Emotional Service Animal

Emotional Service Animal

The most common emotional support animals are dogs and cats, but may include other animals, such as birds, rabbits, kitten, and puppies. The animal has been identified by the licensed psychologist as a necessary part of the treatment program for this person and is designed to bring comfort to an individual with a specific mental illness.

An animal does not need specific training to become an emotional support animal. Please be aware that medical doctors do not qualify to write the letter prescribing the emotional support animal because they are not licensed mental health professionals and therefore, cannot diagnose a mental illness. (Reference: https://www.nsarco.com/emotional-support-animal.html)

If you believe you have an emotional disability and already have or need to obtain an Emotional Support Animal, you’ll need a letter from a mental health professional that prescribes an ESA. Although emotional support animals are treated similarly to Service Animals, if you plan to travel with your animal or wish to qualify for “no pet” housing, a letter prescribing an ESA is almost always required. This is because emotional support animals aren’t individually trained to perform an important life task for its owner like a service dog.

Many of my clients need professional confirmation of an emotional disability – and a letter prescribing an emotional support animal (ESA). As a licensed psychologist, I will write the letter prescribing my client’s need for an emotional support animal. Even if your pet is already registered as an Emotional Support Animal with an official registration agency, you will still need a letter prescribing your need for an emotional support animal written by a psychologist like me!

Both the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act allow for modification of “no pets” policies on the condition that the correct documentation, including a letter from a mental health professional verifying that the ESA is prescribed, is provided. That means that if you have supporting documentation (ESA certification or registration AND a letter from Dr. Rachael Silverman, for example), your emotional support animal will be able to accompany you on an airplane and you will qualify for housing in otherwise “no pets allowed” housing.

For more information about certifying your pet as an Emotional Service Animal with a reputable registration agency, click here. 

Verification Form Service

It has become common practice for airline companies, property managers, and colleges/universities to require a person’s therapist to complete and return a third party verification form. This is often in addition to the letter of prescription the client may have.

UNITED AIRLINES NOW REQUIRES THIS FORM TO BE COMPLETED FOR ALL PASSENGERS FLYING WITH AN ESA.

The form can be from 1 – 4 pages in length, and is often faxed or emailed to the therapist by the airline, property manager, or college (although the form may also be submitted by the client). This third party verification calls for a variety of very specific and personal details about the client, details of his/her emotional/psychological disability, length of treatment, acceptable treatment modalities, alternative treatment other than an ESA, the client’s prognosis, and much more. Since verification forms are time consuming to complete and in addition to the letter of prescription, I complete them at reduced fee for my clients.

Verification May Be Required By Property Managers
These laws allow a property manager to accept a letter from the tenant’s psychologist for an ESA, but they may also require a verification form to be completed by a licensed mental health professional, confirming the tenant’s physical/emotional/psychiatric disability. Despite how much the property manager/landlord does NOT want your service dog or emotional support animal, federal law requires him/her to make a reasonable accommodation in the rules. If they do not, they are discriminating against a disabled person and are in violation of federal law. Here is a link to a government document (one of many) that addresses this issue. See the 3rd page, second column): http://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/FINALRULE/Pet_Ownership_Final_Rule.pdf

Landlords cannot:

  • Ask a tenant to pay a deposit, fee, or surcharge in exchange for having a service or emotional support animal, even if they require such a practice from owners who wish to obtain pets in their dwelling.
  • Require that an emotional support animal have any specific training
  • Require the emotional support animal to wear or carry any special collar, harness, vest, emblem, or other means of identifying it as such.
  • Inquire about the extent of the disability, or ask for detailed medical records for the individual requesting the service or emotional support animal.
  • Refuse to accommodate you and your animal because their insurance policy won’t allow a species, breed, or weight. They are still subject to the law.
  • A person with a disability may, however, be charged for damages caused to the premises by their emotional support or service animal.
  • A disabled person who does not properly manage his/her unruly, destructive, aggressive, or disturbance causing animal can be evicted.

Approval of your ESA is Not Guaranteed with a Letter of Prescription

Although I will make every attempt to establish and confirm that I deem it necessary for you to have an emotional support animal because of your mental health disability, I cannot guarantee your approval or that you will qualify as disabled. The final determination rests with the airline, property manager, college, or university.

The letter of prescription for an ESA is valid for 12 months, at which time a new assessment and letter of prescription is required.