Dogs offer an undeniable benefit to the mental wellbeing of their owners. This is why medical professionals are increasingly recommending their patients find an emotional support animal (ESA) to help with the treatment of anxiety, depression, and other psychological disorders. If you qualify for an emotional support animal, you are entitled to specific accommodations from housing providers and airlines. To prove that you are eligible for these services, you may be asked to show an emotional support dog letter from a medical professional.
Privileges of Your Emotional Support Dog Letter
The law recognizes the importance of an emotional support animal for patients who need it. This is why emotional support dogs with the proper documentation can live with you in any housing establishment, even if the landlord does not usually allow pets. These tenants are also protected from additional pet fees charged by their landlords.
Well-behaved emotional support dogs are also allowed to fly with their owners on commercial flights. These dogs are generally permitted to remain with the owner in the aircraft cabin and can fly at no cost. Some airlines do restrict the sizes and breeds of dogs eligible for this accommodation, so it’s best to contact the specific airline you will be flying before you book a flight.
Qualifying for An Emotional Support Dog Letter
For your letter to be valid, it must come from a licensed medical professional. This letter must state that your dog is a required part of your treatment for your disability. Dogs of any breed or age can qualify as emotional support animals without specialized training.
There is a wide variety of ailments that health professionals believe can be treated with the use of emotional support animals. These include, but are not limited to:
- Stress Disorders
- Social Shyness
- Anxiety Disorders
- Fear of Flying
If you are suffering from any of the issues above and believe that an emotional support animal could help you, you should talk to a medical professional about getting your letter right away. If you are not sure if you qualify, you should take advantage of a free consultation with one of the licensed professionals from US Service Animals.
Finding a Doctor to Write Your ESA Letter
Making an appointment with your family doctor or finding a therapist near you can be a time-consuming hassle. Additionally, once you have booked the appointment, you still have to wait until that day and travel to their office. Unfortunately, visiting a medical professional also means that if they decide that you do not qualify for an emotional support animal, you will still have to pay the fees or copays associated with your visit.
At US Service Animals, we understand you are busy. That is why we connect you with doctors over the phone who may be able to provide you with a recommendation for an emotional support animal in just one call. There are no fees whatsoever unless you are approved, and you could receive a copy of your ESA letter in less than 48 hours.
Your Rights With an Emotional Support Animal
Two federal laws protect the rights of patients with emotional support animals.
- The Fair Housing Act (FHA): This law protects tenants with disabilities against discrimination from their landlords or housing providers. The FHA defines disability as an impairment that limits one or more major life activities in a significant way. Under this law, landlords are not allowed to deny qualifying tenants from owning emotional support animals, even if there is an existing “no pets” policy.
- The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA): Passed in 1986, the ACAA paved the way for passengers requiring emotional support animals to fly commercially without being subject to unnecessary fees and regulations. The ACAA also allows emotional support animals to sit in the main cabin with their owners instead of the dangerous cargo hold.
You should note that your protections under both of these laws are subject to the good behavior of your pet. If you are unable to control your pet, an airline or other business does not have to allow them onto their property.
Getting Your ESA Letter Online
While there are many benefits of having your pet certified as an emotional support animal, you should be careful about choosing a provider to issue your emotional support dog letter. Unfortunately, since the demand for emotional support animals has grown rapidly in the past few years, so have disreputable companies and websites which take advantage of patients. Getting an ESA letter from one of these “letter mills” can have disastrous consequences for dog owners.
Imagine showing up for a return flight only to learn your ESA letter is invalid and that you and your pet are now stuck. What about getting a letter from your landlord stating that your dog needs to be removed from the premises? These are the kind of heartbreaking risks that you take when you have an invalid letter. Even worse, any pet fees charged by your landlord could become charged retroactively from the time you submitted the letter.
Signs of ESA Letter Scams
There are a few telltale signs of companies who are trying to take advantage of patients who require an emotional support animal. In addition to being unethical, receiving an ESA letter from one of these providers has the potential to cause unnecessary hassle and expense to dog owners. Here are some red flags to watch out for:
- “Registration” instead of a letter: Some sites claim registration to a database of emotional service animals is all that is required to live and fly with your pet. This is not true. All of the laws that protect patients who need an ESA specifically state that a letter from a health professional is what is required for taking advantage of the protections within.
- “Diagnosis” without speaking to you: Because emotional support animals help with so many conditions, most certified health professionals do not need to talk to a patient for very long to make a recommendation. However, no doctor can issue such a diagnosis without actually speaking to you. Therefore, if any site allows you to buy an ESA letter by simply filling out a form without speaking to a medical professional, you can be confident that it’s a scam.
- Instant approval: While doctors can issue ESA recommendations quickly, websites and questionnaires can not. Therefore if any site tells you that you are approved for an emotional support animal instantly, you can be sure it’s a scam.
- Doctors who are out-of-state/country: Many states have requirements that ESA letters can only be written by health providers operating in the same state as their patients. While this does not apply to every state, you should make sure to check the specific laws in your area before considering having an ESA letter written by an out-of-state doctor. Additionally, a letter written by a doctor located outside of the United States is not valid in any state.
US Service Animals only employs licensed medical professionals who are certified by the Society for Prevention of Diagnostic Abuse (SPODA). This way, you can be 100 percent sure that any letter obtained from one of our doctors is valid. We also offer services to patients who have been scammed by fraudulent websites. If you believe you are a victim of an ESA scam, you can contact our lawyers free of charge here.
Emotional Support Dog Letter Requirements
An ESA letter is not technically a prescription, but there are still several elements required to make it valid. In order to qualify you for legal protection, a letter must include the following elements.
- The letter must be printed on the letterhead of the mental health professional who provided it. It must also include their signature as well as the date it was issued.
- The provider’s license type, license number, the state that issued the number, as well as the date the license was issued must appear on the letter.
- There must be a description of how your emotional support animal will help your condition. This can be general and does not need to describe any specific tasks that your dog will need to perform.
- The provider must confirm that owning an emotional support animal is vital to the treatment of your mental disorder.
The professional issuing your letter may choose to include details about your pet, such as their name, which breed they are, and more. These additions are not legally required, but can be a helpful inclusion.
Benefits of Owning an Emotional Support Dog
It has been more than 15,000 years since humans started domesticating dogs. After so much time by our side, is it any wonder that dogs are considered to be our “best friend”? Studies have proven that pets have a profoundly uplifting effect on the mental states of their owners. Here are just a few ways emotional support dogs help their owners.
- Companionship: Dogs love being with their owners. Many patients report that their emotional support dog prevents them from feeling isolated and lonely. This is why the legal protections afforded to ESA owners prevent unnecessary time apart from their pets.
- Stress Reduction: Simply spending time with a friendly dog has been shown to reduce stress in patients of all ages. This makes ownership of an emotional support animal an effective treatment for patients with stress-related disorders. When owners connect with their pets, their body releases endorphins as well as the hormone oxytocin, both of which offer anti-stress benefits.
- Reduces Anxiety: The sense of security that comes from being with your dog can have a positive effect on patients with anxiety-related disorders. This can make traveling to new places much easier for people with these ailments as it offers familiarity, even in new environments.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there special training for emotional support dogs?
No, unlike service dogs that are trained to perform a task, emotional support dogs only need to provide emotional support. The laws protecting emotional support animals do not require them to undergo any additional training or certifications. If you are taking them with you to a business or public place, it is important that your dog is properly behaved and under your control.
Can my landlord deny my emotional support dog?
If you present your landlord with a valid letter from a mental health provider that states that your dog provides emotional support that helps with the symptoms of your condition, your landlord must allow your dog to live with you. Even in situations where the landlord has previously enacted a “no pets” policy, an exception must be made.
Where can my emotional support dog go with me?
The laws protecting patient’s rights to have emotional support animals are mostly restricted to home and air travel. Many businesses allow emotional support animals, even though they’re not usually required to by law.
Is an emotional support dog a service dog?
No. While emotional support dogs serve an important purpose for their owners, there is a legal distinction between them and service dogs. A service dog is has been trained to perform work or a task for someone with a physical limitation.
Can I have more than one emotional support animal?
There is no requirement that limits the number of emotional support animals a patient can have. However, each animal requires its own supporting documentation from a medical provider.
Can emotional support dogs live in college dorm rooms?
Even though most college campuses do not allow pets in their housing, courts have decided that on-campus housing constitutes a “dwelling” under the FHA. This means that colleges are generally required to make the same accommodations for emotional support animals as other landlords. Many schools have now instituted policies allowing the use of assistance animals in housing.
How can I report a landlord denying my emotional support dog?
This does not happen very often as most landlords are well aware of the consequences of non-compliance with the laws protecting tenants and their pets. However, if you are being denied housing because of your emotional support animal, you should file a complaint with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) using the form found here.