Not every illness requires patients to take powerful medications for the rest of their lives. Some conditions, like PTSD, anxiety, and even depression, can benefit from other types of therapy as well. While traditional treatments only consider how to affect one’s mental state with medications, newer research suggests that supportive measures contribute significantly to overall patient recovery. One of the most controversial treatments today is the use of Emotional Support Animals.
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What is an Emotional Support Pet?
Emotional support animals (ESAs), assistance animals, or support pets are not the same as service animals or psychiatric service animals that are trained to perform specific tasks related to a physical or mental disability. In contrast, ESAs are companion animals that a medical professional will attest provides benefit for a person that is disabled by a mental health condition or emotional disorder. While these animals are most often dogs or cats, other domesticated animals can also be used such as rabbits, birds, and guinea pigs. Companion animals are not trained to perform a job or task related to the condition of the patient other than to offer unconditional love, a sense of well-being, safety, or calm from the animal’s physical presence.
Specific laws regarding ESAs
The federal government has recognized the legitimate need for emotional support animals and as such, has taken steps to help ensure that qualified patients can travel and live with their companions. Under the ACAA (Air Carrier Access Act), emotional support animals and their owners cannot be discriminated against when traveling by plane. Not only can the individuals not be denied transportation, but the animal is also allowed to stay in the cabin as well.
Additionally, owners are exempted from paying any fees associated with transporting their animal. To ensure that accommodations are appropriately made, individuals are asked to contact the airlines as soon as possible before purchasing tickets. Some airlines request specific documentation to be completed in addition to the Emotional Support Animal Letter (ESA Letter).
The Fair Housing Act (FHAct) mandates that communities or properties that do not allow pets to make an exception for emotional support animals and exempt their owners from deposits or other fees associated with pets. These accommodations also cover the ESA’s access to common areas. Like airlines, rental agents or landlords may require documentation such as the ESA Letter before accommodating the request.
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What is an Emotional Support Animal Letter?
In order to be covered under the ACAA or FHAct, patients must have supporting documentation from a licensed medical health practitioner or professional (LMHP). Only an LMHP can legally write an ESA Letter. The letter is an attestation that the patient is limited by their emotional or mental health disability and that animal is prescribed for necessary treatment.
Why is an ESA Letter so important?
Most people who own pets consider them to be a part of their family and choose to take them along on any excursion possible. Unfortunately, not all pets are appropriately trained in obedience or healthy and shouldn’t be taken into areas where they can cause trouble or get someone sick. Emotional support animals are not pets in the traditional sense; they are used for the comfort of their owners. Though they may lack formal training for a specific task, ESAs must be obedient and easily controlled by their owners. Because there is no national registry, nor is a vest signifying that the animal is an ESA required, an ESA letter from an LMHP is the only way to support your legal access for travel and housing.
Because of widespread abuse, states have begun to crack down on individuals who attempt to bring their pets on commercial airlines or circumvent any prohibitions in the lease or rental agreements. Patients requiring the aid of a support animal must be able to provide proof of the medical necessity to qualify under the guidelines set forth by the federal government or state in which they live.
How to get an ESA Referral
Individuals who believe that their condition would benefit from the use of an ESA should seek the advice of a licensed medical or mental health practitioner. Together, you will determine if an ESA is appropriate for your condition. Once your doctor has all the necessary information needed, they will draft a referral letter stating your needs based on your diagnosis. An ESA letter is not required to disclose specific information that would violate HIPPA rules. Read more about ESACare and why to choose us.
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ESA letters are required to prove your legal rights under the ACCA and FHAct. Despite some online claims, LMHPs are the only sources that can provide this service. Failure to meet the standards set under the federal guidelines will prevent your ESA from traveling or housing accommodations. Get Your ESA Letter now!