What is an Emotional Support Animal Letter?
An emotional support animal letter is an official document written and signed by a licensed mental health professional, such as a licensed therapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist, in the state a person lives.
It validates the need for the emotional support animal by briefly describing the emotional disability or the mental disability the animal helps to treat. The emotional support animal letter must contain the licensed professional’s letterhead and include their license number.
The emotional support animal letter requests reasonable accommodations in housing as outlined under the Fair Housing Act.
What Are the Benefits of an ESA Letter?
There are various benefits of the emotional support animal letter. Here are the most important.
- Travel. Until recently, all airlines were required by federal law to allow ESAs on board their planes. That had changed as of 2021 when new rules in the Air Carrier Access Act were added that removed protections for ESAs on aircraft.
The airlines now have the option to choose whether or not ESAs are allowed, and the major airlines have decided to ban ESAs, but there are still some air travel providers that allow them, like LATAM and Volaris. This means you can bring your ESA on board the plane with you into the cabin, but they may require a travel letter.
The emotional support animal letter is only valid for one year so be sure the validity will go beyond the date you return. This letter can be obtained from the same provider you received the ESA letter from.
- Freedom of Movement. With a valid emotional support animal letter, you may be able to go into stores, work, and use public transportation more freely. Employers and store managers can inquire about the animal, but the letter will give them the necessary information.
Emotional support animals and psychiatric service dogs (PSD) are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which allows assistance animals in specific public settings.
- Housing. Under the Fair Housing Act, ESAs and service animals must be allowed in no-pet housing. ESA owners and handlers of service animals are exempt from pet fees, pet application fees, and extra rent some housing providers require for pets.
Breed restrictions are also prohibited as this is considered discrimination. Many places do not allow breeds like Pitbulls, Rottweilers, or Huskies, but with an emotional support animal letter or a housing letter written by an LMHP, they are required to allow any breed for which the letter is written.
How do I Know if I Qualify for an ESA Letter?
According to umassmed.edu, “for a person to legally have an emotional support animal (ESA), the owner must be considered to have a qualifying mental health or psychiatric disability by a licensed mental health professional (e.g., therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, etc.), which is documented by a properly formatted prescription letter.”
The qualifying mental health or psychiatric disability can be anxiety, depression, phobias, and panic attacks.
How do I Get a Legitimate ESA Letter?
You must first be diagnosed with a qualifying mental health condition to get an emotional support animal letter.
There are two primary routes one can go through to obtain an ESA letter: see an LMHP in person and get a diagnosis and a letter or do it online via websites like certapet.com that have you fill out a questionnaire and match you with an LMHP who writes an ESA letter via an online appointment or telehealth.
Do Online ESA Letters Work?
Yes, if it is through a credible company that pairs you with a Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP) to obtain an ESA letter. Credible companies usually offer a full refund if the letter does not work and have a strong customer support staff.
However, there are scams a person should be aware of. Many websites are offering ESA certificates, registration, or making claims like “you can take your pet anywhere.”
ESAs are not given certificates; there is no such thing as an ESA registration, and while emotional support animals are allowed in more places than regular dogs, they are not allowed everywhere.
Scam companies will also not have a customer support team, the letter will not have a medical license number at the top, and will not go through the proper pre-screening processes required to write an emotional support animal letter.
They often offer an immediate turnaround, but actual ESA letters are not issued immediately. In fact, some state laws require a relationship between client and provider to be established for at least 30 days before an emotional support animal letter can be written.
How do I Ask My Doctor for an ESA Letter?
You will first need a consultation with a medical professional. Medical doctors cannot write an ESA letter themselves unless they are qualified to diagnose mental disorders. Still, they can recommend you to an LMHP, like a therapist or psychiatrist, who can write the letter.
The doctor must first determine if you meet the criteria for a qualifying mental health disorder as outlined by the ADA and have a condition that’s listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Version 5).
You will want to start a dialogue by asking about treatment options for the mental condition as this will show your doctor you are serious about treating your disorder. From here, you can request to be referred to LMHP if you have not been already.
Once referred to an LMHP, you will be able to talk to them about the ESA letter. Once it is received, be sure it contains all of the necessary information like the LMHP’s license number, letterhead and signature of the professional, confirmation of the disorder and statement that the ESA is essential for your mental well-being, and an official recommendation of the ESA be with you at all times.
Can my Therapist Write an ESA Letter?
Yes, if you are already seeing a Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP), they can write you an ESA letter.
However, you must be diagnosed with a qualifying mental illness like social anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder. If you are not seeing a therapist, then you can either seek one out yourself through your doctor or try the online route.
Can I Write My Own Emotional Support Animal Letter?
No, you cannot write your own ESA letter.
An emotional support animal letter is an official document. As such, it must be written and issued by a licensed mental health professional. This can be done with in-person visits to an LMHP or an online ESA letter service.
What is Required in an ESA Letter?
To be a legitimate emotional support animal letter, the letter must contain an official letterhead, name and phone number of the practice, and LMHP’s license details such as license number, state-issued, and license type.
The letter must designate the type of emotional support animal in question, the medical condition the animal helps treat, and the state the LMHP is currently treating the patient for a disability that is recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM).
How can I Get a Free ESA Letter Online?
Certapet.com states, “there is only one instance in which an emotional support animal letter will be free: if you already see a licensed mental health professional (LMHP). A therapist you are seeing can issue your ESA letter at no added charge.”
Any scenario outside of an existing relationship between you and a licensed therapist offering free ESA letters is a scam and should be avoided at all costs. Any fees that legitimate online ESA letter services require will be for the service of pairing you with an LMHP and not for the letter itself.
How Long Does an ESA Letter Last?
An emotional support animal letter lasts for one year. After the year, you can follow up with the online place you got it for renewal, or you can follow up with your doctor/therapist.