You can feel the history in Virginia. It’s the “birthplace of a nation” and the site of Jamestown, one of the original 13 Colonies of the United States. Virginia is known for the Chesapeake Bay and the gorgeous Appalachian mountains. The history and romance of Virginia are what makes it the perfect place for lovers… and pets! Virginia is for animal-lovers. 

Virginia ranks as one of the top states for a pet-friendly environment. Old Dominion can boast of its many dog-friendly restaurants and businesses, over 2,000 veterinary offices, and strict animal-cruelty laws. If you’re looking for a place to live with an emotional support animal (ESA), Virginia is a great spot to start the search. 

What is an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal (ESA) is not a pet; it’s much more than a pet. The presence of an ESA allows its owners to manage their emotional or mental health disabilities. An ESA is a formal part of an individual’s emotional or mental health treatment program and necessary for their well-being. 

ESAs often get confused with service animals. Though similar, they are not the same. A service animal undergoes specific training to complete tasks. For instance, service dogs can be trained to detect impending seizures or help direct their visually impaired handlers. ESAs, on the other hand, don’t require such training. However, their presence alone allows their owners to feel calm and secure, allowing them to deal with their emotional or mental health needs.   

The following federal laws apply to all ESAs: American with Disabilities Act (ADA), Fair Housing Act (FHA), and Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). The Virginia Fair Housing Law also applies to ESAs. Because an ESA assists their owners to manage their disability, an ESA is allowed to travel and live with their owners by federal law. This includes areas where pets aren’t usually allowed. In order to fall under this federal law, an ESA letter is required. 

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What is an ESA Letter? 

An ESA letter indicates that an ESA is recommended as part of the individual’s emotional or mental health treatment. The ESA letter legitimizes an animal’s role as more than a pet. With an ESA letter, an animal may reside in homes that typically do not allow pets. This includes rentals, homeowners associations, co-ops, condos, and apartments.

How to Get an ESA Letter in Virginia

  1. Talk to your healthcare professional near you or online.
  2. Request that they write you an ESA letter for your disability.
  3. If you do not have access to a healthcare professional in your area, connect with one online here.
  4. Provide your ESA letter to your landlord or property manager via email.
  5. Contact ESA Doctors if you are having difficulties.

Who Can Write an ESA Letter in Virginia 

Because an ESA letter holds such weight, an ESA letter must be legitimate. The letter must be written by a certified, licensed healthcare professional. A current license to practice, valid in the state of Virginia, is required by the professional. The good news is that many roles fall under this category. A few examples are:

  • licensed nurse practitioners
  • psychiatrists
  • psychologists
  • therapists
  • licensed clinical social workers (LCSW)
  • mental health professionals

Many licensed healthcare professionals in Virgina can assist with obtaining a valid ESA letter. If you are unable to visit a licensed healthcare professional in person, you may be able to get your ESA letter online from a remote therapist.

Although an ESA Letter may be obtained both online or in-person, they do need to be written by a certified licensed healthcare professional licensed to practice in Virginia.  

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Flying with an ESA to/from Virginia

In January 2021, the Department of Transportation discontinued air travel access to ESA owners. The new rules now allow airlines to decline your emotional support animal from flying with you as an assistance animal. However, the rule to allow psychiatric service dogs are still in effect.

Where You Can Go with Your ESA in Virginia

In the last few years, many businesses have become much more lenient in their pet policies. This kindness on behalf of business can make it seem as if ESAs are allowed to be anywhere. However, in truth, by the Fair Housing law, ESAs have the right to be in the following areas only: 

Other public places and establishments are not required to accept ESAs. Therefore it’s always best to check with the establishment beforehand to make sure you won’t have to leave your ESA at the door.

As an emotional support animal owner's can keep their cat even in no-pets housing.
As an emotional support animal owner’s can keep their cat even in no-pets housing.

Where You Can Adopt an ESA in Virginia 

Virginia has an abundance of options for adopting pets. Finding a fur-ever friend or ESA is an exciting experience. If you’re searching for a pet in Virginia, the following are popular sites to check. 

Homeward Trails Animal Rescue

Homeward Trails Animal Rescue, Virginia

Serving the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia, the Homeward Trails Animal Rescue helps dogs and cats from low-income and rural animal shelters. They are also known for taking in animals from owners who love their pets, but can no longer care for them financially. Homeward Trails believes in providing their animals the best chance possible at a forever home by socializing their animals, ensuring they are safe and friendly. 

Friends of Homeless Animals

Friends of Homeless Animals (FOHA), Virginia

Based in Northern Virginia, the Friends of Homeless Animals (FOHA) is a no-kill shelter. They serve as a safe space for abandoned and abused dogs and cats. The Friends of Homeless Animals often take in animals who are close to euthanasia at other shelters and rehabilitate them—making them fit for a loving home. By providing top-notch medical care and socially rehabilitating animals, they provide second and third chances to animals that may have been on “death row” at other shelters. 

Lost Dog and Cat Rescue

Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation, Virginia

Established in 2001, the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation (LDCRF) saves homeless pets. They have rescued over 28,000 animals from the streets or even euthanasia. Based on 63 acres of land, the foundation’s Lost Dog Ranch provides plenty of outdoor space for dogs to run and play. To re-socialize their animals, they also have a large group of volunteers and foster homes to provide playtime and affection. 

ESA should enjoy plenty of playtime, especially before traveling on a plane.
ESAs should enjoy plenty of playtime, especially before traveling on a plane.

Your ESA: Virginia Dog News 

A new state law went into effect July 1, 2020, in Virginia, in keeping with Virginia’s firm stance against animal cruelty. The law prevents dog owners from leaving their dogs in the sweltering heat or frigid cold. The law states that all dogs in Virginia must be provided shelter when the weather is extreme. 


If the LMHP you are working with is not familiar with ESA regulations, you may qualify for an ESA letter online from an LMHP licensed in Virginia. Click here to qualify for your ESA letter with a Virginia licensed therapist.


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