emotional support animal

How to Get an Emotional Support Animal: Your Step-By-Step Guide

Charles Grisham
By Charles Grisham
Medically reviewed by Ivana Crnec, DVM
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How to Get an Emotional Support Animal?

How to Get an Emotional Support Animal

In order to get an emotional support animal (ESA), you will need an emotional support animal letter from a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) stating you have been diagnosed with a mental illness and the animal is part of a treatment plan to ease the symptoms and promote well-being.

Qualifying mental health conditions this letter covers include anxiety, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, autism, and phobias.

Is Getting an Emotional Support Animal Hard?

No, if you have a qualifying mental health condition.

Emotional support animals do not receive special training like service animals, and psychiatric service dogs (PSD) receive so ESA owners only need to have a domesticated animal, a diagnosed mental disability, and a licensed therapist who will write an ESA letter for them.

Without the letter, the ESA is just a comfort animal and does not receive the same protections under state law and federal law as ESAs. If you go through the traditional steps of consulting with a medical doctor to get a referral to an LMHP, talking to the LMHP, and getting a diagnosis of a qualifying mental disorder, then getting an ESA letter is not difficult and does not cost anything.

Going through an online ESA letter service can be easier as it does not require a medical doctor’s referral to an LMHP. Any fees associated with online sources to ESA letters are fees the website charges for pairing you with an LMHP. From there, the process is the same as the traditional route after getting a referral from a medical doctor.

Is Getting an Emotional Support Animal Hard?

There are illegitimate ESA letter sources out there, however, and it is important to know what a scam looks like. As easy as it is to get an ESA letter, it is just as easy to fall for a scam.

Often these scam websites will offer an immediate turnaround of a letter claiming once you fill in the proper information, you are given the letter right away. This is not the case for real letters. Generally, getting a diagnosis of a qualifying condition from an ESA doctor can take several days or several weeks, as many states’ laws require a relationship between the client and the provider to be established for at least 30 days before an ESA letter can be written.

An illegitimate letter also will not be on professional letterhead, will not provide a license number for the LMHP, and will not provide the state from which the letter originated. A legitimate ESA letter is required to have all of these things because this information is required to be legally recognized.

A legitimate letter bars housing providers from charging pet fees and rejecting applicants based on the need for a companion animal per the laws set forth by the Fair Housing Act and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In fact, a real letter will require housing providers to make reasonable accommodations for assistance animals. This can mean modifications to their pet policies and waiver of pet fees.

Public access will also be limited for the animal in the same way pets are if the letter is illegitimate. Regardless of a person’s disability, an ESA’s access to public places will only be granted if the letter is written by a licensed professional.

This includes access to schools, work, and air travel, all of which are areas ESAs are allowed as outlined in the laws laid out by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). With all of this in mind, it is imperative to remember that even though making an animal an ESA is not difficult, it is also easy to fall prey to scams, and the ramifications of falling for a scam can be incredibly frustrating.

What is the Process of Getting an ESA?

What is the Process of Getting an ESA

Here is a simple breakdown of the process of getting an ESA:

  • Determine the ESA Benefits. If you suspect you may be suffering from a mental or emotional disability such as anxiety, depression, or panic attacks, it is a good idea to see a medical doctor and confirm whether or not there is a diagnosis to be made.
  • Get a Referral. See a medical doctor and explain your symptoms. Open a dialogue to discuss treatment options for the disorder and talk with them about being referred to a therapist. A medical doctor cannot diagnose a mental disorder required to receive an ESA letter, so you will need to get a referral to an LMHP for that.
  • Get a Diagnosis. After you have been given a referral to see an LMHP, you can discuss your symptoms to see if there is a diagnosis to be made. The diagnosis must be made by a licensed mental health professional. Be aware you may need to talk with them for 30 days before being able to receive an ESA letter. Check your state laws to see if there is a waiting period.
  • Receive the ESA Letter. Once the emotional support animal letter is written it will be sent by mail within 1-3 business days.
Certapet

Legitimate way to certify your emotional support animal

  • Connects licensed medical practitioners to individuals seeking ESA letters
  • ESA letters comply with state and federal regulations

Going through a medical doctor is the traditional route, but it is not necessary. Online services like certapet.com require you to fill out a questionnaire before pairing you with a licensed therapist.

This route is faster but may cost a bit more. Doing it this way effectively eliminates the second step in the process of talking with a medical doctor. Simply put, you will get your emotional support dog faster.

How do I Ask My Psychiatrist for an Emotional Support Animal?

First, you will need to schedule an appointment. This may require a referral, as mentioned above. Once at the appointment, you will want to thoroughly discuss your symptoms and allow the LMHP to make recommendations. If you have a history of therapy or medications, they may want to adjust the medication or therapy strategy before recommending a support animal.

After this, you will want to talk to them about their experiences prescribing emotional support animals. This will help you gauge their willingness to write an ESA letter and give you insight into whether or not this therapy strategy is suitable for your disorder.

Lastly, get the recommendation for the letter. This is something that has to be brought up organically because of the growing demand for ESA letters. Many people are pushy in trying to get a letter just so they can live with their pet or travel more easily, making it more difficult for those who actually need the ESA to obtain a letter.

Discuss treatment options further with the LMHP and let them suggest an ESA as treatment. Asking for one may seem pushy and dishonest, and the mental health professional may be resistant to recommending one under this pretense.