Since emotional support animals (ESAs) aren’t federally covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), each state has different laws regarding ESAs. In this article, we will discuss how to get an ESA letter in Colorado and which rules you are protected under that can best help you and your ESA that supports your emotional and mental health.
What Is an ESA Letter?
An emotional support animal letter is an official document that shows a person’s need for an emotional support animal to treat their disability, whether it is an emotional or mental health disability. An ESA letter must be written and signed by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) in your state. With a valid ESA letter, the owner can secure ESA full and equal access to housing, regardless of pet policies or fees, or the person’s disability, whether physical, emotional, or mental health conditions.
ESA letters can also help with traveling, as the Air Carrier Access Act, which allows your ESA to accompany you on flights, has specific rules and regulations regarding ESAs.
What Is an Emotional Support Animal?
An emotional support animal is any animal that provides emotional support alleviating one or more symptoms or effects of a person’s emotional or mental disability. These mental disabilities include anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and insomnia, to name a few.
Anyone can qualify for an emotional support dog, or any other species of animal, as long as it provides support to its owner. ESAs provide companionship but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with mental health issues.
How to Get an Emotional Support Animal in Colorado
If you feel you need to obtain an emotional support animal, you first need to see if you qualify for an official emotional support animal letter. Here are the steps to certifying an animal as an ESA.
Step 1: Schedule an appointment with your doctor
The first step to obtaining an emotional support animal is paying a visit to medical professionals. Being open and honest about your mental health and what you’ve been struggling with is essential. From here, your doctor will refer you to a licensed professional who will evaluate your condition and determine if you can benefit from an emotional support animal.
If you don’t have a doctor to refer you, you can use simple and accessible services such as Pettable to locate and connect with licensed mental health professionals near you. It’s worth noting that an ESA letter in Colorado must be written and signed by a licensed professional to be valid. If they decide you should have one, the licensed professional will write an ESA letter good in your state.
Step 2: Complete the assessment
Before curating a valid ESA letter, Colorado law requires a licensed medical professional to complete a live consultation with the patient. On the plus side, this appointment can be conducted in person, via phone call, or video chat. The purpose of this evaluation is to discuss your situation and symptoms so the licensed professional can diagnose your condition and give their feedback on whether you could benefit from an emotional support animal or not.
Suppose you already have a therapist or other licensed physician treating any mental or emotional disabilities you have. In that case, you can talk to them about the possibility of obtaining an emotional support animal. However, it’s important to note that not all licensed mental health professionals know about ESAs, so you should ask for recommendations from those who are informed.
Step 3: Get your ESA letter.
Once you qualify for an ESA, the medical professional will write and sign a valid ESA letter. For this document to be helpful, it must meet the following requirements:
- The letter must include your full name and a diagnosis of your disability in the letter.
- It has to be written on your healthcare provider’s official letterhead.
- The letter must include your physician’s full name, license number, and specialty.
- Your physician must sign and date the letter.
- Some states, including Colorado, require the letter to include details about the recommended ESA, such as species and breed.
- Letters that fail to meet these conditions may not be eligible for housing or travel providers.
Once you obtain your ESA letter, you officially have a certified emotional support animal! ESAs do not need to go through any training or registration. If any organizations try to offer to register your ESA, it’s a scam.
ESAs don’t require special training; however, ensuring they behave well in public spaces can be helpful. Public access laws vary from state to state, even county to county, so it is essential to see the rules for animals in Colorado.
Additionally, ESAs don’t have to wear special vests or collars, but doing so may help others be aware that your furry companion is an ESA and not just a pet.
ESA Laws in Colorado
While specific ESA laws vary in different states, Colorado does not provide legal protection for emotional support animals. Owners who require an emotional support animal are only federally protected under housing laws.
The federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects Colorado residents who have an emotional support animal. The Act prevents landlords from discriminating against anyone with a disability and ensures that individuals with an ESA have equal access to housing. Other lodging establishments, such as hotels, may also have specific requirements or rules, despite having a legitimate ESA letter.
Under the FHA, it is illegal for a person with a disability or disability-related need to be evicted or denied housing despite having an emotional support animal. Legal protections allow owners not to pay pet rent or a pet deposit. Even if the rental agreement includes a no-pet policy, reasonable accommodation must be made for Colorado, emotional support animals.
However, if an ESA behaves disruptively or is a direct threat to other patrons, a landlord has the right to charge for any damages or remove them from the premises.
Transportation & Air Travel
Since emotional support animals are not federally covered under the American Disability Act, they can be refused entry on public transportation such as buses or trains. However, many places allow small pets, so depending on your animal’s size, you should be fine on most forms of public transport.
When it comes to air travel, ESAs are also not allowed. Emotional support animals were once permitted to fly in the cabin of airplanes thanks to the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA); however, as of 2021, the Act has been modified so that only service animals are offered protection.
While employment is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, only service animals are protected under this law. There are no employment laws regarding ESAs for mental support or emotional help.
If you have an ESA letter and believe you require their presence, you could still make a case with your employer in Colorado. While this is up to the discretion of your workplace, they may be able to make a reasonable accommodation to your requests. However, if your employer strictly decides against having an ESA in the workplace, there isn’t anything you can do to combat their choice.
In Colorado and most other states, ESAs are not allowed to accompany their owners in public areas that are otherwise off-limits to pets. Service animals only have complete access. Therefore, public establishments such as places serving food or convention center places have the right to refuse entry to you and your ESA or charge you pet fees.
Some public places outside for recreation — recreational facilities such as parks or playgrounds, or pavilions — may have their own set of rules regarding ESAs.
It’s also worth mentioning that falsely identifying your ESA as a service animal is a crime. If caught doing so, you could receive a sizeable fine starting at $500.
How Do You Qualify for an ESA in Colorado?
To qualify for an emotional support animal in Colorado, an LMHP must diagnose you with a mental or emotional disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Below are a few disabilities that may qualify for an emotional support animal if a licensed mental health professional proves necessary.
A mental health professional licensed to diagnose mental illness is the best choice in finding help in getting an emotional support dog or cat or a service dog.
Someone with depression may feel lonely or tired, have bursts of irritability, and even struggle with insomnia. People living with depression could greatly benefit from the company of assistance animals, as they can help a person overcome these negative feelings by offering companionship during times of hardship.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
PTSD can cause a person to suffer through flashbacks, severe anxiety, or uncontrollable thoughts and feelings. Symptoms of emotional disorders such as PTSD can negatively affect a person’s mental and emotional health. An emotional support animal can offer companionship and a calming presence to help a person work through these difficult emotions.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can hinder a person’s ability to focus or sit still for long periods. Someone with ADHD may also exhibit struggles with self-control. They may also experience impulsiveness, trouble multitasking, disorganization, and stress-related effects. An animal companion can help people calm down, stay focused, and lower stress levels.
People with bipolar disorder can feel many things, including guilt, anxiety, general discontent, hopelessness, loss of interest, mood swings, apathy, or apprehension. These emotions can harm a person’s life and well-being and negatively affect those around them. An emotional support animal can provide feelings of ease and companionship to combat negative thoughts and emotions from bipolar disorder.
Symptoms of schizophrenia can range from person to person, but sometimes someone with schizophrenia can experience delusions, mood swings, hallucinations, or a lack of motivation.
While some people with schizophrenia may have a psychiatric service dog trained to help them with this disorder, others may also benefit from owning a pet or ESA. Any animal can give structure and routine to a person’s schedule, helping a person with schizophrenia stay calm and organized.
Panic disorder (with or without agoraphobia)
Panic disorder is a medical condition characterized by sudden and severe feelings of intense fear, often accompanied by physical symptoms. A person with panic disorder may feel dizziness, shortness of breath, a quickened pulse, and chest pains during an episode.
Those who suffer from agoraphobia deal with panic episodes when they encounter open or crowded spaces. An emotional support animal can help people feel grounded and calm during their manic episodes.
A person could develop chronic stress if they experience pressures in their home life or work life or if they experience a traumatic event. Because chronic stress is a mental health disability, sometimes people with chronic stress may experience headaches, fatigue, irritability, or even changes in appetite. Emotional support animals can help a person feel calm, relieve stress, and lower blood pressure and heart rate. While they can’t alert others as service animals could, they can still help a person feel grounded and safe.
People with social phobia feel intense judgment and anxiety in social situations. Everyday social interactions cause irrational fear, hopelessness, embarrassment, and self-consciousness. Social phobia can sometimes feel paralyzing, and an emotional support animal can help by offering feelings of love, care, and comfort.
There are lots of other mental disorders that may qualify a person for an ESA. Suppose you think an emotional support animal can help with your diagnosis of a mental illness, or you need to be evaluated due to the belief you may be suffering from an emotional or mental disability. In that case, reaching out to a licensed mental health professional is vital. These physicians can help you cope with your symptoms and provide relief, whether with an ESA or another form of treatment.
Emotional Support Animal vs. Service Animal
Emotional support animals and service animals are vastly different from each other. Emotional support animals can be any animal species, as long as they are proven to provide emotional comfort to a person with a disability, generally through their presence and companionship. ESAs don’t need to go through any training or registration process.
An assistance animal is also classified as a support animal, as an assistance animal can provide support to the mental and emotional well-being of its owner.
On the other hand, only dogs or horses can be certified service animals. A service animal needs extensive training to perform specific tasks, such as retrieving items or opening doors. A service animal can also be trained to assist a person with a disability, such as pulling a wheelchair or turning on lights in a darkened room.
Service dogs are the standard choice for a service animal. However, miniature horses can also be service animals.
Service dogs, and any other service animal, are protected under the ADA, and federal law allows them to travel anywhere with their owner.
Emotional Support Dog vs. Psychiatric Service Dog
Psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) are considered service animals. Therefore, they are also covered under the ADA.
Emotional support dogs are ESAs or assistance animals, which are only protected under federal housing laws, even if they are support animals in Colorado. Psychiatric service dogs assist people with psychiatric disabilities and perform tasks such as safety checks or room searches for individuals with PTSD, blocking those in dissociative episodes from wandering into danger and preventing impulsive or destructive behaviors, such as self-mutilation. You need to contact a physician for a psychiatric service dog letter to obtain a PSD.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you are still curious about emotional support animal laws in Colorado, we provided a list of frequently asked questions regarding laws in Colorado.
How Do I Get an ESA Letter in Colorado?
You can obtain an ESA letter through an in-person or online appointment with a licensed mental health professional. Once the licensed physician provides a mental or emotional disability diagnosis and verifies that you could benefit from an ESA, they will write and sign an ESA letter for you and your companion.
Does Colorado Recognize Emotional Support Animals?
Colorado does not provide legal protection or recognition for emotional support animals like other states. While ESAs play a vital role, owners and their animals are only legally protected regarding housing.
Can a Landlord Charge Pet Fees for an ESA in Colorado?
Pet deposits and fees cannot be applied for emotional support animals in Colorado as long as you have a valid ESA letter. Landlords cannot apply unnecessary restrictions to tenants who need emotional support animals and are required to provide reasonable accommodations, including waiving pet fees.
Can a Landlord Deny an ESA in Colorado?
Specific rules under federal law prohibit discrimination, such as the Fair Housing Act.
If you have an ESA letter, Colorado law follows the Fair Housing Act, which states that housing facilities and landlords are not allowed to deny an ESA or charge a pet fee or pet deposit.
However, if your animal shows aggression or causes a disturbance among residents, the landlord has the right to break the lease or rental agreement and can evict you or demand you remove the ESA. Even in urban development, ESA letters must be accepted.
Is Getting an ESA Letter Online Legit?
Online ESA letters are legit, as long as you can participate in telehealth visits with a mental health professional licensed to assess cognitive and emotional well-being, who can provide you with that letter after they’ve suitably evaluated you. Experienced mental health professionals understand the need for an ESA and can help get an ESA letter to you fast and efficiently.