Traveling is always stressful, especially for people with mental health issues.
Laying Down the Law: Emotional Support Animals
Did you know that 1 in 4 Americans will experience a mental health condition in any given year?
Mental and emotional conditions can be just as difficult and disruptive as physical illnesses, but despite efforts to raise public awareness, they are sadly still dismissed or ignored due to the fact that the symptoms are not always visible.
Thankfully, new treatment options are becoming increasingly available, from medication and therapy to alternative therapies. One such alternative therapy option that is growing more and more popular is emotional support animals.
These amazing animals are a source of love, comfort, and support for their owners, helping them with things like remaining calm, boosting their confidence, and even breaking negative cycles of behavior.
Specific Protections Available for Emotional Support Animals
Despite their growing popularity, some people are resistant to permitting emotional support animals where pets are not otherwise allowed. For this reason, the US government put in place specific laws designed to protect people with trained service animals (like guide dogs) and emotional support animals.
The two most important laws supporting emotional support animal owners are the Fair Housing Act, which supports people in keeping ESAs in rented accommodation, and the Air Carriers Access Act (ACAA), which allows people with ESAs and service animals to fly with them free of charge on commercial airlines, regardless of the airline’s pet policy. The ACAA has allowed many, many people to fly who would be unable to without the support of their ESA.
The All-Important ESA Letter
However, in order to comply with these laws, owners of emotional support animals must have a valid ESA letter, which they may be required to show before bringing their ESA with them. Some airlines require additional documentation too, so it is always worth checking well in advance of flying with an emotional support animal.
An ESA letter is an official document that can only be issued by a medical doctor or licensed mental health professional who is treating you for a mental health issue. The letter, which is valid for one year and must be renewed once it goes out of date, must be on headed paper and state the following important points:
- You have been diagnosed with a mental health-related disability or condition, for which you are under the treatment of the letter’s issuer
- The emotional support animal is needed for the treatment of your condition, or for you to carry out day-to-day tasks
- What type of animal it is
- The license number, issue date, state of issue and type of license of the letter’s issuer
Once again, people flying with an emotional support animal will need to present a valid, in-date ESA letter to the airline, often in advance of traveling.
Beware of Bogus ESA Letters aka Certificates and Registries!
ESA letters are not difficult to get hold of: in fact, there are a number of online services that can help you to obtain one. However, not all ESA letters are created equal! Some websites will try to take advantage of vulnerable people hoping to get an emotional support animal by selling fake ESA letters that do not meet the criteria above. Others offer to certify pets as ESAs, which is not a real thing.
Unfortunately, every year hopeful travelers have to change travel plans, pay high last-minute pet fairs, or cancel their trips altogether thanks to these unscrupulous websites. Make sure you don’t get caught out.
With everything that organizing a trip entails, it can be daunting trying to pick the right one. Here are some tips to help you spot bogus ESA letter sites:
- Any site that offers to send an ESA letter without asking any questions, or without you providing any details is definitely dodgy. An ESA letter is tailored to the holder, giving details of both their diagnosis and their emotional support animal, and only issued after a consultation with a licensed mental health professional. Without these details, it won’t be valid. Some scrupulous ESA letter websites will even offer a free pre-screening service to help people find out if they’re eligible for an emotional support animal, before going to the expense of consulting a licensed mental health professional.
- Sites that offer to certify or register your animal as an emotional support animal are selling a scam. There is no way of certifying an animal as an ESA; the ESA letter demonstrates your need for one, not the animal’s specific training or suitability.
- Similarly, sites that sell harnesses, bibs, collars, or other ESA identifiers, while not necessarily scams, are not enough to “prove” that your animal is an ESA. While many owners choose to put an ESA collar or bib on their animal for the sake of ease, this is neither required nor enough to designate the animal as an ESA. Only an ESA letter can do that!
Make the Right Choice
Traveling is always stressful, especially for people with mental health issues. Bringing an emotional support animal along can be a wonderfully calming way to improve the journey, or even to make it possible in the first place. Don’t let bringing an ESA along make the experience more stressful with a fake emotional support animal letter.
Photos and article: CertaPet