How to Get a Legitimate Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Letter

If you have an emotional or mental condition that affects your daily life, you may find comfort and support in the form of a pet. If so, your cat, dog, or other pet serves as an emotional support animal (ESA). Some laws provide ESAs and their owners certain legal protections, and a legitimate ESA letter…

dog and human sitting

If you have an emotional or mental condition that affects your daily life, you may find comfort and support in the form of a pet. If so, your cat, dog, or other pet serves as an emotional support animal (ESA). Some laws provide ESAs and their owners certain legal protections, and a legitimate ESA letter is the only proof you need to ensure that support. Read on to learn how to get an official letter for your emotional support animal.

What are emotional support animals?

gray dog

Pet owners know that dogs, cats, and other animals can provide a unique form of comfort. This type of support can be essential for individuals with emotional or mental disabilities. An animal’s comforting presence can significantly mitigate the symptoms of mental illness and help people find peace and security in their daily lives. Animals that provide this type of assistance are called emotional support animals, and they are covered by laws that afford them specific accommodations. The two most common ESAs are emotional support dogs and emotional support cat.

What is an ESA letter?

An emotional support animal letter is the official document that confirms an individual’s need for an emotional support animal. It’s written and signed by a physician, licensed therapist, or licensed mental health professional (LMHP) who has evaluated the individual and determined that an ESA would be an effective part of a treatment plan for the patient’s emotional or mental condition. Pettable can explain how to get an esa letter and connect you with an LMHP who meets your state’s requirements.

This letter serves as evidence of an ESA’s role in their owner’s mental health management and gives them more legal rights than a regular pet has. With an ESA letter, an individual has the right to keep an assistance animal in their home, even if the housing provider has restrictions on pets.

Disabilities that qualify for an emotional support dog

dog kissing man

Emotional support dogs can provide help for a wide range of emotional and mental conditions. To qualify for an ESA dog, you must be diagnosed with a mental or emotional disability that’s recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Physicians, licensed therapists, licensed mental health professionals, and LMHPs can diagnose mental disorders and create treatment plans. Here are some examples of disabilities that may qualify for an ESA dog:

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder can cause flashbacks, severe anxiety, or uncontrollable thoughts and feelings. These symptoms can have a negative toll on a person’s emotional health. Symptoms of emotional disorders can be overwhelming, and a support animal can help a person work through these difficult emotions. Your pet doesn’t need specialized training to offer you companionship and a calming presence.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, similarly to other mental health conditions, can affect a person’s life in a negative way. 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. These symptoms can have negative effects on a person’s life. People with ADHD may experience impulsiveness, trouble multitasking, disorganization, and stress-related effects. An animal companion can help a person calm down, stay focused, and lower stress levels.

Depression

People living with depression could also benefit from the company of a pet. Pets can offer companionship to people with depression or another mental health diagnosis. Someone with depression may feel lonely or fatigued, have bursts of irritability, and even insomnia. A pet can help a person overcome these feelings by offering companionship in difficult times.

Chronic stress

Many things can cause chronic stress. 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. A pet can help with all of these feelings by providing support for emotional struggles. Emotional pet support can help a person feel calm, relieve stress, and lower blood pressure and heart rate.

Bipolar disorder

People living with bipolar disorder can feel many things, including guilt, anxiety, general discontent, hopelessness, loss of interest, mood swings, apathy, or apprehension. These emotions can all harm a person’s life and wellbeing. A pet can provide feelings of ease and companionship to combat negative feelings from bipolar disorder.

Social phobia

Social phobia is another medical condition that qualifies someone for an emotional support animal. People with social phobia feel intense judgment and anxiety in social situations. Everyday social interactions cause irrational anxiety, hopelessness, embarrassment, and self-consciousness. Social phobia can sometimes feel paralyzing, and an emotional support pet can help with these feelings. An emotional support pet can help a person by offering feelings of love, care, and comfort.

Panic disorder (with or without agoraphobia) last two, two points

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. An emotional support animal can help a person feel grounded and calm during their episodes.

Schizophrenia

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. Someone with schizophrenia might be apathetic towards others and have difficulty paying attention. While some people with schizophrenia may have a psychiatric service dog trained in helping people with this disorder, some people may also benefit from owning a pet. An animal can give structure and routine to a person’s schedule, helping a person with schizophrenia stay calm and organized.

Other mental disorders may also qualify for an ESA. If you think an emotional support dog may help you cope with symptoms of a diagnosed mental illness, you should talk to your mental health provider about it. If you don’t have a diagnosis for a mental disorder but think you may have one, it’s vital to get evaluated by an LMHP. These professionals can help you manage and cope with the daily symptoms of a mental or emotional disorder.

Benefits of an ESA letter

woman and dog

An official ESA letter through Pettable provides several unique benefits for you and your emotional support animal.

Housing Protections

The main benefit of an ESA letter is accommodation under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The FHA requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations for tenants with mental disabilities and their assistance animals.

In practice, this means that a landlord should allow you to keep your ESA in your home regardless of any restrictions on pets that the housing complex may have. Your ESA does not count toward the number of pets you can keep in your home, either.

Travel Accommodations

An ESA letter can provide travel accommodations in certain circumstances. Until the beginning of 2021, the Air Carrier Access Act required airlines to give ESAs the same rights as service dogs: allowing them to fly in the passenger cabin at no additional cost.

However, the U.S. Department of Transportation amended the ACAA in January 2021 to exclude ESAs from its protections. As such, each airline may make its own policy for ESAs. If you choose to fly with an air carrier that accommodates emotional support animals, you will need to provide an official ESA letter.

Increased Privacy

Having an ESA letter can make it easier to cope with your mental illness symptoms without discussing your condition with strangers. For example, if you are looking for a new place to live, you don’t have to give your potential landlord sensitive details about your mental or emotional condition. You just need to provide them with your ESA letter. Once you’ve shown a housing provider your official ESA letter, you don’t need to give any more details about your mental illness.

Having your ESA letter with you can also allow you to enter some private buildings and public places (subject to local laws). You don’t have to worry about discussing your mental health condition with people around you; simply use your letter to indicate your dog or cat’s ESA status.

Reduced Fees

The FHA also prohibits housing providers from charging additional fees for emotional support animals. That means you can keep your ESA in your house or apartment without paying a pet fee, cleaning fee, or other deposit.

Who qualifies for an ESA letter?

To qualify for an ESA letter, you must have a diagnosed mental illness or emotional condition with symptoms that an emotional support animal can mitigate. You can’t determine for yourself whether you meet the qualifications for an ESA – a physician or LMHP must evaluate you. Additionally, the healthcare provider or LMHP must be licensed to practice in your state.

People who feel they may need an ESA evaluation or consultation with a licensed professional should seek out help as soon as possible. It’s necessary for a person struggling with mental disabilities to seek help to improve their mental and emotional health, even if a person dismisses their struggles as something small. A mental health counselor or doctor has to meet with an individual to determine the medical need for an animal to provide vital emotional support. Professionals can meet with individuals through a phone call or video call. Qualified mental health professionals can diagnose emotional disabilities and treatments for these ailments.

What’s the difference between an ESA and a service animal?

Emotional support animals and service animals both provide invaluable assistance to their owners. However, there are several differences between them:

  • Only dogs are recognized as service animals by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), whereas any animal can be an ESA.
  • Service animals are trained to perform specific tasks, such as guiding a blind person or calling emergency services when their owner has a seizure. ESAs don’t need any special training.
  • Service dogs have complete legal protection to accompany their owners anywhere, including airplanes, hotels, stores, and public spaces. The legal protections for an ESA are related to housing providers and some travel organizations.
  • ESAs aren’t required to wear any items that identify them as emotional support animals, whereas service dogs must wear vests designating them as service animals.

Service dogs and emotional support animals provide special assistance to their owners, but they are subject to different legal protections.

How to get your ESA letter: step-by-step instructions

woman and dog

Need to get an official letter for your emotional support animal? Here are the steps to follow.

Step 1: Connect with a doctor or LMHP

A legitimate ESA letter must be written and signed by a licensed physician, therapist, or mental health professional. You cannot write one yourself, use a fill-in-the-blank form, or get a generic letter from the internet. You’ll need to contact a medical provider who can evaluate your condition, determine if you need an ESA, and write a letter that meets the requirements in your state. You can use a service to help you find someone instead searching through lists of mental health professionals yourself. The easiest way to connect with an LMHP is through a service like Pettable.

Step 2: Complete the evaluation

The law requires an LMHP to complete a live consultation with a patient before writing a “prescription” for an ESA. Fortunately, you don’t need to have this appointment in person; phone calls and video chats are valid. This evaluation aims to discuss your symptoms with a mental health professional who can diagnose your condition and help you understand it better. During the consultation, you can discuss why you think an ESA would help you and get a professional’s opinion on the matter.

If you already have a mental health professional treating your condition, you may want to talk with them about getting an ESA letter. However, not all LMHPs are familiar with the requirements for writing this document, so you may want to reach out to a provider who is.

Step 3: Get your official ESA letter

Once a physician, licensed therapist, or LMHP determines that your mental or emotional disability qualifies you for an emotional support animal, they can write and sign an official ESA letter. There are several requirements this document must meet to be valid:

  • It must include your full name and a diagnosis of your disability.
  • It must be written on your healthcare provider’s official letterhead.
  • It must include your LMHP’s full name, license number, and specialty.
  • It must be signed and dated by the LMHP.
  • Some states may require the letter to include details about the recommended ESA, such as species and breed.

Letters that fail to meet these conditions may not hold up to legal challenges by housing or travel providers.

Once you have your ESA letter, there is nothing else you need to do to certify your animal. There is no official registry of emotional support animals, nor is there a need to go through a “certification” process. Be wary of online sites that offer to “register” your ESA for a fee; these organizations are scams.

ESAs don’t need special training, though it’s a good idea to make sure they are calm and responsive, especially around other people. You don’t have to make your emotional support animal wear a special vest or collar indicating their status as an ESA, but doing so may help reduce invasive questions from strangers about your condition.

Types of ESA letters

ESA letters from mental health professionals facilitate legal protections for you and your emotional support animal in housing and travel circumstances. While travel and housing ESA letters are very similar, one key feature differentiating them is the expiration date.

An ESA letter for housing

The purpose of an ESA letter for housing is to ensure landlords accommodate you and your assistance animal as required by the FHA. With an ESA letter, you can feel confident about keeping your emotional support animal in your home, even if the place where you live has restrictions on pets. As an ESA, your dog, cat, bird, or other animal isn’t subject to those restrictions, and you can’t be charged additional fees. An ESA letter is valid for the entire term of your lease or ownership.

An ESA letter for travel

An ESA letter for travel is the paperwork you need to qualify for an airline’s ESA program. Since the ACAA no longer requires air carriers to accommodate ESAs, your letter may not have any bearing on flights with carriers that don’t allow emotional support animals. However, if you choose an airline that does have an ESA program, your letter is the evidence you need to prove your eligibility. In most cases, you’ll be able to bring your animal in the passenger cabin with you.

An ESA letter is only valid for travel purposes for one year. If your flight occurs more than 365 days after the date your document was signed, you’ll need to get an updated letter.

What laws do ESA owners need to know?

dog and man

There are several laws that you should be aware of. Understanding these rules can ensure you get all the ESA accommodations you deserve.

Airline laws: The Air Carrier Access Act

Congress initially passed the Air Carrier Access Act in 1986. The goal was to ensure airlines make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Transportation is responsible for amending and enforcing the ACAA. Until recently, the ACAA provided legal protection for both service animals and emotional support animals, but that changed in January 2021.

The U.S. DOT changed the Air Carrier Access Act to no longer recognize ESAs as service animals. As such, emotional support animals do not have the same rights as service dogs.

The ACAA requires airlines to allow service dogs to fly for free with their owners in the plane’s passenger cabin. However, the amended law doesn’t make airlines give the same rights to ESAs.

Some airlines still allow ESAs to fly for free with their owners, but most carriers treat emotional support animals as pets; they must fly in the plane’s cargo hold. Many airlines charge additional fees for ESAs and pets. If you do find a carrier that offers an ESA program, be prepared to provide your official letter when you make your reservation.

Housing laws: The Fair Housing Act

Perhaps the most critical law related to emotional support animals is the Fair Housing Act. Under the FHA, housing providers cannot discriminate against individuals with disabilities. They must make reasonable accommodations for assistance animals, including ESAs.

These reasonable accommodations generally apply to a housing provider’s rules about pets. For example, if you want to move into a new apartment in a complex that doesn’t allow pets, your landlord cannot discriminate against you because you need an assistance animal. They must allow you to keep your ESA with you in your new home; pet restrictions do not apply to service animals or assistance animals.

Once you provide a landlord with your ESA letter, they cannot ask for additional documentation or more details about your medical condition. The letter is all you need to get legal protection for your ESA.

In some cases, housing providers may refuse to grant your request to keep your ESA with you. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines these exceptions to FHA requirements. Specifically, if a housing provider can prove that accommodating you would “impose an undue financial and administrative burden” or “pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others,” they may be able to legally deny your request.

There is very little chance that your request to keep a support dog or cat would fall under one of these exceptions. However, if you want to keep an emotional support miniature horse in a third-floor apartment, the landlord may be able to deny your request.

Workplace and education laws:

ESA owners should also be aware of laws relating to educational facilities and workplaces. The law prevents schools and employers from discriminating against students and employees who have disabilities. As such, you should be allowed to keep your ESA with you when attending classes or going to work, even if the building doesn’t typically allow pets.

Emotional Support Animal Additional Info

You have already digested a lot of data regarding emotional support animals, what qualifies someone to apply for an ESA letter, how to obtain one, and all the supplemental information you need to understand the ESA process. 

It hasn’t always been the case that specific individuals have had access to emotional support animals in the United States. In the last 40 years, legislation passed concerning the ESA problem and how to protect people with emotional support animals. 

You know a little more about the laws supporting individuals with ESA letters. There are two essential pieces of legislation that it would be worth your time to learn about regarding these laws that help support the rights of anyone with an ESA. 

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 introduced Section 504, which began the process of preventing discrimination against any disabled person. The act made such discrimination illegal for any program or organization that received federal funding or financial assistance. 

The rules took a step further toward protecting individuals in 1988. In 1988, the Department of Housing and Urban Development created more regulations under Section 504 to prevent housing discrimination.

The next step toward preventing discrimination and creating a fair working and living environment for people with disabilities was the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. This act was the piece of legislation that allowed disabled people to bring their service animals with them into public places. It also prevents others from denying disabled people and their service animals access to public spaces. 

Although the 1990 legislation made it easier for disabled people with service animals to get around, it does not currently account for emotional support animals. The ADA only recognizes service animals, and it only recognizes dogs and mini horses as service animals federally. Other animals can be service animals in certain states, based on state laws.

To be protected by the ADA legislation, a dog or mini horse must have proper training that correlates explicitly to their job of performing tasks that aid in a disability. Emotional support is not a task. Therefore, the language of the ADA does not include emotional support animals. Psychiatric service dogs are not ESAs and are protected under the ADA. 

A Little Bit of Emotional Support Animal Trivia

Although the ESA phenomenon is a relatively new development in the world, animals have always played an essential role in patient care and recovery. Records from the 1700s indicate that hospitals in Paris used guide dogs to assist the blind. There are some who believe guide dogs were used as far back as the second century. Evidence of this exists in Europe and China, where dogs were used to help the blind navigate daily. 

The idea of the modern guide dog came about much more recently, in the early 1900s. It was common for blinded veterans of World War I to use guide dogs. The use of mustard gas during World War I left many soldiers visually impaired, although the number recorded in the United States is smaller than that of other participants. 

In addition to working as guides, dogs and other animals have always had a special place in the healing world. Studies have posited that a special bond exists between humans and animals and that this bond can be traced back millennia. Although domestication is far more common now, animals have always served a very important role in the lives of their owners. 

Why Do Animals Make Humans Feel Better?

There is a special bond that exists between animals and their people. For centuries, it has been the case that people keep animals around for more than strictly practical reasons. Animals help people feel better in some capacity, whether they are emotional support animals or just family pets. Why is it that animals play such a massive role in the life and well-being of the human race?

It just so happens that there is a scientific answer to this question. Studies have revealed that humans who interact with animals regularly have an increased level of oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that’s commonly known as the love hormone. 

The hypothalamus produces it, releasing it into the bloodstream through the pituitary gland. The love hormone is one of the key players in helping humans bond with loved ones. When you hang out with your animal long enough, oxytocin starts coursing through your body and increasing your love and need for that animal.

Commonly asked questions about emotional support animals

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Here are answers to some of the most common questions about emotional support animals and their documentation.

How to get an ESA letter online?

You will need to use a reputable website to get your emotional support animal letter online. If you use an online service, like Pettable, you will then schedule a consultation with a licensed mental health professional. These consultations can be completed by phone or video call. After the consultation, the medical professional will determine if you would benefit from owning a support pet. If so, they will then issue you an emotional support animal letter. Licensed mental health professionals are the only people that can determine a person’s need for an ESA or not.

How do I know if my ESA letter is legit?

You will get a legit ESA letter when you have a consultation with a licensed medical professional and they determine that you would benefit from an emotional support animal. Your letter needs to be signed and dated by a licensed mental health professional, and the letter must include the doctor’s licensing information. The doctor should also print the letter on their official letterhead.

Are any online ESA letters legit?

There are websites that offer legit ESA letters from mental health professionals. These sites will usually help you schedule your consultation with a licensed mental health professional. While there are websites that can give you a valid ESA letter, there are also sites that will try to scam you. Mental health professionals are the only ones that can legally give you a valid ESA letter.

Which ESA website is legit?

A reputable website that only issues legit ESA letters is Pettable. This website will choose the best mental health professional for you from their many mental health professionals. Pettable has an easy and convenient online process to set up a consultation with a licensed mental health professional. Pettable is also compliant with federal and state laws. This ESA website can also get your emotional support animal letter to you quicker than other sites may.

How to identify a fake ESA service?

The easiest way to identify a fake ESA service is if it charges additional fees to “register” or “certify” your emotional support animal. There is no official ESA registry, so any attempt to charge fees for such a service is a scam.

A legitimate ESA service, such as Pettable, facilitates the process of getting evaluated by a mental health professional who can write an ESA letter. Services that offer DIY fill-in-the-blank letters or generic documents that don’t include an LMHP’s license information are fake.

Who can write an ESA letter?

An ESA letter is similar to a prescription, so only licensed medical professionals can write one. Several types of healthcare providers can write an ESA letter, including psychologists, licensed therapists, primary care physicians, psychiatrists, and licensed clinical social workers.

What does an ESA letter look like?

A legitimate ESA letter should be written on the medical professional’s official letterhead. The document should include the medical provider’s license number along with their signature and the date.

Can a physician write an ESA letter?

Yes, as long as they have evaluated you and determined that you have an emotional or mental disability that would benefit from an ESA. The physician must be licensed to practice in your state. Frequently, general physicians don’t have much experience diagnosing and treating mental illness, so you may want to find a mental health specialist to manage your recovery.

Can a nurse practitioner write an ESA letter?

No. Under existing laws, only certain authorized professionals may write ESA letters, including physicians, LMHPs, and licensed clinical social workers.

Can a therapist write an ESA letter?

Yes, if the therapist is licensed in your state. You must go through a consultation with the therapist so they can determine whether an ESA would be the right treatment for your mental illness.

What does an ESA letter need to say?

An ESA letter needs to include your full name and details about your mental illness as evaluated by your healthcare provider. The letter must include a recommendation for an emotional support animal.

Your state may have additional requirements for an emotional support animal letter, such as details about the ESA’s species/breed. You can ensure your document meets state requirements by going through a reliable service, such as Pettable, to schedule a consultation with an LMHP who is familiar with the laws of your state.

How long is an ESA letter good for?

The answer depends on the type of letter you have. If your ESA letter is primarily for housing purposes, it does not expire. You don’t need to provide your landlord with an “updated” letter. However, if you are using your ESA letter for travel accommodation, you will need to renew it every year. Travel ESA letters are only valid for one year at a time.

Do emotional support animals require training?

ESAs aren’t the same as service dogs, so they don’t require special training to perform specific tasks. However, it’s a good idea to ensure that your emotional support animal has some basic manners, so you don’t have to worry about them threatening people or destroying property. Business owners and air carriers may be more willing to accommodate well-behaved ESAs.

Protect yourself and your ESA with a legitimate letter

If you have a mental or emotional disability, an emotional support animal can help you cope with your day-to-day symptoms by providing a comforting presence. You may already have a dog, cat, or another animal that gives you support and comfort. If so, it’s essential to get an official letter that designates your animal as an ESA.

An ESA letter makes it easier to ensure housing providers accommodate you and your emotional support animal. Suppose you don’t yet have an ESA but think you would benefit from one. In that case, your LMHP can evaluate your condition, make a recommendation for an ESA, and write a letter, so you have legal backing in place when you get your emotional support animal.

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