Updated: February 2020
Are you interested in getting an emotional support animal (ESA)? Wondering what type of animal can become an ESA? Or are you ready to get an ESA and want to make sure you are doing things the right way?
In this article, we will cover how to get an emotional support animal and how to make an animal companion a legitimate ESA by qualifying for an ESA letter. We will also briefly summarize some of the rules and regulations that apply to ESAs to help you understand what rights you have as an ESA owner.
For those unfamiliar with ESA rules, emotional support animals have the right to accompany their owners in housing (even in buildings with no-pets policies) and in airplane cabins under two federal laws: The Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act. These laws give certain rights to owners with mental or emotional disabilities that use a companion animal for support.
Valid emotional support animals are not considered pets. They are assistance animals that help individuals have an equal opportunity to enjoy housing and air travel to the same extent that non-disabled people can. That means a landlord or airline cannot restrict an ESA because it is a certain breed or charge fees or deposits in connection with an ESA. Below are some basic steps you should consider if you are wondering how to get an emotional support animal.
Steps to getting an emotional support animal
- Determine if you would benefit from an ESA’s support
- Connect with a licensed mental health professional in our network
- Choose the type of animal to adopt, if you currently do not have a pet
- Train your ESA to be a good citizen
- Properly use your ESA letter
If you believe you would benefit from an emotional support animal, complete the ESA Questionnaire in the link below see if you qualify for a legitimate ESA letter.
Emotional support animals are available to individuals that are suffering from a disability, which can be in the form of a mental illness or emotional distress condition. Pursuant to federal law, an ESA recommendation letter must come from a licensed health care provider, but recognizing that you may have a condition that could benefit from professional help is always the first and most important step of addressing a potential mental or emotional illness.
There are several conditions recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM V) for which an emotional support animal can be beneficial. These include:
If you think you may be suffering from one of these conditions, or if you are unsure about what condition you may have but have been suffering ongoing mental or emotional distress, the next step is to reach out to a licensed professional for help. If you would like to look for a licensed professional with specific knowledge about emotional support animals, you may search for one here.
2. Connect with a Licensed Health Care Provider
If you have recognized that you may have a mental or emotional illness and need help, you deserve to be commended because that can be an incredibly difficult process that takes honest self-assessment and courage. There is unfortunately still a stigma associated with mental illness, and many people fear that seeking help is a sign of weakness or that others will judge them for reaching out for assistance.
The best way to seek help is by talking to a therapist with whom you already have a relationship. It can be challenging for individuals without a therapist to find the right licensed professional. Sometimes people are ready to take the step of finding a therapist but they become discouraged by the search to find the right person for them.
In addition, therapists can also be prohibitively expensive for many people, and scheduling time with a therapist can be tough for those that have jobs, schooling or family obligations. It can be especially difficult to find a therapist that is knowledgeable about ESAs if that is what you are interested in exploring.
If you are facing these obstacles, you may benefit from finding help through a therapist online. An ESA letter that comes from a therapist that provides services remotely is just as valid as an ESA letter from a therapist seen in person. In fact, the U.S. Department of Housing has issued guidance confirming that legitimate ESA letters can come from therapists who provide services remotely, including over the internet.
A legitimate ESA letter must:
- Come from a licensed health care professional, which includes professionals such as psychologists, psychiatrists, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants, social workers and counselors
- Be on the licensed professional’s letterhead, contain their licensing information and be signed and dated by the professional
- Establish that the tenant has a disability and that an ESA would provide benefits for alleviating symptoms of that disability
If you do not have a therapist or are having trouble finding one that is familiar with ESAs, ESA Doctors can help connect you to a health care provider that is licensed to work in your state. The health care providers that work with ESA Doctors are knowledgeable about ESAs and can evaluate whether an ESA is appropriate for you.
3. Adopt an ESA
If you already have a pet, that pet can serve as your ESA if you qualify for an ESA letter. If you do not have an ESA and are interested in adopting one, we recommend reaching out to your local animal shelter or rescue organization to find your perfect ESA. If you have your heart set on a specific breed that is hard to find in at a shelter or rescue, another option is to reach out to a responsible breeder.
Owning an ESA is a long-term commitment and choosing an ESA with the right temperament and attributes for your situation is important. Having a strong connection and bond with your emotional support animal can help make your ESA more effective in relieving the symptoms of your disability. It is also important to choose an animal with the right temperament. If you are dealing with depression or anxiety, the animal should bring you a sense of well-being and comfort in times of stress.
A variety of animals can serve as an emotional support animal, including:
According to the Department of Housing, an ESA can be any small, domesticated animal that is traditionally kept in the home for pleasure.
Airlines are required to accommodate dogs, cats and miniature horses that are ESAs. Airlines can refuse to accommodate “unusual” animals including snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents and spiders. In August 2019, The Department of Transportation released guidance clarifying important points regarding emotional support animals and your air travel rights. If you may be impacted by this, we recommend that you learn more before traveling with your ESA.
4. Training Your Emotional Support Animal
One important thing to note about ESAs is that they do not technically require special training. This is a common point of confusion that people have about ESAs. ESAs are different from service dogs, which have greater public access rights under different laws. Service dogs must be trained to perform specific tasks for the disabled – for example, a dog that guides a blind handler. On the other hand, ESAs do not need any special training – they provide support and comfort through their companionship for people with mental illnesses and emotional distress.
Even though your ESA does not need special training related to a disability, it is important that your ESA, like all pets, be given basic training to ensure he or she behaves appropriately in all situations. ESA owners do not have to pay fees or deposits in connection with their ESA, but they are responsible for any damage caused by their ESA to property. In addition, landlords and airlines can reject an ESA if it is unruly and the landlord or airline determines the ESA could harm others or create a safety issue.
Another important reason to have a well-behaved ESA is that each ESA owner is an ambassador for all ESA owners. It helps all ESA owners when your ESA can demonstrate that it is a model citizen to your landlord, neighbors, flight staff and fellow passengers.
You can provide basic training for your ESA yourself. It may also be helpful to attend group training classes to assist in socializing your dog. If training is not something you are able to do by yourself, or you are a novice pet owner and need help, you can look for support from a local trainer. They will be able to give you hands-on tips on how to train your ESA.
5. Properly Use Your ESA Letter
If your licensed health care provider has determined an ESA would benefit you and has given you an ESA letter, it is now important to understand how to use your ESA letter. For housing accommodation, you should submit your ESA letter to your landlord and let them know you are requesting reasonable accommodations for your emotional support animal pursuant to Fair Housing rules. Your landlord will have 10 days to respond to your request, and can only deny you in limited circumstances such as if the ESA poses a danger to others.
For air travel, you should submit your ESA request to the airline at least 48 hours before your departure. Each airline will have its own requirements and may have special forms that need to be completed for ESA accommodation. We recommend reaching out to the airline as soon as possible to ensure you have enough time to gather all of the paperwork you will need.
Sometimes landlords will demand to see a certification or registration for your ESA. These landlords are misinformed or unaware of actual ESA regulations. Certifications and registrations do absolutely nothing to legitimately qualify an ESA. The Department of Housing has actually warned tenants against using sites that sell certificates, registration numbers or licenses for emotional support animals.
The only way to qualify an ESA for purposes of Fair Housing law and the Air Carrier Access Act is to obtain a letter from a licensed health care professional. Some people use the term “certification” interchangeably with obtaining an ESA letter, but there is an important distinction between those two concepts – one will validly qualify your ESA, and the other will not.
Once your landlord grants your request for accommodation of your ESA, your ESA can live in your residence even if the building, HOA or co-op has a no-pets policy. The housing provider cannot impose breed and weight restrictions, and cannot charge fees or deposits relating to the ESA. If your landlord had previously charged a deposit for your pet which later qualified to become an ESA, you may be entitled to a refund of that deposit.
If your airline has accepted your ESA documentation, you are all set to fly with your ESA in the cabin. Under the Department of Transportation rules, airlines can impose reasonable and appropriate restrictions to control the movement of ESAs in the cabin. That means the animal may be required to be kept in a pet carrier or stay on the floor at the passenger’s feet, or be on a leash or tether during the flight.
Some people, unfortunately, try to pass off their pets as emotional support animals without a real ESA letter. These people will face embarrassment and rejection when their landlord or airline turns them away for not being able to provide proper documentation. It is never a good idea to pretend your pet is an ESA without proper documentation. Not only is it unethical, but it harms the reputation of legitimate ESA owners.
Emotional Support Animals Provide Real Support
Many people have found relief from debilitating mental health conditions through the companionship of an ESA. ESAs provide invaluable support that has helped countless individuals lead happy, fulfilling lives. ESA owners have testified that their ESAs help their severe depression by giving them a reason to live and go outside, provide comfort for their post-traumatic stress and relieve their anxiety allowing them to deal with their chronic insomnia.
If you are interested in qualifying for an ESA but are having trouble finding a therapist, affording a therapist, or have a therapist that is unfamiliar with ESAs, we can help connect you to a licensed health care provider knowledgeable about ESAs that provides services remotely.
See if You Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal
Get the Love and Support you deserve!
If you have a loved one who is interested in getting an emotional support animal, share the simple steps below with them.