When you or someone you love needs an emotional support animal, the last things you’ll want to deal with are scams or excessive red tape. After all, emotional support animals play a vital role for thousands of Americans every day. If you need an emotional support animal, or ESA, it can be tricky to find the proper channels and resources, while also navigating the legal definitions of “emotional support animal,” “therapy animal,” “service animal,” etc.
Thankfully, that’s where USSA comes into play. We can provide the information and resources to help you get an authentic emotional support animal, without needing to worry about high costs or scammers.
So, what exactly is an emotional support animal? How does the law differentiate between a service animal and an emotional support animal? What rights will you have as the owner of an ESA? What is the ESA registration process like? And how can you avoid falling for an emotional support animal scam?
These are all really important questions, but unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation available online that sends people in the wrong direction. That’s why the USSA team is here to make sure you get the support you need, without any false promises or illegitimate documentation. So, in order to get a better understanding of emotional support animal registration, let’s first look at how ESAs are defined and classified:
What is an Emotional Support Animal?
An emotional support animal is truly a life-saving asset for hundreds of thousands of Americans. From rabbits to dogs (and many species in between), emotional support animals provide assistance and therapeutic benefits to help those living with mental disabilities or emotional trauma. Anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder, just to name a few, can make it extremely difficult to perform everyday activities. However, an emotional support animal can help ease the burden and make life a bit easier for those struggling with these issues. Thankfully, getting an emotional support animal is relatively easy, especially if you acquire a hassle-free ESA letter through US Service Animals.
It is important to note the difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal. Service animals (typically dogs) have been trained to perform specific tasks that a person is incapable of performing on their own. For this reason, service animals are allowed in public spaces where other animals (possibly including emotional support animals) may not be allowed to go.
Alternatively, emotional support animals are not trained in specific tasks, nor are there as many limitations on the types of animals that qualify; dogs, cats, birds, and even miniature horses can qualify as emotional support animals. The Fair Housing Act and the Air Carriers Access Act both cover the legal definitions of emotional support animals. These laws help protect emotional support animals and their owners when attempting to rent a living space or travel by air.
Which Laws Govern Emotional Support Animals?
There are essentially three categories in which ESA regulations are written into law: travel, employment, and housing. While emotional support animals do not have as many legal protections as service animals, they are recognized in several key situations. So, let’s take a look at how emotional support animals are treated under US Law:
The Air Carrier Access Act protects owners and their emotional support animals in the United States. The law allows anyone with a disability to travel with their emotional support animal as long as they have an ESA letter. All airlines require this letter as proof that the animal is, in fact, an emotional support animal, and that the owner has legitimate reason for bringing their animal onboard the flight. Even if the airline does not allow pets, an emotional support animal must be allowed into the cabin of the plane, free of charge. The ESA letter and any relevant medical documentation must be presented to airline staff in advance. It is also generally recommended that you notify the airline at the time that you purchase your ticket.
Although employment is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which states that employers cannot discriminate against anyone with a disability, emotional support animals are not protected under this law. However, if you have an ESA letter to show your employer, you may be allowed to bring them into the workplace. This is determined on a case-by-case basis, so if your employer does not approve of having an emotional support animal in the workplace, unfortunately, you must abide by their decision.
Additionally, many states grant service animals the ability to be in certain public spaces with their owners, but this right does not extend to emotional support animals.
The Fair Housing Act provides certain protections for those with certain kinds of assistance animals.
According to the Fair Housing Act, landlords have the right to request an ESA letter when applicant’s request accommodations for their service animal. However, they are limited in how and what they can ask of a potential tenant. They are only permitted to ask the following questions:
- “Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability (a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities)?
- Does the person making the request have a disability-related need for an assistance animal? (afford a person with disabilities an equal opportunity to use or enjoy the dwelling).”
Additionally, landlords must abide by the following guidelines related to assistance animals:
- “Breed, size, and weight limitations may not be applied to assistance animal.
- Animals other than dogs can be assistance animals.
- Housing providers may ask for documentation of the disability-related need for an assistance animal if disability is not apparent.
- Decision must be based on individualized assessment relying on objective evidence about the specific animal’s actual conduct–not based on mere speculation that the animal may cause harm or on evidence of harm or damage caused by other animals.
- Landlords can request proof of current vaccination and/or license for the assistance animal.
- Landlords can expect the tenant to conform to the rules of the complex, i.e. picking up animal waste, maintaining the unit to the extent expected of every other tenant.
- A landlord cannot require the assistance animal to have any specific training or certification.
- A landlord cannot require the assistance animal to wear or carry any special collar, harness, vest, emblem or other means of identifying it as such.
- Pet deposits or pet fees are not allowed.”
While the ADA requires landlords to admit both service and emotional support animals, there are exceptions to the rule. In certain circumstances, landlords are allowed to refuse an emotional support animal if it “would impose an undue financial and administrative burden, if it would fundamentally alter the essential nature of the housing provider’s services, or if the specific assistance animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.”
In any case, you should make sure to get your ESA letter with US Service Animals as soon as possible, especially if you plan to travel with your pet.
What are the Differences Between Emotional Support Animals, Service Animals, and Therapy Animals?
It is important to note the differences between service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy animals. Service animals (typically dogs) have been trained to perform specific tasks that a person is incapable of performing on their own. For this reason, service animals are allowed in public spaces where other animals (possibly including emotional support animals) may not be allowed to go.
Alternatively, emotional support animals are not trained in specific tasks, nor are there as many limitations on the types of animals that qualify; dogs, cats, birds, and even miniature horses can qualify as emotional support animals. In the United States, the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carriers Access Act both cover the legal definitions of emotional support animals. These laws help protect emotional support animals and their owners when attempting to rent a living space or travel by air. So, if you or someone close to you suffers from asthma, but the condition is not considered to be severe, an emotional support animal may be the best option for you.
Those dealing with asthma also have the option of seeking treatment with a therapy dog, but this is a little more complicated, as therapy animals are often used exclusively in treatment facilities. To put it simply, a therapy dog is any dog that meets certain criteria required to provide psychological and emotional support to an individual. However, by this definition, most dogs would probably qualify. Many people adopt dogs for this very purpose: to provide emotional support and companionship. In reality, therapy dogs are used for specific intervention treatments for those suffering any kind of mental pain or debilitation.
Therapy dogs can be used for a variety of circumstances. For example, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and hospice care facilities often use therapy dogs to combat loneliness and depression among the residents. When children (or adults) suffer the loss of a close family member, therapy dogs are a great way to encourage healing and help the individual cope with the emotional trauma.
It is important to note that there are different kinds of therapy dogs that all serve different purposes. Generally, therapy dogs can be divided into three categories:
- Therapeutic Visitation Dogs – This is the most common type of therapy dog. These pets and their owners visit hospitals, mental health facilities, and other healthcare centers to prevent patients from feeling lonely, disconnected, or hopeless.
- Animal Assisted Therapy Dog – This type of therapy dog is generally reserved for rehabilitation clinics. Under the guidance of a trained physiotherapist, these dogs help patients regain mobility through various motor-control activities.
- Facility Therapy Dog – These dogs are often used exclusively in elderly care facilities to alert staff of any issues with the patients. They also provide companionship to the residents, many of whom do not have any living friends or relatives outside of the facility.
Avoiding Emotional Support Animal Scams
Thousands of people every day are registering their emotional support animal online, but what are they really getting for their money? The shocking answer is the majority of these people are getting absolutely nothing. If you only read one sentence in this article, read this: you NEED to talk to a board-certified doctor licensed to practice in your state to see if you qualify for a legal ESA letter. If you didn’t talk to a doctor, you are being sold an unenforceable document that will not get your pet on an airplane or into your apartment building for free. Over the past few months we have reviewed dozens of websites touting cheap ESA doctor’s letters and just about all of them are scams. While we don’t think it is our place to list which specific companies are scams, here is a list of things to look for to make sure you aren’t being taken advantage of:
Things To Watch Out For
- Instant ESA letter approval – If all you did was answer a few questions online and then are instantly approved for an ESA letter you are being scammed. You must talk to a board-certified doctor licensed to practice in your state, on the phone or in person, in order to find out if you qualify for an ESA letter.
- Shockingly cheap ESA letter – Quite simply, if it is too good to be true, then it probably is. Building a large network of licensed, high quality doctors covering just about every state is both time consuming and costly. These cheap ESA letter companies are cutting corners, typically having you speak to an overseas doctor not licensed to practice in your state, or just generating you a letter with a fake doctor’s name/signature on it. Be careful!
- Registration only websites – If the website “registers” your pet as an emotional support animal, but doesn’t actually have you speak to a doctor, your pet is not eligible for the benefits of an ESA letter (airplane and housing). A certificate with your dog’s name on it is not a substitute for a doctor’s letter.
- Multiple year ESA letters – ESA letters NEED to be renewed every year by talking to a doctor. Any company selling you a multi-year or lifetime ESA doctor’s letter is scamming you.
- Take your pet anywhere claims – An ESA letter gives your pet the right to fly in the cabin of an airplane and live in “not pet policy” housing with no pet security deposit. Any claim beyond that is a lie. You cannot take your pet into public places like restaurants, theaters, libraries, etc. Only service animals have the freedom to go just about anywhere with few restrictions.
Legitimate Emotional Support Animal Registration
If you want to be 100% confident that you are getting a legal ESA letter from a licensed doctor in your state then request a free consultation from our team. We charge $179 for a doctor letter (if you qualify), slightly more than the discount competitors out there, but you can rest assured that you are receiving a real legal document that will get your pet on a plane and into your apartment. In addition to this, if you have any issues enforcing the doctor’s letter our internal legal team will handle the matter free of charge.
If your pet is your best friend and source of support, do not put them at risk with unenforceable, fake ESA letters. Avoid being told at the gate that your dog cannot board the plane or having your landlord force your dog out of the building by getting an ESA letter from a credible company like US Support Animals. We may not be the cheapest service out there, but remember, you get what you pay for!