Massachusetts recognizes emotional support animals and protects them according to federal law. The process to obtain an ESA letter is relatively simple, and Pettable can connect you with a qualified therapist to see if you qualify.
What is an ESA Letter?
A person with a qualified disability can obtain a valid ESA letter for housing, travel, or a combination of both. An ESA letter certifies that a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) endorses an emotional support animal for their patient’s treatment. Housing providers must make reasonable accommodations for ESA owners with an official letter even if the residence has a no-pet policy. ESA letters in Massachusetts can be obtained online, and Pettable can help connect you with a qualified therapist.
What is an emotional support animal?
Massachusetts considers an emotional support animal (ESA) the same as an assistance animal outlined in the federal Fair Housing Act. According to Massachusetts law, assistance animals:
- are not pets.
- Work, provide assistance, perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or
- provide emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability
- are not required to be individually trained or certified.
- They are commonly dogs but can also be other animals.
Essentially, an emotional support animal (also known as a companion, comfort, and therapy animal) assists its disabled handler in some way. Unlike service dogs, emotional support animals don’t need specific training, and multiple species of animals can qualify.
How to get an emotional support animal in Massachusetts?
To get an emotional support animal in Massachusetts, you must obtain an ESA letter from a qualified therapist. Pettable can connect you with the right provider, and it only takes a few steps to get started.
Step 1: Find a provider.
Licensed doctors, therapists, clinicians, or medical providers can write valid ESA letters, but first, they must determine if someone has a qualifying emotional or mental illness. ESA letters cannot come from yourself or a family member, and there isn’t a self-service method or fill-out form. You shouldn’t trust services that guarantee an ESA letter before qualifying/meeting with a licensed mental health professional (LMHP); however, you can virtually connect with a licensed clinician through services like Pettable.
Step 2: Meet with an LMHP and complete the evaluation
Once you’ve found a mental health professional, you’ll undergo a clinical evaluation to determine if you need an emotional support animal. Your visit can happen in person, over the phone, or online, and your LMHP will understand how an ESA may benefit you. You can also ask questions and get clarification for any concerns, and if eligible, your health practitioner can grant you an ESA letter.
Your existing licensed mental health professional may be able to write you an ESA letter. Still, their license must fall within the scope of their practice–which means they must have the qualifications to write ESA letters.
Step 3: Get your ESA letter.
Once your qualified therapist or LMHP diagnoses your disability and determines you need an emotional support animal, they can write an ESA letter for housing, travel, or a combination of both. Generally, the document must include the following:
- 12-point bold type.
- Your legal name and an official diagnosis.
- Your LMHP’s full name, license number, and practice on the LMHP’s official letterhead.
- Signature and date.
Housing or travel providers may reject illegitimate or incorrectly formatted ESA letters, and it’s crucial that you only seek a letter from an official therapist or LMHP in Massachusetts.
Furthermore, your emotional support animal doesn’t need additional certifications, registrations, or official patches and vests after you obtain an ESA letter. Some identification doesn’t hurt, but it’s not required for your ESA. It also helps to ensure your emotional support animal has adequate training and can behave around other people, but specific training (like a guide dog has) isn’t required.
ESA Laws in Massachusetts
Massachusetts’ emotional support animal laws follow the Fair Housing Act (FHA), the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Generally, most housing providers must allow emotional support animals; however, public areas, workplaces, and airlines have no legal obligation to accept ESA letters in Massachusetts. Massachusetts doesn’t have specific ESA or laws, but the state offers additional legal guidance for service animals.
Furthermore, individuals falsely claiming to have an emotional support or service animal can face severe penalties, such as jail time, fines, or community service. Emotional support animals are not pets; one should only consider an assistance animal for legitimate mental or emotional support.
Fair Housing Act (FHA)
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects individuals with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities. Under the FHA, housing providers must allow reasonable accommodations for emotional support animals, which they define as:
“…A change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service that may be necessary for a person with a disability to have equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, including public and common use spaces.”
In most cases, the housing provider cannot refuse reasonable and necessary ESA or service animal accommodations. Still, they can request information that proves the individual has a disability and needs an assistance animal accommodation (if not already apparent). The FHA and Michigan law doesn’t cover assistance animals that:
- impose an undue financial or administrative burden, or
- would fundamentally alter the nature of the housing provider’s services, or
- the specific assistance animal in question poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation, or
- The specific assistance animal in question would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation.
Moreover, if the conditions are met, “no-pet” policies or pet fees must be waived for emotional support animals. You may be responsible for any damage caused by your assistance animal.
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)
Before January 2021, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) permitted qualified passengers to bring their emotional support animals into the cabin without an extra fee. The law changed, and airlines can now choose to classify emotional support animals as pets. Airlines have discretion over where pets fly (in the cabin or as cargo) and if passengers pay extra fees.
Despite the change in the law, the ACAA does not prevent airlines from allowing ESA accommodations, and it may be possible to travel with your emotional support animal. Not all airlines have the same policies; some will enable passengers to travel with their assistance animals—with or without a fee. Individuals should obtain an ESA letter from an LMHP in Massachusetts and check the airline’s emotional support animal policy for specific guidance to qualify.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates public access for trained service animals, but emotional support animals lack the same protection. The ADA doesn’t require public spaces to prevent ESAs from accompanying their handlers, and in general, emotional support animals can go where pets are allowed.
In addition, employers in Massachusetts have no legal obligation to allow ESAs in the workplace. According to the ADA, the only exception would be if the job applicant or employee requires a service animal for assistance.
However, employers cannot discriminate against job applicants or employees because of a disability. If you obtain a certified ESA letter and communicate with your employer, they may decide to allow your assistance animal. Of course, this will vary across different companies, and you should check with your employer’s HR department or emotional support animals policy to determine if this will work for you.
How do you qualify for an ESA in Massachusetts?
Emotional support animals can alleviate several mental and emotional disabilities. Not everyone may qualify, and an LMHP can determine if someone needs or can benefit from an ESA. Health practitioners can prescribe an ESA as part of a mental health treatment plan after completing a clinical evaluation with the patient. Qualifying emotional and mental disabilities may include:
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, can prevent someone from staying focused or attentive. ADHD may also make someone more impulsive or less likely to exercise self-control. An emotional support animal can help people calm down, stay focused, and lower stress levels.
People with bipolar disorder may experience guilt, anxiety, lack of motivation, or mood swings. Sometimes their feelings lack consistency, and an ESA can help regulate mood and behavior.
Anxiety can make everyday tasks challenging and affect mood, energy, and drive. While practically everyone will experience some form of anxiety, long-lasting cases need additional treatment, such as an ESA companion.
Although everyone will experience stress, some people endure daily symptoms and can’t always find relief. Chronic stress affects people’s mood, motivation, and sociability and can stem from high-pressure situations or environments. People may experience chronic stress at work or at home, and an ESA can mitigate the adverse effects and act as a companion.
Depression can affect multiple areas of people’s lives; sometimes, they may feel exhausted, irritable, or alone. Depression may come and go, or it can persist for long periods. An ESA companion may benefit from some mental health treatment plans and comfort their owner during difficult times.
People with phobia experience adverse effects when engaging with a particular object, concept, or image. Phobias can vary, and some may experience worse outcomes than others. Emotional support animals can help those with a phobia and provide support during triggering instances.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
PTSD can cause severe panic attacks, anxiety, and uncontrollable flashbacks. Patients with PTSD may find it hard to control their symptoms, and an ESA can provide therapeutic benefits and help alleviate the effects.
Emotional support animals are excellent companions and can assist with multiple emotional or mental disabilities. Pettable can connect you with a licensed clinician in Massachusetts to get an ESA letter; it only takes a few minutes to see if you qualify.
Emotional Support Animal vs. a Service Animal
Emotional support and service animals may provide therapeutic benefits to individuals with disabilities, but ESAs are not trained to perform a specific task.
A service animal has the training to perform specific tasks, like a guide dog helping a blind person cross the street.
Emotional support animals are covered under the Fair Housing Act and Michigan law but cannot enter a public or your employer’s space without permission.
While an emotional support animal can be any breed, service animals are typically only dogs or miniature horses. A miniature horse may not be the best choice for those who live in a town or apartment, but for those with the space, they can make excellent companion animals.
If owners have an ESA letter, emotional support animals (assistance animals) and service animals are not subject to pet fees. Massachusetts law states that an emotional support animal in Massachusetts that gives emotional support and provides help with a disability-related need.
Emotional Support Dog vs. Psychiatric Service Dog
A psychiatric service animal or dog (PSD) has similar qualities to an ESA, but it has the training to accomplish a specific task like a service animal. Psychiatric service dogs also have equal protection to service animals, and an official psychiatric service dog letter can allow them to access public places, airlines, and housing units.
In addition, while PSDs and ESAs have different training standards, service animals support similar emotional or mental disabilities.
While psychiatric service dogs can offer emotional support for a disability-related need, they are mainly recognized as support animals for physical or mental impairment.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I get an ESA letter in Massachusetts?
To get an ESA letter in Massachusetts, you must meet with a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) and undergo a clinical evaluation to diagnose your mental or emotional disability. If you qualify, the LMHP can write an ESA letter for travel, housing, or a combination of both.
Who can write an ESA letter in Massachusetts?
ESA letters must come from a licensed mental health professional, therapist, clinician, or medical provider with the qualifications to treat emotional or mental disabilities. You can’t write an ESA letter for yourself and must undergo a clinical evaluation with the LMHP before receiving a letter.
Does Massachusetts allow emotional support animals?
Yes, Massachusetts allows emotional support animals. Under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), ESAs can accompany their owner in most residences, and landlords cannot discriminate against tenants with disabilities. ESAs can generally go where pets are allowed, but they don’t have the same protection as other assistance animals.
Can a landlord deny an ESA in Massachusetts?
In most cases, landlords cannot deny an ESA with a valid letter in Massachusetts. Landlords may require an additional security deposit, and ESA owners are usually responsible for any damage caused by their emotional support animal. A housing provider’s services must make reasonable accommodations for service dogs and ESDs and recognize emotional support animals not as common household pets but as animals who have equal access, despite having a no-pets policy. They are also not allowed to add additional pet fees to an existing lease.
How do I get an emotional support dog?
To get an emotional support dog, you must meet with a mental health professional and see if you qualify for an ESA letter. ESAs have no breed or species restrictions. If you have a dog that an LMHP deems necessary for your medical treatment, it can become an ESA with a valid letter.