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emotional support animal with owner

What Exactly Is an ESA and How Can It Help Transform Your Life?

An ESA letter is similar to a doctor’s prescription, stating that your healthcare provider recommends an emotional support animal to treat your condition.

This ESA Doctor letter is tailored to the individual patient and contains important details, such as your healthcare provider’s name, contact information, and license number, the fact that they have been treating you for a mental condition recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, and that they recommend an emotional support animal to help you manage your symptoms. The letter is an official document written and signed by a licensed healthcare provider. This is why not just anyone can qualify for an emotional support animal.

The letter does not usually specify a specific animal, species, or breed; rather, the letter’s contents are simply to inform interested parties (e.g., landlords, housing authorities, etc.) that you have been seen for a mental health condition and that an emotional support animal has been recommended to ease your condition.

What is the Purpose of an ESA Letter?

Why would a person need an ESA letter? The short answer: ESA letters are the only way to officially recognize your animal companion as an emotional support animal. Without it, interested parties may not provide you with adequate accommodations. Because of this differentiation, an ESA letter serves a variety of purposes.

The Benefits of an ESA Letter

Before we jumped into the benefits of an ESA letter, we wanted to help you set the right expectations for what your emotional support animal can and can’t do. Many people erroneously believe that once they have an ESA letter, they can treat their pet like a service animal and circumvent certain rules and policies. Now that you know this isn’t the case and that there’s a lot more to it, we can better discuss the ways that an ESA letter can benefit you.

Housing Benefits

As mentioned earlier, one of the main advantages of an ESA letter is the protections outlined under the Fair Housing Act. Accepting an emotional support animal is considered a reasonable accommodation for a disability. Landlords must legally comply or face potential legal fines and hardships.

Here’s why a person might want to consider an ESA letter for housing purposes:

Pet Housing Restrictions Don’t Apply to ESAs (Usually)

If you own your home, an ESA letter won’t provide much value since you have full decision-making power over your pets. But if you are a renter, you will likely need an ESA letter at some point.

Having an animal companion often means having limited options for housing. Many rental homes and apartment complexes simply don’t allow tenants to keep pets. The good news: landlords must make exceptions for emotional support animals. This is your right when you have an ESA letter. Denying your housing application on the basis of having an animal is a violation of your rights and can be subject to legal action.

What’s more, landlords cannot deny your housing application based on the type of animal or breed you use as an emotional support animal. Many HOAs, apartment complexes, and management companies may restrict breeds for the average tenant, such as dog breeds that are known to be aggressive or exotic animals. In many cases, these rules will not apply to you if you have an ESA letter. One caveat to mention is that there are limited circumstances in which a landlord or HOA might be able to deny your emotional support animal as a reasonable accommodation. They have a duty to their tenants to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone on the property. If your emotional support animal acts aggressively toward another person, becomes destructive, or creates a nuisance situation, your accommodation might no longer be considered “reasonable.”

This is why selecting the right emotional support animal is so important. This should not be taken as a free invitation to buy dangerous animals with the belief that it is your right to do so. If your animal companion were to attack another person or cause damage to someone else’s property, you could be held liable.

It’s best practice to choose a safe breed or species that is inherently well-behaved and low maintenance. The more “normal” your animal appears on the surface, the more likely others will be in accommodating your needs when they aren’t legally obligated to do so.

Pet Fees Are Waived

For people without a mental or emotional health condition, having a pet is a choice. But for those who suffer from a serious condition, an animal companion is a much-needed part of their daily routine. They depend on an animal to function and live a more normal life. Facing unfair pet fees might not be in their budget, nor should they have to pay extra just because their treatment is an animal instead of a medication.

By law, landlords cannot charge tenants a pet fee or deposit for their emotional support animal. However, in order to enjoy this accommodation, your landlord may ask to see your ESA letter. This is the only way for them to determine without a doubt that your animal is part of your treatment and not just a pet.

Travel Benefits

Before changes were made to the Air Carrier Access Act, individuals with ESA letters could enjoy more benefits when traveling with an animal. But even though the legal obligations for companies have changed, those with an ESA letter may still be able to gain accommodations for their support animals.

The best practice is to never assume that you can bring your emotional support animal with you when you travel. This takes careful planning since accommodations are made differently by different companies and airline operators. Always be upfront about your needs and requests, and be ready to provide your ESA letter with documentation. With this in mind, here are some ways in which you can use your ESA letter while traveling.

Access More Travel Options with ESA Access

If you depend on an animal for emotional support but you do not have an ESA letter, your travel options might be more limited. For example, hotels might consider your animal a pet without documentation. In this case, you will be limited to choosing a hotel that allows pets, which might mean sacrificing on price, location, and travel dates. The same goes for other aspects of your trip, including air travel, public transportation, and activities.

However, an ESA letter might help you receive better accommodations. While airlines and other public spaces aren’t required to accommodate emotional support animals, many of them do it anyway. An ESA letter separates your emotional support animal from an average pet. They serve a special purpose and therefore might be welcomed in more places.

Pet Cargo Fees and Travel Restrictions May Be Avoided

While it’s no guarantee that your animal will be able to fly beside you or go on all of your adventures abroad, you can increase your chances by doing some research ahead of time. When you find an airline that will accommodate you and your animal, you may also be able to save money in the process. Flying a pet is not cheap, which is one reason why many people seek ESA letters. They can potentially avoid pet cargo fees when flying if their animal can enjoy similar onboard privileges as service animals.

Gain Confidence While Traveling

Perhaps the most important benefit to the individual while traveling is the simple act of traveling itself. For many, travel is out of the question because they just can’t do it on their own. They’re terrified of flying, or they have trouble breathing in tight, enclosed spaces. They fear panic attacks or episodes of extreme anxiety. They don’t want to take a chance of experiencing something like this so far away from home.

With an emotional support animal, travel is back on the table. It becomes a real possibility for those who fear going places alone. They can start reaching their life’s goals, see places they’ve never seen, and experience more of what life has to offer.

Health Benefits

At Therapy Pet, we know the relief our customers feel when they receive their ESA letters in the mail. They see it as a new lease on life, an opportunity to break down barriers related to travel and housing so they can regain a higher quality of life. But we also believe that travel and housing privileges come secondary to the health benefits an emotional support animal can provide. When individuals with mental health conditions can receive proper treatments, they can regain a sense of self-worth. They start feeling better, which can encourage more healthy behaviors. The health benefits are not to be ignored or treated as an afterthought.

Feel More Grounded to Reality

Emotional support animals can make their owners feel more connected to the world around them. Maybe they fear going out in public, or even outside due to trauma. Or maybe they experience frequent panic attacks that can send their world into a tailspin.

Whatever the cause, an emotional support animal’s presence can help a person feel more grounded. Simply having someone to hold onto during a time of need can ease overwhelming feelings and make life more manageable.

Reduce Feelings of Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety are common conditions for those who benefit from emotional support animals. The animals can reduce these feelings just by being there for their owners. Their presence can encourage the release of oxytocin, a hormone that helps to reduce stress and promote bonding. When you have an ESA letter, you can receive an extra layer of comfort. You know that no matter where you go, your animal companion can come with you. You won’t have to worry about traveling without them, which can make life even more stressful.

How to Get an ESA Letter

If you believe an emotional support animal is right for you, the first step is to talk to a licensed mental health professional. This could be a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, therapist, or counselor. They will assess your mental health condition and determine if an emotional support animal could be a beneficial part of your treatment plan.

If your healthcare provider determines that an emotional support animal could help you, they can provide you with an ESA letter. This letter should be written on official letterhead, include their contact information and professional license number, state your mental health diagnosis, and explain how an emotional support animal is a part of your treatment plan.

Remember that not everyone with a pet qualifies for an ESA doctor letter. Emotional support animals are meant to provide comfort and companionship to individuals with diagnosed mental health conditions that substantially impact their daily lives. If you do not have a qualifying condition, you do not need an ESA letter, and trying to obtain one could be considered unethical.

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