Patients who are already suffering from debilitating mental health issues shouldn’t have the added stress of not being able to utilize the services of an emotional support animal (ESA). Although these animals are not trained to perform a specific job or task, they can be an essential part of treatment and recovery. Most often, patients who have been diagnosed with an emotional or mental health condition find that they are better able to cope or that the symptoms disappear when they are with their pets. Usually, these revelations are what inspire patients to discuss the use of an Emotional Support Animal.
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Qualifications for an Emotional Support Animal
Patients suffering from any number of mental or emotional health issues can benefit from the companionship of an animal. While most patients prefer a cat or dog, other domesticated animals, such as rabbits, or guinea pigs, can be used as well. Patients interested will discuss ESAs with they’re licensed medical/mental health practitioner (LMHP). If the practitioner believes that the patient would indeed benefit, they will issue an ESA Letter. This letter is a testament to the patient’s mental or emotional disability and certifies that due to their condition, certain life activities are affected and that the emotional support animal is part on their current treatment plan. Read more about ESACare and why to choose us.
Laws governing ESAs
Contrary to what many people may believe, emotional support animals are not the same as service or psychiatric animals. Those animals are trained to perform a specific function or job, and their use in a public area is governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). ESAs are not trained for a specific task, and they are not protected under the ADA; their primary use is to offer companionship, and calmness that helps alleviate the symptoms of a mental health condition.
Despite their lack of inclusion with the ADA, emotional support animals have protections when traveling by commercial aircraft and in housing under two other federal laws, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and Fair Housing Act (FHAct).
The ACAA mandates that commercial airlines allow patients to travel with their ESAs inside the cabin without charging additional fees or purchasing an extra ticket. Under this law, patients must notify the airline before travel. ESAs must be housebroken and not pose a threat to other passengers or crew. Snarling, growling, biting, or excessive barking are strictly prohibited. For flights that are over 8 hours, airlines can require documentation that your animal will not need to relieve itself, or that it can do so in a sanitary way.
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Airlines can exclude animals that are:
- Too large or heavy to be accommodated in the cabin
- Pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others
- Cause a significant disruption of cabin service
- Are prohibited from entering a foreign country
- Airlines are never required to accept snakes, reptiles, ferrets, rodents, sugar gliders, or spiders
The Fair Housing Act (FHAct) was designed to help individuals living with disabilities obtain adequate housing. Patients who have a qualifying condition for which an ESA has been prescribed can request access under this act without penalties or fees even in properties where pets are not allowed. Patients who require an emotional support animal must make a written request of the property manager or owner for an exception to the terms of a lease or policy and include an ESA letter. They have up to 30 days to consider the request and may conduct verification of the treatment plan directly with the issuing medical professional. Patients should not bring an animal onto the property without prior approval.
Legitimate ESA Letters
Patients who need the help of an emotional support animal must have an ESA letter to qualify under both the ACAA and the FHAct. The letter must have been issued no more than 12 months prior to travel, or housing requests, and patients must be recertified on an annual basis. Due to the growing popularity of telemedicine, patients may be tempted to use the services of one of the many websites that offer to supply ESA letters. Though some sites are legitimate, many others are not.
Websites that offer immediate certification or to register an ESA are fraudulent. Certification takes some time, and there is no required registry for ESAs. Authentic sites have:
- Ongoing care with an LMHP
- Official letterhead with licensing and direct contact information of the LMHP
- Providers license is in good standing and up to date
Providing false documents or misrepresenting an animal for an ESA is a crime and depending on which state you are in, can result in serious charges and fines.
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Emotional support animals are an essential treatment for some patients. If you are one of these people, be sure that you have the proper documentation. Ask questions and remember if it looks too good to be true, it probably isn’t worth the money.