Moosh - woman with cat

In recent years, there has been a steady increase in awareness about mental health issues and the importance of talking and learning more about them. The stigma that surrounded mental illnesses for many years is slowly eroding away, as more and more people are speaking up about it, seeking help, and being open and honest about how it affects their daily life.

Along with the increase in awareness about mental health is the increase in various forms of support, including emotional support animals (ESA). ESAs can be pretty much any type of animal, from the traditional dog, cat, or rabbit, to more unique animals like miniature horses, pigs, and even snakes. Just like no two mental illnesses are the same, nor are two ESAs the same in terms of the support they provide for their owner. Emotional support animals provide comfort and companionship to those who struggle with a mental illness, and the routine and structure of caring for an animal provides a sense of stability and normalcy to their daily life.

By having a registered ESA, you are able to bring your animals into more public areas where normal pets would usually be banned, such as restaurants and movie theatres. Emotional support animals are not the same as service animals, and therefore do not require the same amount of training. They also don’t have quite as many rights and allowances as service animals do; however, they have more rights than a regular pet would. As long as your emotional support animal is well-behaved and non-threatening, and you have a certified letter from a mental health professional, then your beloved ESA should be able to accompany you to most places.

Moosh - man with dog
Emotional support animals provide a calming presence and can help to alleviate symptoms of anxiety in their owners.

There are three main laws in the Unites States that protect owners and their ESAs, and provide legislation that allows these animals to accompany their owners in order to provide comfort and security. The three laws are the Fair Housing Act (FHA), which protects renters from landlord rules and regulations that may prohibit animals from living in their residence; the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which provides information and protection for anyone who is battling a particular form of disability, including mental health disorders; and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), which provides certain allowances for people with a mental illness who are travelling with an emotional support animal.

In light of these laws and the dramatic increase in mental health awareness in recent years, it is evident that ESAs are becoming a popular form of support for people who are living with various disabilities or impairments. Emotional support animals provide the comfort and support that is needed for someone to live their life as normally as possible. For a person struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, for example, an ESA can be a crucial tool to help them cope with the overwhelming feelings of anxiety and panic that they often experience. The calming presence of their ESA helps them to work through difficult periods and find ways to manage their emotions in a positive way.

Anyone can apply for an ESA, and the process is fairly straightforward and simple. It is crucial, however, that the process is done correctly and that the ESA letter is from a licensed mental health professional. With the increase in ESA registrations, there are unfortunately also a number of scam ESA sites that have popped up, falsely promising immediate registration of your ESA that lasts a lifetime.  

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Anyone who struggles with a mental health disorder can apply for an ESA letter.

So, how does one ensure that their ESA letter is legitimate? There are a number of factors to consider. The letter needs to be written by a doctor or other licensed health care provider who resides in the same state as you, and needs to be written on professional letterhead that lists the location of their practice. Along with their address and contact information, the letter also needs to include the practitioner’s license number, qualifications, date of registration, and date of expiration, and what their area of expertise is. Finally, the ESA letter also needs to include information about your ESA – what type of animal it is, what its ESA certification number is, the date of issue, and when the ESA letter will expire. ESA letters are only valid for one year from the date of issue, so any website promising a lifetime ESA registration is a scam! 

It is crucial that your ESA letter is legitimate and follows the requirements listed above. Imagine if you were to arrive at the airport, ready to board your flight with your emotional support animal by your side, only to find out that the letter you got is not valid and cannot be used to allow your ESA on the flight with you. For someone struggling with an illness such as anxiety, this would be an incredibly stressful situation indeed. Similarly, if you were seeking permission for your animal to reside with you in a home that does not permit animals on a regular basis, you would need to present a legitimate ESA letter so your request would not be denied. Ensuring that your ESA letter is legitimate and provides the required information prevents difficult situations from arising.

Take the first step to ESA ownership by making sure that your ESA letter is legitimate and meets all of the requirements. Choose a reputable website that can walk you through the process and provide you with the necessary documentation. Then, enjoy your new life with your ESA by your side!