Each state across the U.S. has different laws regarding emotional support animals since ESAs aren’t federally covered under the American Disability Act (ADA), contrary to what many people may believe. In this article, we will cover how to get an ESA letter in Wisconsin and which laws your emotional support animal is protected under.
What Is an ESA Letter?
An emotional support animal letter is an official document that proves a person’s need for an emotional support animal to treat any mental or emotional disability they may have. For an ESA letter to be valid, it must be written and signed by a licensed mental health professional in your state. With an official ESA letter, the owner can secure access to housing with their emotional support animal, regardless of the building’s pet fees or policies.
What Is an Emotional Support Animal?
An emotional support animal (ESA) is any animal that provides emotional support alleviating one or more symptoms or effects of a person’s emotional or mental disability. Anyone can qualify for an emotional support animal, which can be of any species, as long as it provides support and comfort to its owner. Emotional support animals provide companionship but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities. Instead, they serve as emotional companions to help their owners overcome difficult times or negative thoughts.
How to Get an Emotional Support Animal in Wisconsin
If an emotional support animal sounds like the perfect remedy for you and your mental health, you first need to discover if you qualify for obtaining an emotional support animal based on your mental or emotional condition. Below are the steps you need to take to potentially certify an animal as an ESA in the state of Wisconsin.
Step 1: Schedule an Appointment with Your Doctor
The first step to finding out if you qualify for an emotional support animal is to schedule an appointment with your doctor. It’s essential to be open and honest with your provider about your mental health and what you’ve been struggling with. From here, your doctor will refer you to a licensed mental health physician who will more effectively evaluate your condition and determine if you can benefit from an emotional support animal. If you don’t have a doctor to refer you to a mental health professional, you can use simple and accessible services, such as Pettable, to locate and connect with a licensed mental health professional. For an ESA letter in Wisconsin to be valid, it must be written and signed by a licensed mental health professional.
Step 2: Complete Assessment with Your Physician
Before signing an ESA letter, Wisconsin law requires that a licensed mental health professional complete a live consultation with the patient. This appointment can be conducted in person, via phone call, or video chat, as long as it’s on record. The purpose of this evaluation is to discuss your situation and symptoms with your physician so they can diagnose your condition. If you feel it’s necessary for your well-being, you can bring up the possibility of obtaining an ESA and receive honest feedback from your licensed mental health professional on whether it would be best for you.
If you already have a therapist or other licensed physician treating your mental or emotional disability, 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 ESAs, so you should ask for recommendations from those who can help you.
Step 3: Get Your ESA Letter
Once your mental health physician qualifies you for an emotional support animal, they will write and sign an official ESA letter. For this document to be viable, it must meet the following requirements:
- Your full name and a diagnosis of your disability must be included in the letter.
- The letter has to be written on your healthcare provider’s official letterhead.
- Your physician’s full name, license number, and specialty must be included.
- Your physician must sign and date the letter.
- Some states, including Wisconsin, require the letter to include details about the recommended ESA, such as species and breed.
Be aware that ESA letters that fail to meet these conditions may not be eligible for housing or travel providers, so it’s crucial to ensure your letter is valid. Once you obtain your official ESA letter, congratulations; you officially have a certified emotional support animal! Emotional support animals do not need to undergo specific training or registration. Therefore, if organizations try to charge you money to register your ESA, be mindful that it is most likely a scam.
ESA Laws in Wisconsin
While specific ESA laws can vary in different states, Wisconsin does not provide legal protection for emotional support animals as they are not federally protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Below are specific descriptions of Wisconsin’s laws regarding ESAs.
The federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects residents in any U.S. state, including Wisconsin, who have an emotional support animal. The act prevents landlords or housing providers from discriminating against anyone with a disability and ensures that individuals with an ESA have equal access to housing.
Transportation & Air Travel
Since emotional support animals are not protected under federal law like service animals, they can be refused entry on public transportation such as buses or trains. However, many transportation services allow small pets, so depending on your animal’s size and the service’s policies, you should be fine on most forms of public transport.
When it comes to air travel, ESAs are also not allowed. With the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), emotional support animals were once permitted to fly in the cabin of airplanes. However, as of 2021, the Act has been modified so that only service animals are offered protection when flying.
While employment is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, only service animals are protected under this law.
If you have an ESA letter and believe you need their presence in the workplace, you could still make a case with your employer in Wisconsin. While this decision is up to the discretion of your workplace, they may be accommodating to your requests. However, if your employer strictly decides against having an ESA in the workplace, there isn’t anything you can legally do to combat their choice.
In Wisconsin, as well as in most other states, emotional support animals are not allowed to accompany their owners in public areas that are otherwise off-limits to pets. Only service animals have complete access. Both federal law under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state law specify that a person with a disability is permitted to use a service animal in establishments such as restaurants, retail stores, and other businesses. However, the laws do not protect the use of an emotional support animal in public places.
It’s also worth mentioning that it is a crime to identify your ESA as a service animal falsely. If caught doing so, you could receive a sizable fine starting at $500.
How You Qualify for an ESA in Wisconsin
To qualify for an emotional support animal in Wisconsin, a licensed mental health professional needs to diagnose you with a mental or emotional disability that is 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 deems it necessary.
People with depression may feel lonely or tired, have bursts of irritability, and even struggle with insomnia. Those living with depression could greatly benefit from the company of an assistance animal as they can help a person overcome the negative feelings they face daily by offering companionship during times of hardship.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) typically causes a person to suffer through flashbacks, severe anxiety, or uncontrollable thoughts and feelings. Symptoms of emotional disorders such as PTSD can have a negative toll on a person’s mental and emotional health. An emotional support assistance animal can offer a calming presence to bring a person with PTSD back to the present moment.
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 and may experience impulsiveness, trouble multitasking, disorganization, and stress-related effects. An assistance animal companion can help those with ADHD 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 negatively affect a person’s life and those around them. An emotional assistance animal can provide feelings of ease to combat negative thoughts and emotions that stem from bipolar disorder.
Symptoms of schizophrenia can range from person to person, but occasionally, someone with schizophrenia can experience delusions, mood swings, hallucinations, or a lack of motivation. Psychiatric service animals are individually trained in helping people with schizophrenia, but some people may also benefit from owning a pet or ESA. Any animal can give structure and routine to a person’s schedule, helping those with schizophrenia stay focused and organized.
Panic disorder is a medical condition characterized by sudden and severe feelings of intense fear, often accompanied by physical symptoms such as dizziness, shortness of breath, a quickened pulse, and chest pains. An emotional support animal can help a person feel grounded and present during these 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 people relieve stress by lowering their blood pressure and heart rate. While they can’t alert others as service animals could, an emotional assistance animal can offer a lot of therapeutic benefits to make a person feel 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.
If your mental health condition wasn’t mentioned in this list, that doesn’t mean you can’t qualify for an emotional support animal. If you think an emotional support animal can help with your mental illness condition, or you need to be evaluated due to the belief you may be suffering from an emotional or mental disability, it’s vital to reach out to a licensed mental health professional. These licensed physicians are available to curate a treatment plan for you to provide relief for your symptoms, whether it involves an ESA or not. You never have to suffer alone.
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. On the other hand, only dogs or horses can be certified service animals. Service animals need extensive training to perform specific tasks, such as retrieving items or opening doors, to assist a person with a disability. Service animals are protected under the ADA and are federally allowed to travel anywhere with their owner.
Emotional Support Dog vs. Psychiatric Service Dog
Psychiatric service dogs are considered service animals. Therefore, they are also covered under the ADA. Emotional support dogs are ESAs, only protected under federal housing laws. Psychiatric service dogs provide assistance to 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. To obtain a psychiatric service dog, you need to contact a physician for a psychiatric service dog letter.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you are still curious about emotional support animal laws in Wisconsin, we provided a list of frequently asked questions regarding Wisconsin ESA laws.
Can a landlord deny an ESA in Wisconsin?
Under the Fair Housing Act, a landlord cannot deny an emotional support animal in Wisconsin, even if the building has a no-pet policy. However, if your animal shows aggression or causes a disturbance among residents, the landlord has the right to evict you. Although emotional support animals don’t require special training, it can be helpful to ensure they behave well in public spaces.
Can cats be ESAs in Wisconsin?
Any animal can become a certified emotional support animal, as long as the ESA is approved by your licensed health professional. While dogs are the most common breed of ESA, cats, ferrets, or even birds can become certified emotional support animals as long as they are reasonable and necessary to a person’s well-being.
Do ESA letters expire?
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), ESA letters do not expire. However, many housing or travel providers may only accept recent ESA letters that are no longer than a year old. You can renew your emotional support animal letter by visiting your mental health provider or searching online for the best ESA letter services.
Do ESA dogs have to wear a vest?
Unlike service dogs, emotional support dogs do not have to wear a vest or special collar to show that they are an ESA. If desired, you are allowed to put an ESA vest or collar on your dog, although it is not required. Remember to ensure your dog’s clothing labels the animal as an ESA and not a service animal.
Can my therapist write an ESA letter?
Anyone who is a licensed healthcare professional can write and sign an emotional support animal letter in Wisconsin. This includes therapists, psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, certified nurse practitioners, and physicians.