What is an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)?
ESAs offer their owners emotional support by providing comfort, connection, companionship, and routine. ESAs can be any type of legal domestic animal. Popular ESAs include dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, pigs, guinea pigs, miniature horses, and goats.
While their presence has many therapeutic benefits, they are not recognized as service animals under federal law. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals must be individually trained to perform a specific disability-related task. For example, a hearing dog alerts a deaf owner to important sounds, or a diabetes dog alerts their handler that their blood sugar levels are too low.
ESAs differ from this definition in that they aren’t necessarily trained to perform specific tasks. It is their presence that provides companionship and support.
Nonetheless, ESAs are recognized when it comes to federal fair housing rights. We'll discuss this in more detail below.
Who Can Get an Emotional Support Animal?
Anyone who lives with a mental or emotional health disability is eligible for an ESA if the presence of an emotional support animal alleviates at least one of the symptoms of their disability. A licensed mental health professional (LMHP) must verify these criteria and issue an ESA letter to confirm an individual's need for an emotional support animal. While a wide array of mental health disabilities qualify for an emotional support animal, here are a few common examples of disabilities that can benefit from an ESA:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Panic Disorder
What do Emotional Support Animals Do?
ESAs have so many incredible benefits. A study by the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine (2015) found that living with an animal could “decrease stress, blood pressure, anxiety levels and depression symptoms.”
ESAs bring comfort and love into their owner's lives, and can aid them in the following ways:
- They provide a healthy routine (for example, waking up at a certain time or completing specific animal-related tasks like feeding or walking)
- They can help people to form healthy and positive habits (for example, going on dog walks and getting fresh air)
- They provide social connections and combat loneliness and isolation
- They can reduce stress hormones and promote greater well-being
- They provide grounding and can reduce anxiety
- They give people a sense of purpose
- They can give people confidence as they navigate the outside world
Where Can Emotional Support Animals Go?
Service animals have full public access rights as per the ADA, able to accompany their handlers to any place where the public is permitted (including restaurants, shopping malls, grocery stores, theaters, and museums). Outside of your home, ESAs are only allowed where pet animals are allowed and this is largely at the discretion of specific stores and outlets.
Before bringing your ESA to cafes, shops, or public spaces, always check their pet policy first to avoid disappointment. This includes airlines too as official ESA protections were revoked in 2021 by the Department of Transportation. This means that only service dogs are legally permitted by law to fly in the cabin with their handlers. For the most part, most airlines now regard ESAs as conventional pet animals and they will usually be subjected to tariffs and ticket charges when flying. Certain larger animals and bigger breeds might also have to fly in the hold if they are not service animals.
While emotional support animals have few specific rights out in public, they are significantly protected within housing under the Fair Housing Act.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA)
The Fair Housing Act is a federal law that prevents housing discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, sex, disability, and more. As per the FHA, housing providers must make reasonable accommodations for tenants with emotional support animals. Showing your landlord an official ESA letter is necessary to prove its legitimacy and access these rights.
Do You Need to Register an Emotional Support Animal?
The short answer is no, you do not need to "register" an emotional support animal. Registering an emotional support animal typically refers to listing your pet on an online database or "registry" that offers identification numbers or ID cards for emotional support animals. Not only is "registering" your ESA in this fashion not necessary, but it also does not hold any legal value. A landlord presented with an emotional support animal ID card or identification number is not obligated to provide reasonable accommodation and can deny your emotional support animal.
If you are looking to "register" an emotional support animal the correct way, you need to speak with a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) such as a therapist or social worker. These professionals can accurately diagnose your need for an emotional support animal and provide you with official documentation (called an ESA letter) that validates your ESA.
How Do You “Register” an Emotional Support Animal?
In order to officially "register" your emotional support animal you will need an ESA letter. With an ESA letter, you are legally protected and can take advantage of the rights afforded to emotional support animal owners under the Fair Housing Act. In order to get an ESA letter you will need to consult with a mental health professional licensed in your state. Examples of mental health professionals that can write an ESA letter include:
- Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW)
- Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC)
Any of these individuals can assess both your eligibility and need for an emotional support animal and write you an ESA letter. If you don't have access to a mental health professional and need an ESA letter, we can connect you with one at Pettable. To get started take our brief 3-minute assessment, after which we can connect you with a LMHP in your state.
What is an ESA Letter?
An ESA letter is a medical letter written by an LMHP. It is much like a doctor’s prescription note and details the patient’s need for an ESA and that they have a qualifying mental health disability. When presented with an ESA letter, a landlord must make reasonable accommodations for the individual and their support animal, including waiving "no pet" policies and pet fees.
A valid ESA letter should be written on an LMHP's letterhead and contain the following information:
- A statement that the patient has a qualifying mental health disability (the specifics of which are protected by privacy laws)
- A direct recommendation for an emotional support animal
- The LMHP's name, license number, and contact information
- The date on which the ESA letter was prescribed
How to Get an ESA Letter with Pettable
When you work with our qualified team - who are well versed in all of the ins and outs of ESA letters – you’ll enjoy a hassle-free ESA process. Follow these simple steps:
Complete Our Assessment
To obtain a valid ESA letter through Pettable, your initial step is to complete a brief questionnaire. This assessment involves responding to a set of questions designed to provide us with a deeper understanding of your specific requirements and to conduct an initial eligibility check for an emotional support animal.
Upon completing the questionnaire, you will have the opportunity to select the ESA letter package that aligns most closely with your needs and schedule a consultation with a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) located in your state.
Attend a Virtual Mental Health Consultation
On the day of your appointed consultation, you will meet with a mental health expert over the phone. During this meeting, the professional will assess your mental health condition and evaluate whether an emotional support animal is beneficial for your well-being. If the mental health professional is content with their assessment and believes that an emotional support animal would be beneficial for you, they will issue you an official ESA letter, complete with all the necessary legal information, using their professional letterhead.
Present Your ESA Letter to Your Landlord
Upon obtaining your Emotional Support Animal (ESA) letter from your Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP), the next crucial step is to provide this letter to your landlord. It is essential to understand that, by law, your landlord is obligated to make accommodations for your ESA, even if they have a "no pet" policy in place. The only legal reason for the landlord to deny accommodation is if it is deemed "unreasonable" and causes "undue hardship" on the landlord, the property, or its occupants.
If, for any reason, your landlord attempts to unlawfully refuse accommodation for your ESA based on any other grounds, rest assured that we are committed to supporting you throughout the entire process. If all else fails, we will offer you a full refund for your ESA letter.
Illegitimate ESA Services to Avoid
If you come across an ESA provider offering or suggesting the following, it’s best to avoid them as they’re likely not legitimate.
Emotional Support Animal “Registries”
ESAs do not legally need to be registered. As such, avoid providers who wish to charge you to join an ESA registry as this is likely an instance of fraud and will have no legal bearing.
ESAs do not legally need certificates. All you need is an official ESA letter from a medical professional in your state. This can be shown to your housing provider to ensure access to equal housing rights. Any supplier who says they provide a certificate is not legitimate.
ESA Vests & ID Tags
ESAs are not required to wear vests or ID tags and are generally not offered any special rights in public places, only in private housing. Putting a vest on your pet is not enough to qualify them as an emotional support animal, so any company selling them to you as an ESA solution is misleading. Additionally, misrepresenting your pet as a service animal is illegal in many states, and can result in fines.
Instant ESA Letter Turnaround
Instant ESA letter turnaround is impossible, as you need to consult with a licensed medical professional before obtaining one. Any service offering to write the letter immediately before you have even met with a practitioner is not legitimate. It is imperative that you get a letter from a registered therapist (in your home state) who has an official license to practice and the necessary medical qualifications.
When getting an official ESA letter, it’s essential to work with a reputable team like Pettable. We will connect you with legitimate medical practitioners who are licensed to practice in your home state. Our process is quick, professional, and hassle-free. If, for some reason, you do not qualify, we’ll honor our 100% money-back guarantee.
For more information on our various products and services, including dog training solutions, chat with our friendly team.