodations.
Increasing Your Chances of Taking Your ESA on Flights
Although emotional support animals no longer have the protections they once enjoyed under the Air Carrier Access Act, it doesn’t mean traveling with your companion is impossible.
Some airlines are sympathetic to those with support animals and will allow them to board with you, but you must make arrangements before your flight. Your ESA letter can provide evidence of the necessity for your animal’s presence, which could make all the difference to an airline when making a decision.
Avoiding Awkward Confrontations
More and more people are starting to understand what emotional support animals are and how they benefit their owners daily, but there’s still much confusion. Unfortunately, this can lead to uncomfortable conversations, especially if you enter a space that doesn’t ordinarily allow pets.
By having your ESA letter right on hand, you can demonstrate why your animal is necessary and mitigate confusion as swiftly as possible.
Emotional Support Animal Laws in Pennsylvania
Emotional support animals don’t receive the same legal protections as service animals, and it’s vital to know the difference. Listed below is legislation relevant to emotional support animals in Pennsylvania, including acts you should be aware of that won’t cover your animal.
The Fair Housing Act
The FHA is a significant piece of legislation regarding emotional support animals. Under the Fair Housing Act, it is illegal for landlords to discriminate against you based on your ESA, and they also cannot impose breed, size, or weight limitations on your animal either. They must make ‘reasonable accommodations,’ the only exception being if your animal is aggressive or poorly behaved.
Air Carrier Access Act Revision
Although the Air Carrier Access Act previously protected emotional support animals, a 2021 revision made it so that airlines are only obligated to allow service animals in the cabin with you.
However, as we mentioned above, some airlines may make an exception for you. Owning an ESA letter that explains your need for your emotional support animal will only strengthen your case.
How to Get an ESA Letter in Pennsylvania: A Step-by-Step Guide
So, now we have covered the benefits of owning an ESA letter and the relevant legislation surrounding it. It’s time to talk about how to get one.
The process isn’t too complicated, but you might feel nervous if you haven’t approached a healthcare professional about this in the past. Don’t worry; we’re here to walk you through it!
1. Do Some Prep Work Before Your Appointment
Before your first appointment, it’s best to prepare your case. Not only will this make your appointment run smoother, but it should also put your mind at ease as you will know what to say when you enter the room.
Your argument should include why you believe you need an emotional support animal and how owning an ESA letter would further benefit your situation. It could also be beneficial to examine your condition (such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD, for example) to understand it better. Knowing the specific symptoms the ESA can alleviate will give you more confidence when explaining it to your healthcare provider.
2. Attend Your First Appointment
You will need to arrange and attend an appointment with your chosen healthcare provider before being approved for an ESA letter. Make sure the provider you choose is qualified to write your letter. The two critical qualifying terms are they are a licensed professional and that the license is valid in your state of residence. You can use the list of professionals near the start of this article as a reference.
Attending your first appointment can be nerve-wracking, but remember: your healthcare provider has likely written a letter like this. Who better than you to introduce them to the process if they haven’t? You’ve already done your research with this guide!
3. Make Sure Your Healthcare Provider Knows What the Letter Should Contain
We provided a handy checklist near the top of this article for this very purpose. However, it’s still important to remember that the healthcare provider must write your ESA letter in a particular way. Your healthcare provider must understand this if they are going to produce a valid document. A polite reminder can never hurt, even if they have written one before.
It’s also vital that they not only include information about themselves (such as the date of their license and their identification number) but also provide sufficient information about your need for an emotional support animal. Remember, this documentation’s purpose is to prove your animal’s validity, so it has to be detailed and specific to your condition.
4. Wait for Your Letter to Arrive
Once your appointment has concluded and your healthcare provider has agreed to write your ESA letter, you must wait for it to arrive. Depending on your request, you may receive a physical copy via post, a digital copy via email, or both. Make sure to double-check it contains everything required. If it is missing any vital criteria, you will need to contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible to fix this.
This process should take no longer than two weeks, but you should contact your healthcare provider if it does. They may have forgotten or be experiencing a sudden busy period. Whatever the reason, you need to know, and you shouldn’t feel embarrassed to chase them up on it.
5. Enjoy the Benefits!
Once you finally have your ESA letter, you can breathe a sigh of relief. You now have a document that provides medical validity to your animal’s presence straight from a licensed health provider. This document will make gaining access to certain benefits much easier, including those we have listed in this guide.
So there you have it! You are now fully prepared to get your own ESA letter in Pennsylvania. Emotional support animals can bring so much to the lives of their owners, and the ESA letter can let you enjoy those benefits.
For more information, including a network of licensed mental health providers in Pennsylvania, contact ESA Registration of America. We have all the resources you need to get a PA ESA letter.