Editors Note: we at Good Dog! Magazine have noted the trend of “emotional support animals” showing up in apartment buildings, on airplanes, and in formerly dog-free offices. Since this is a topic of interest to many of our readers, we reached out to the experts to get more information.
By Lara Rhodes
ESA Certification Process
For those people who suffer from an emotional or mental disability, there’s good news for a treatment that doesn’t involve any drugs– the emotional support animal (ESA).
An ESA can be any species or type of animal as long as they are able to provide comfort, companionship and even a boost of confidence for those that need it. However, having an emotional support animal may not be as simple as having a family pet and calling it an ESA.
What is an ESA Letter?
An ESA letter is a formal document written by a mental health professional (i.e. a licensed therapist, licensed social worker, or psychologist) stating that your pet has been prescribed to assist you in living a normal and healthier life.
The letter must be written on the mental health professional’s own letterhead and will include his/her name, license number, date of issue and place it was issued, along with his/her signature. ESA letters may be renewed once a year.
In order to obtain an ESA letter, you must have a mental or emotional issue that falls under the documented illnesses laid out by the DSM-IV or V (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, version 4 or 5), which your mental health professional will either know of or have access to.
Who Will Accept My ESA Letter?
Although an emotional support animal is not a service animal as protected under the ADA, you do have rights under Federal law. Emotional Support Animals are protected under two different laws. The properly documented ESA letter will be accepted by both airlines and “no pets” policy housing.
When flying with your ESA, you are asked to make your reservations at least 48 hours in advance. You should let the airlines know you will be flying with an emotional support animal. You will be expected to present your ESA letter in order for your dog/cat/bird etc. to be allowed into the cabin of the aircraft at no extra charge to you.
When it comes to “no pets” policy housing, your ESA letter should be presented to the building manager/owner. Once accepted, you should have the same rights to the building and property as any other tenant would. The landlord/owner of the building also cannot charge you any extra fees for having an ESA. However, if your animal should do damage to the property, you can be held liable and even evicted if the issue(s) are serious enough.
What Can I Do If My ESA Letter is Not Accepted?
Since there are a number of people trying to use family pets to get special privileges, airlines and building owners are becoming more hostile of the ESA letters. If you have a documented and legitimate need for an ESA and you are being denied access by “no pets” policy buildings or airlines you have options.
The Fair Housing Act (HUD) protects people with emotional support animals, so they would be your first line of defense. Inform your landlord that you take your rights seriously. If they continue to deny your rights, let them know you will be contacting HUD directly.
Your second option would be to contact a lawyer and have that person write a letter on your behalf to the building owner/landlord.
Lastly, there are ESA advocates that may also be able to step in and point you in the right direction.
However, be aware that not all landlords have to accept an ESA. These circumstances include buildings with four or less single dwellings where the landlord occupies one dwelling and the house has been rented or sold without a real estate broker (private sale).
If your ESA letter is not accepted by an airline, there should be a contact number that each airline will provide (in person or on their website) for further assistance. Some airline employees may not be aware of emotional support animal rights so asking to speak with another person may be required.
How Do I Get an ESA Letter?
Emotional support animals are not technically pets and therefore you can exercise your rights to having one when it comes to both housing and airlines. Seek support from your personal therapist or a legitimate online ESA letter referral service. Start living your life to the fullest. Refrain from turning to low priced online services that may be ESA letter mills or fraudulently utilizing therapist’s signatures. Airlines and landlords may call your therapist so make sure you have contact with your therapist directly.