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How to Get ESA Evaluation Letters for Therapy Animals
Researchers—and pet owners—have long recognized that animals can boost our mental health. From companionship to a sense of purpose, pets can help vulnerable people feel less isolated. Research has even shown that interacting with animals can lower your blood pressure and regulate our heart rate. They can significantly lessen the physical signs of stress.
If you suffer from a mental or emotional disability, your animal may provide vital emotional support and is assessed by a therapist. By getting assessed for an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Evaluation Letter, you'll be able to have your pet officially recognized as an ESA should the therapist deem you fit. The Emotional Support Animal Letter ensures you won't face separation from each other when you need them most.
Read on to find out how to get an ESA letter to protect you and your emotional support dog.
What Is an ESA Letter?
An Emotional Support Animal Letter is an official document that has the signature and approval of a licensed mental health professional (LMHP). You might also hear of it called an ESA Evaluation or Prescription Letter. It certifies that your animal is necessary for your emotional support as part of your treatment. An ESA can help with symptoms of a mental health disability. These animals can alleviate anxiety, depression, agoraphobia, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In some states, there are laws concerning the mental health professional who confirms your emotional support letter. They must be a therapist, psychiatrist, physician, or mental health expert who is currently treating you for your condition.
What Are the Benefits of an ESA Letter?
A valid ESA letter will protect you and your Emotional Support Animal from specific regulations that would otherwise prevent them from accompanying you. These restrictions include:
- Airline regulations that deter animals from traveling in commercial airplane cabins
- Federal laws and housing regulations that prevent you from owning pets in rented accommodation
- Laws that state you must pay more to bring your animal onto a flight or into rented accommodation
Your ESA letter will exempt you from the above regulations under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA).
What Is a Legitimate ESA Letter?
Some people try to purchase fake ESA letters that misrepresent the status of their pet as a legitimate emotional support animal. They may do so because they feel tempted by the prospect of not having to pay for their animal on an airplane. (In 2018, one woman notoriously tried to claim that her peacock was a legitimate Emotional Support Animal. She attempted this to fly with it free of charge!).
This misrepresentation has increased disreputable online services that sell these fake ESA letters. Therefore, it's crucial to know what a legitimate ESA letter looks like to make sure you're getting the real deal.
Legitimate ESA letters will always be on professional letterhead. They will have a genuine signature from your licensed mental health professional or physician. It needs to include the professionals' contact details and the address of their practice. As well, there should be confirmation that you are currently under their care. It must also include:
- Proof that you suffer from a mental health condition listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, edition 4 or 5
- Confirmation that this condition prevents you from undertaking a significant life activity, such as going to work, socializing or being in public spaces
- A statement from the professional that they deem your Emotional Support Animal to be a necessary part of your treatment and mental health support
Are You Qualified for an ESA Letter?
To qualify legally for an ESA letter, you must have a diagnosis for a mental health condition. Such conditions may include social anxiety, depression, PTSD, or OCD. The condition should be severe enough to qualify as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990. You must already be receiving treatment for this condition, whether that's therapy, counseling, or medication.
Your therapist must be able to certify that you qualify for an Emotional Support Animal. They must attest that your animal alleviates the symptoms of your disability.
Emotional support might include if the animal:
- Lowers your stress levels when out in public
- Calms you down if you suffer from panic attacks
- Helps you deal with social situations
This support proves that the animal is necessary for your daily functioning.
How to Get Your ESA Letter - Step-by-Step
Step 1: The Traditional Route
The first step to getting your valid ESA letter is a consultation with your mental health professional. Ideally, you should already have a therapist or LMHP who can attest to your mental health condition.
You can perform this step at the same meeting. There will be an assessment that asks pointed questions to determine if a person qualifies for an ESA. Moreover, an ongoing relationship with the therapist is required to receive a letter.
If your licensed medical professional prescribes you a signed ESA letter after assessing your case, you should receive this within a week or so of your appointment.
Step 2: Online Resources
It's also possible to book a session with a therapist for an ESA letter online. If you go this route, it's crucial to make sure that you are going through a reputable website that will give you a legitimate letter.
Remember that there are scammers out there. Attempting to use a fake emotional support animal letter is a federal offense that can result in a fine of up to $125,000 and even a potential jail sentence.
Most websites will ask you to pay a fee and fill out a simple questionnaire about your mental health condition. Paying a fee should not guarantee you a letter. Rather, it should guarantee you time with a therapist who will then assess whether you qualify.
Following the filling out of the questionnaire, the website will put you in touch with qualified mental health professionals for a HIPAA comp. This professional will either arrange an in-person appointment or video call or else assess your questionnaire and ask you specific questions in order to make a determination.
You can choose from different types of ESA letters. The ESA letter for housing will allow you to live with your pet even in 'no-pets' accommodation should you qualify. A confirmation for travel will give you and your pet rights when traveling.
If you would like both, you can get a single ESA letter that explicitly covers the two. However, the two letters do not overlap. You won't be able to use an ESA letter for housing for travel exemptions, or vice versa.
Once you and your furry friend have qualified, you should receive your letter within a couple of days.
Why Trust the ESA Registration of America (ESARA)?
We have over 1,450 5-star reviews from people we've helped to obtain their ESA letter online. At the ESA Registration of America, we are a well-established provider of Emotional Support Animal registration and all things related to ESAs.
At ESARA, we can guarantee:
- Qualified mental health professionals for evaluations and prescription ESA letters
- State-of-the-art scheduling software connecting you with mental health professionals
- Smooth and seamless experience for everyone involved
We have committed to helping people with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. We also have assisted and bettered the lives of veterans suffering from PTSD and people with Autism or Asperger's. Our mission is to support those who seek to gain emotional support through ESA registration.
We can put you in touch with a licensed therapist who will schedule a video conference call with you to discuss your registration. This assessment complies with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act 1996.
Registering through our organization will also ensure that your pet has a listing in our online ESA database to be kept in the loop of any future legal changes.
What Laws Do ESA Owners Need to Know?
According to the Fair Housing Act (FHA), landlords cannot legally deny you from renting an apartment or house because of your Emotional Support Animal (ESA), as long as you have appropriate ESA documentation.
This protection holds even if they operate a 'no pets' policy. ESAs have additional rights and do not fall under the same legal class as pets. Landlords also cannot ask you to pay additional fees to live with your animal.
Although landlords may ask to see your ESA letter, they cannot ask—under any circumstances—any medical questions or enquire as to the personal nature of your disability.
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) investigates claims of housing discrimination. It explicitly forbids housing providers from asking their applicants or tenants to disclose detailed information about their physical or mental impairments. Providers also cannot demand the applicants share access to their private medical records or medical providers.
As of February 2020, under Federal laws, airline staff cannot deny ESA owners and their pets "reasonable access" to flight accommodation. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) of 1986 gives owners the right to travel on commercial airlines with their well-behaved animals accompanying them in the aircraft cabin.
It's worth noting that various airlines place restrictions on the size of the Emotional Support Animals that they allow in the cabin. American Airlines, United, Delta, Southwest, and JetBlue state that animals must not block the aisles. WestJet Air explicitly allows miniature horses, large emotional support dogs, and even pigs!
It's always a good idea to contact your airline well in advance if you plan to travel with your Emotional Support Animal. Many airlines now ask for a 'reasonable accommodation' form signed by a therapist, in addition to the ESA letter.
Workplace and Education Laws
The law also states that Emotional Support Animals can join their owners in their place of work or education, including non-pet-friendly college dorms or houses. This exception is because it's illegal for employers or schools to discriminate against their staff or pupils if they have a disability.
Can a nurse practitioner prescribe an ESA letter?
The ESA letter requirements state that a licensed mental health professional must prescribe an ESA letter. The license they hold must be one of the following:
- Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
- Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC)
- Clinical Psychologist (Ph.D. or PsyD)
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
This restriction means that a general nurse practitioner cannot legally prescribe you an ESA Letter.
How do I get an ESA certificate?
Your Emotional Support Animal won't need an official certificate to register—the only legal requirement is the ESA registration letter. Don't be confused by the fact that some landlords or airline staff might request to see your certificate. The request could be because they don't fully understand the law.
At ESA Registration America, we provide downloadable certificates as part of our VIP identification kits as a self registration process. Please note that these are not a legally acceptable substitute for the signed letter.
How do Emotional Support Animals differ from service animals?
Emotional Support Animals are not the same as service animals. Examples of service animals include 'seeing eye' guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs, mobility assistance animals, and even seizure or diabetic alert dogs. These animals have received specialized training to carry out specific actions or behaviors. They can help people with daily tasks or alert their owner when they detect an imminent medical emergency.
An emotional support animal (ESA) does not have specialized training. However, they do need to be reasonably well-behaved to cope with aircraft travel and the pressures of being out in public. These animals provide emotional support through companionship, love, and reassurance—that is to say, by merely being themselves!
The differences mean that an Emotional Support Animal doesn't have the same rights as a service animal, which can legally go everywhere their owners go, without exception. ESAs do not have the automatic right of access to all public areas, and establishments such as restaurants, theaters, and hospitals are under no obligation to provide reasonable accommodation for your animal.
How long will my ESA letter be valid?
The period for which your ESA letter will be valid depends on the type of letter you choose.
Housing letters do not need to be updated annually. Travel letters, on the other hand, require an annual assessment with a therapist for renewal. It’s important to note that just because you qualified for an ESA letter one year doesn’t guarantee that you will qualify the next. The mental health professional determines this status.
How can my landlord, property manager, or cabin crew verify my ESA letter?
Your landlord, property manager, or a member of the cabin crew will be able to verify your ESA letter by calling the phone number listed on the letterhead. This number is the verification phone number of the licensed mental health professional who authorized your letter in the first place.
Remember that it's always best to notify your airline in advance of your flight that you will be traveling with an Emotional Support Animal ESA.
Does my Emotional Support Animal need to wear identifying clothes?
It's not strictly necessary for your Emotional Support Animal to wear identifying clothes. However, identifying items can contribute to your peace of mind and protect you and your animal from harassment. These can save you from having to offer unnecessary explanations and can discourage members of the public from trying to interact with your animal.
Identifying clothing includes harnesses, collars, leashes, or patches, all of which are available from our online shop.
Emotional Support Animals can make a world of difference to people who suffer from emotional disabilities. Their unconditional love and companionship can be invaluable in helping you deal with emotional or psychological symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks, or flashbacks. At ESA Registration of America, we believe that being able to live and travel with your animal, wherever you go, should be a legal right for those of us who struggle every day with our mental health.
By qualifying with your licensed mental health professional for an ESA Evaluation Letter, you'll be able to gain protection for this right under federal law. Knowing that you won't ever have to choose between the company of your furry friend and the practicality of traveling via airplane or finding rented accommodation can take a massive weight off your shoulders.
What's more, you won't have to pay additional fees for your support animal to accompany you! The one-off cost of your ESA registration letter is all you will have to pay to make sure your pet can stay by your side.
If you think your life could change for the better by registering your pet as an Emotional Support Animal, this how-to guide contains all the information you'll need to apply for your prescription letter. Contact us at ESA Registration of America to start your hassle-free application today.
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