Emotional support animals (ESA) are ideal for many people. They offer a comforting and constant presence to help you deal with mental and emotional health issues. But maintaining the ESA status for your companion does take a little work. You need to be prescribed an emotional support animal by a doctor or other health care professional, then you must obtain a letter to make your ESA legal – and get all the legal rights that go along with it. These letters must be renewed annually, or your companion will lose their ESA status.
Here’s what you need to know about renewing your ESA letter and why it’s so important to make sure you stay on top of all the ESA red tape.
What Are Emotional Support Animals?
An emotional support animal is a domesticated animal, such as a dog or a cat, that a licensed health care professional has determined can provide benefit to someone with an emotional or mental disability. These animals don’t require specific training; they simply offer comfort and companionship to their owner. They are not service dogs, but you and your ESA do have some rights under the law.
Emotional support animals are often prescribed for the following conditions:
- Social anxiety disorder
- General anxiety disorder
- Postpartum depression
- Panic disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Impulse-control disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Fears and phobia
- Seasonal affective disorder
Talk to your doctor or therapist about the possible benefits of an emotional support animal for your condition. They are familiar with the process of obtaining an ESA letter and can help you figure out the best treatment for your particular circumstances.
The Laws of ESA Ownership
The legal rights granted to you and your ESA are not as extensive as the rights extended to service animals, but there are two circumstances under which you and your ESA are protected. They are:
The Fair Housing Act
This law ensures that those who require an emotional support animal will be allowed to have their animals live with them, even if they live in a place with a no-pets policy. This law also prevents rental companies and landlords from charging you pet deposits for fees on top of your rent.
The Air Carrier Access Act
This is an important law that protects you when traveling with your ESA. It ensures that those who require an ESA can fly with them without paying additional fees. Airlines do require that you inform them in advance that you’ll be bringing your emotional support animal with you. They also require a recent (less than one year from date of travel) ESA letter from your medical provider as proof that your animal is certified.
The ESA Letter
An emotional support animal letter, which is also known as an ESA letter or “ESA prescription”, is a letter that approves the condition you have as one that requires an ESA. It says that there are therapeutic benefits provided to you by your animal. It is the only requirement your animal needs to be considered an emotional support animal. This letter is from your physician or mental health provider, and states the following:
- That you are currently a patient of a mental health specialist or doctor who is certified to prescribe an emotional support animal
- That you are under the care of that same doctor or mental health provider
- That your illness stops you from taking part in or performing a minimum of one daily activity
- That an ESA is an aspect of your treatment plan and can help you cope with your symptoms
Some people do find visiting a doctor or a therapist to be cost-prohibitive when seeking an ESA letter. You’ll find with just a little research that there’s a booming online ESA letter business out there – but be careful where you shop. Not all ESA letters are legit. Moosh can guide you and help you spot a fake ESA letter.
Renewing an ESA Letter
The emotional support animal letter you receive is good for a period of 12 months. If you’re shopping around on the internet for an ESA letter, then make sure to avoid any site that promises “lifetime” ESA letters – this is a guaranteed sign that the site is not legitimate. You are required to renew your letter every 12 months and anyone who says differently may be trying to scam you.
Having a current ESA letter is incredibly important. If you allow the letter to expire, then you will not be entitled to the benefits and legal protects afforded you under the law. Work with the doctor, therapist, or website you have in the past to secure a new, valid ESA letter.
Don’t overlook the importance of a valid ESA letter. If you don’t renew it, then you may find yourself faced with legal issues regarding where you live, or roadblocks to your travel plans. Stay on top of your annual renewal so you can keep enjoying the benefits of your ESA.