If you’ve been a longtime reader of my blog, you know that I’ve officially become a crazy dog lady. My dogs are my world. What you may not know is that Nala, our older pup, is legally my Emotional Support Animal (ESA). What does that mean exactly? Due to a mental health condition, Nala aids my day-to-day life through companionship, affection, and structure. In accordance with the Fair Housing Act and Air Carrier Access Act, it also means that I’m eligible to fly and live with her with no added fees and within “no pets allowed” accommodations. So how/when/why should you go about getting an Emotional Support Animal letter? I’m hopefully answering all your questions in today’s post.
What is an Emotional Support Animal?
An Emotional Support Animal is any pet (typically dog or cat) that helps alleviate the symptoms of an emotional or mental disability, such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD. Outside of those core duties, Emotional Support Cat and Emotional Support Dog requirements are conveniently loose. With the exception of a few breeds, most dogs and cats are recognized as appropriate candidates. The only concrete Emotional Support Animal requirements are that the pet must be beneficial for your health and can’t put you or anyone else in harm’s way. Unfortunately, this is why certain airlines can and do ban certain breeds from flying. As a best practice, make sure to always check with your airline well before arriving at the airport.
How can I get an Emotional Support Animal letter?
Getting an Emotional Support Animal letter can be done online or directly through a licensed mental health professional. I haven’t found an eating disorder counselor in Missouri yet, so I went the online route. Although Google listed hundreds of ESA services, I ultimately hired CertaPet (referral link). I kept reading horror stories about registration scams, so I appreciated their A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.
The process was quick and painless. I took a quick 5-minute screening to see if I qualified and then subsequently filled out a more in-depth assessment that took 25-30 minutes. Then I waited. Every applicant is assigned a licensed mental health professional who determines whether or not you’d benefit for an Emotional Support Animal letter, so it can take a few days to hear back. I received a call from my assigned licensed mental health professional the very next day asking follow-up questions about my needs and relationship with Nala. After discussing my condition in more detail, my request for an ESA letter was formally approved, and Nala’s ESA Letter was available to download within two hours of our phone conversation. I also received hard copies in the mail about a week later.
What’s the difference between an Emotional Support Dog and a Service Dog?
A lot of things actually. According to the AKC, although ESAs can help ease anxiety, depression, and certain mental health conditions, they aren’t service dogs and don’t share the same rights. While a service dog, such as a Guide Dog, is generally allowed anywhere the public is allowed (restaurants, shopping malls, etc.), Emotional Support Dogs are not.
It seems unfair, but it makes sense. ESAs haven’t been trained to perform any specific, potentially life-saving tasks directly related to a person’s disability. For example, Seizure Dogs can respond appropriately to seizures in someone who has epilepsy. Hearing Dogs can alert a hearing-impaired person to an alarm. Emotional Support Dogs don’t require any formal training, so they aren’t given the same “all access” pass.
Are there ESA loopholes?
As long as your letter is signed by a licensed mental health professional, there shouldn’t be. That being said, some airlines require additional paperwork and documentation in order to fly with your ESA. For good measure, call the airline during booking or a couple of weeks prior to your flight to confirm their policy.
Also, keep in mind that ESA letters must be renewed annually. That means another fee and another letter. Every year.
Does my Emotional Support Animal need to be registered?
Absolutely not. This is why so many people associate ESA services with scams. According to CertaPet, the ESA letter signed by a licensed mental health professional is all you need. If a website advertises themselves as an Emotional Support Animal registration aid, run. There’s no formal ESA registry, and even if there were, it’s not a legal requirement for Emotional Support Animals.
How much does everything cost?
To cover all my bases, I paid for a combined travel and housing letter, which cost $190. It sounds pricey, but it’s already saved me and Kyle quite a bit in pet fees and deposits. Plus, you can get 5% off by clicking through my referral link here.
Also, although they’re not a requirement (and I personally haven’t yet), you can purchase ID cards and vests to help ensure airline personnel and landlords know your ESA is more than just a pet. These cost anywhere between $20 and $80.
It’s honestly crazy how much this 65-pound ball of fur has changed my life. If you’re ever feeling lonely (and you have the means to properly care for them), consider adopting a new dog or cat. From experience, their unconditional love goes a long way, especially when you’re in a dark place.
Do you have any more questions about how to get an Emotional Support Animal letter? Feel free to shoot me an email or leave me a comment below. I’m happy to share more of my experience and help in any way I can!