ESA

Laws Governing Emotional Support Animals Per State In America

 

One common problem that people with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder have to deal with is disinterest in activities that they previously enjoyed. These people also like distancing themselves from others and live in their own world. This is why experts recommend that such individuals get Emotional Support Animals that offers them companionship.

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As the name suggests, Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) provide the support and company needed to alleviate the symptoms of emotional and mental illness. Their activeness also contributes to ensuring that their owners live a positive life. Simply put, ESAs are the go-to option for the mentally ill when everyone else abandons them.

Before obtaining an emotional support animal, it is vital to familiarize yourself with how they differ from normal household pets in various states of the USA. At a glance, there are special laws and privileges accorded to ESAs that do not apply to regular pets. 

As a law-abiding citizen, it is essential to know your rights and the rights of your emotional support animal. Keep on reading to discover how different states across the nation require their residents to treat emotional support animals. 

Chapter 1: An Introduction to Emotional Support Animals

Mental illness is among the leading health issues troubling Americans nowadays. Estimates show that at least one person in a group of six has a psychological condition that they know or do not know.

Regardless, these illnesses are known to affect the quality of the victims’ daily lives. The most widespread mental disorders are anxiety and depression.

However, there is a reprieve for people with these disorders, as research shows that pets can influence their lives positively. This is why you need an emotional support animal.

ESAs
Impact of ESAs

 

The Impact of ESAs on Your Life

Emotional support animals provide solace and comfort to people with mental and psychological health issues. For this reason, they are also called assistance animals. 

Here are the impacts that emotional support animals can have on your life.

  • They provide comfort and company to people with mental illnesses like anxiety and depression.
  • They relieve the symptoms of psychological health disorders.
  • They restore your interest in activities you loved before you were diagnosed with mental illness.
  • They help in establishing a connection with the outside world.
  • They make you active and more productive.

If you feel like mental illness is taking a toll on your well-being, you might want to acquire an emotional support animal.

These special pets can bring energy into your life and change how you view the world. This change in perspective can improve the quality of your life and put you on the right path to recovery.

Most Common Emotional Support Animals

The most significant difference between regular pets and ESAs is that the latter offers emotional and mental support. ESAs also help in relieving your symptoms and play a vital role in your recovery process.

If you do not have a pet with these qualities, you can obtain one from a reliable adoption agency.

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Here are some pets that can double up as emotional support animals.

  • Birds
  • Cats
  • Dogs
  • Hamsters
  • Miniature horses
  • Rabbits

Of the options mentioned above, most people like choosing cats and dogs. Some of the reasons behind this bias include ease of training and low-maintenance.

More importantly, cats and dogs are responsive to the feelings of their owners.

Chapter 2: Eligibility Criteria for An Emotional Support Animal

You must meet certain requirements to own an emotional support animal. Regardless of how much you love your pet, obtaining an ESA license is a demanding process.

The first and most crucial requirement is a document from a recognized medical institution showing that you are mentally ill and need an ESA to provide comfort and solace.

To qualify for an emotional support animal, you must have been diagnosed with at least one of the psychological health disorders as specified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which include:

  • Anxiety
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD)
  • Chronic stress
  • Depression
  • Intellectual impairment
  • Learning disabilities
  • Motor impairment
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder(OCD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Panic attack
  • Personality disorders
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD)

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Mental health experts usually recommend emotional support animals to their patients intending to speed up recovery. These disorders are often challenging, as the affected persons feel trapped in a vicious cycle of waking up, doing the same things over and again, and going back to sleep.

Chapter 3: Emotional Support Animal Laws

As mentioned above, emotional support animals are different from regular pets because they offer companionship and comfort to people with mental illness.

They are often recommended by licensed medical professionals after a person is diagnosed with psychological health disorders. Unlike other pets, ESAs have several legal privileges.

The two federal laws that protect people with emotional support animals are the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act.

1. Fair Housing Act (FHA)

The Fair Housing Act of 1988 stipulates that any person diagnosed with mental illness can live with their emotional support animal in their preferred residential property.

This protects ESA owners against discriminative property laws.

 

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The Fair Housing Act

 

Furthermore, the Fair Housing Act does not consider emotional support animals as pets. Instead, the animals are recognized as an assistive aid. The law further states that ESAs are essential for people with mental health issues.

Lastly, this act requires landlords to make arrangements such that their properties are accessible to individuals with mental illness and their emotional support animals.

However, you need to serve the property owner with an up-to-date ESA letter to enjoy this privilege.

2. Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)

In the past, The Air Carrier Access Act granted people experiencing psychological health issues the permission to travel with their preferred emotional support animal.

People could carry the animal with them in the passenger cabin, provided they have an approved and up-to-date ESA letter signed by an accredited medical practitioner. 

 

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Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)

 

But by the end of December 2020, ACAA changed its rules about traveling with an ESA. Only service dogs will be allowed to sit in the passenger’s cabin from now on. 

According to the ACAA, “a service animal is a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” 

So, emotional support animals are no longer considered service animals according to the new definition. 

The main catalyst behind the new law was the ever-increasing amount of untrained animals boarding the plane.

The new rule introduced by the Department of Transportation (DOT) clearly states that people wishing to fly with a service animal are required to fill out a form 48 hours prior to their flight time. A service animal should fit easily in the owner’s foot space on the plane.  

According to the new rules, an ESA may not be able to fly for free. The owner might be asked to pay some kind of fee, depending on the policies of the airline.

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Chapter 4: Emotional Support Animal Laws in the Different American States

While the two acts mentioned above are instituted by the federal government, different states across the country have unique laws regarding the handling and ownership of emotional support animals. That said, all dates agree upon the points below provided you have an approved ESA letter.

  1. A person can carry and sit next to their emotional support animal during flights.
  2. Mentally ill people can live with these animals in residential buildings that otherwise do not allow pets.
  3. The owner of the ESA must not pay additional charges to live with their pet in any building of their choice.

Now that you know the rules that apply to all states, let us look at how each individual state deals with emotional support animals ownership. The data is presented in tabular form to make understanding it easier. 

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State Travel Laws Housing Regulations Access to public areas (shopping malls, hospitals, cinemas, etc.) Access to educational institutions and workplaces
California ESAs will be treated as pets and be may be charged a fee depending on the airline policy Landlords cannot prohibit ESA owners from residing in their property ESAs are prohibited Administrative approval is required to bring ESAs to campus
Washington ESAs will be treated as pets and be may be charged a fee depending on the airline policy Landlords must allow ESA owners on their property without asking for additional money ESAs are prohibited ESAs are allowed in dorms provided they are well-behaved and do not threaten other students
New York ESAs will be treated as pets and be may be charged a fee depending on the airline policy Landlords must allow ESA owners on their property without asking for additional money ESAs are prohibited ESAs are allowed in dorms provided they are well-behaved and do not threaten other students
Chicago ESAs will be treated as pets and be may be charged a fee depending on the airline policy Landlords must allow ESA owners on their property without asking for additional money ESAs are prohibited ESAs are allowed in dorms provided they are well-behaved and do not threaten other students
Texas ESAs will be treated as pets and be may be charged a fee depending on the airline policy Landlords can choose to allow or prohibit ESA owners from living in their property ESAs are prohibited Administrative approval is required to bring ESAs to campus
Florida ESAs will be treated as pets and be may be charged a fee depending on the airline policy Landlords can choose to allow or prohibit ESA owners from living in their property ESAs are prohibited Administrative approval is required to bring ESAs to campus
Illinois ESAs will be treated as pets and be may be charged a fee depending on the airline policy Landlords must allow ESA owners on their property without asking for additional money ESAs are prohibited Administrative approval is required to bring ESAs to campus
Virginia ESAs will be treated as pets and be may be charged a fee depending on the airline policy Landlords can choose to allow or prohibit ESA owners from living in their property ESAs are prohibited ESAs are allowed in dorms provided they are well-behaved and do not threaten other students
Ohio ESAs will be treated as pets and be may be charged a fee depending on the airline policy Landlords must allow ESA owners on their property without asking for additional money ESAs are prohibited Administrative approval is required to bring ESAs to campus
Kansas ESAs will be treated as pets and be may be charged a fee depending on the airline policy Landlords can choose to allow or prohibit ESA owners from living in their property ESAs are prohibited ESAs are allowed in dorms but cannot enter classrooms
Oregon ESAs will be treated as pets and be may be charged a fee depending on the airline policy Landlords must allow ESA owners on their property without asking for additional money ESAs are prohibited ESAs are allowed in dorms provided they are well-behaved and do not threaten other students
Arizona ESAs will be treated as pets and be may be charged a fee depending on the airline policy Landlords must allow ESA owners on their property without asking for additional money ESAs are prohibited Administrative approval is required to bring ESAs to campus
Michigan ESAs will be treated as pets and be may be charged a fee depending on the airline policy Landlords can choose to allow or prohibit ESA owners from living in their property ESAs are prohibited ESAs are allowed in dorms but cannot enter classrooms
Nevada ESAs will be treated as pets and be may be charged a fee depending on the airline policy Landlords must allow ESA owners on their property without asking for additional money ESAs are prohibited Administrative approval is required to bring ESAs to campus
Utah ESAs will be treated as pets and be may be charged a fee depending on the airline policy Landlords can choose to allow or prohibit ESA owners from living in their property ESAs are prohibited Administrative approval is required to bring ESAs to campus
Oakland ESAs will be treated as pets and be may be charged a fee depending on the airline policy Landlords can choose to allow or prohibit ESA owners from living in their property ESAs are prohibited ESAs are allowed in dorms but cannot enter classrooms
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Must-Have New DOT Forms Before Traveling With an ESA

 

Taking a closer look at the data presented in the table above, it is evident that most states support ESAs. However, it is always commendable to contact relevant authorities to avoid problems. 

 

A Comparison Between ESA Laws and Service Animals Laws

Emotional support animals are different from service animals. The latter are distinct from ESAs because their primary function is assisting disabled people physically, while ESAs offer companionship to the mentally ill.

Moreover, service animals can access every place their owners go, while ESAs are prohibited in some places. 

For example, you need a permit from your boss to bring your ESA to the office. If you are lucky, they will allow you, but if you are not, you will have to find an alternative.

With service animals, you do not need permission from anyone. 

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Who Qualifies for an Emotional Support Animal?

Chapter 5: Emotional Support Animal Letter

A certified ESA letter is a proof that a mental health professional has diagnosed you with a psychological disorder and duly recommended an emotional support animal.

The letter also serves as a pass that enables you to live in your preferred residential unit without incurring additional charges.

It is useful to people who want to acquire new ESAs or transform their existing pets into emotional support animals. 

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Additionally, an ESA letter accords more privileges to your pet than a regular one would get.

Here is a systematic guide on how to obtain an emotional support animal letter. 

1. Book an Appointment

Before anything, book an appointment with a licensed mental health professional. Ensure that you research thoroughly before settling on a particular option.

Ideally, the person you choose should have accreditation from recognized bodies and positive reviews from previous clients. 

Because of the rising cases of mental illness, scammers are taking advantage of unknowing people by claiming to be licensed professionals. This underlines the importance of taking your time in research. 

After booking an appointment, try to arrive on time, whether it is a virtual or an in-person meeting.

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2. Be Frank

When meeting the doctor, do not be reluctant to share as much as you can about yourself. More specifically, feel free to share every detail about your daily life, with a particular focus on any mental health issues.

It might feel uncomfortable, but this information is crucial to helping the doctor make the right diagnosis of your condition. 

Your mental health doctor wants to hear all about the problems that are hindering you from enjoying your daily life and affecting your productivity.

It is worth noting that doctors are trained to uphold confidential patient information, meaning that you should not hold back when talking to them. 

After finishing the interview, the doctor will assess the information you shared to see whether you suffer from any of the conditions listed on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

If so, they will proceed to evaluate your suitability for an ESA before giving you a recommendation letter. This process also involves further discussions about the handling of emotional support animals.

 

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Factors To Consider While Choosing an ESA

3. Apply for an Emotional Support Animal Letter

If your licensed mental health professional recommends an emotional support animal, the next step is applying for an ESA letter. The application form is accessible online or at your therapist’s office.

It is advisable to ask your therapist to fill out the application form for you. However, they need to have a valid license. This applies to online and in-office psychotherapists. 

The following are must-have features of emotional support animal letters. 

  • An official letterhead
  • A confirmation that you are mentally ill and an ESA recommendation from a mental health professional
  • The name of your licensed mental health professional
  • The details of your emotional support animal
  • The letter’s date of issuance
  • The state where your mental health professional is licensed to operate

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4. Fill the Form

The next step involves filling the form provided by the licensed mental health professional. Ensure that you enter the right information about yourself, your mental health status, and the reason why an emotional support animal can help your situation. 

Some of the data you need to enter in this form include:

  • Your name
  • Physical address
  • State of residence
  • Email address
  • Your preferred emotional support animal
  • Services you intend to get from the emotional support animal

Besides, you will have to fill a questionnaire concerning your current mental state and how long you have experienced the problem. If you are taking any medications or other forms of therapy, you will need to share the information. 

Sharing false or inaccurate information reduces your chances of getting an approved emotional support animal letter. Try to be as honest as you can.

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5. Choose Your Preferred Emotional Support Animal

After filling the form, you will have to wait for approval. If the results are positive, it is time to choose your preferred emotional support animal.

You can opt to get a new one from adoption agencies or transform an existing household pet into an ESA.

Selecting the right emotional support animal can be a daunting task. It is crucial to choose an option that is easy to train, well-behaved, and more importantly, provides you with solace and companionship when others are gone.

Whatever you do, avoid going for a reptile as your ESA. This is because most reptiles are either dangerous or poisonous.

Experts recommend choosing a cat or a dog. They are beautiful, easy to handle, and are responsive to their owner’s feelings.

Even better, they are low-maintenance pets, and you can move them around conveniently. 

 

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Features of an ESA letter

 

Factors to Consider Before Taking an Emotional Support Animal Home

Here are some factors you need to consider before taking a pet home to offer you emotional support.

1. The Purpose of Getting the ESA

Do you want a furry friend to cuddle with on the sofa or you want an animal that calms your nerves? Every animal has distinctive behavior and plays a unique role in human life, so choosing the right that suits your needs is critical.

2. Affordability

Another important consideration when getting an emotional support animal is its affordability. Besides the initial cost of purchasing the animal, consider other expenses like pet food, vet services, and other maintenance services.

3. Does it Suit Your Way of Life?

Ensure that the emotional support animal you choose suits your lifestyle. For instance, if you spend little time at home, it would not be wise to pick a pet that gets bored quickly. Keep in mind that all animals require proper care and frequent exercising, regardless of your choice.

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4. What is Its Age?

Although animals are cute and lovely, try to choose one with the right age. For instance, younger pets are easier to train, but their activeness makes them unsuitable for people who want a quiet and peaceful life.  Conversely, it is more challenging to train older animals.

5. Are You Allergic?

Before you pick a particular animal, confirm that it does not harbor potential allergens. Otherwise, it might end up harming you instead of helping.

Other Considerations

Apart from the factors mentioned above, it is also crucial to consider the following when choosing a pet to become an emotional support animal.

  • Behavior – emotional support animals must obey your orders, and you should be able to control it. Pets with becoming mannerisms like excessive barking and biting should be red-flagged.
  • Cleanliness – landlords and airline carriers have the right to restrict access for you and your emotional support animal if you do not meet their high hygiene standards. Ensure that your pet is clean at all times.
  • Veterinary Checks – many people tend to overlook the importance of veterinary check-ups. These can help you know if the animal you are about to adopt has underlying health issues that might cost you later.

 

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Check-In Requirements for ESA Owners

Conclusion

Mental illness often makes the patient distanced from others, less productive, and disinterested in most of the worldly activities. If left untreated for extended periods, it affects the quality of life and induces suicidal feelings. The good thing about modern therapy is that you do not have to rely on others to make you happy – you can have animals do it for you. Emotional support animals can give you the companionship and comfort you need to start your path to recovery.

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You will be pleased to know that the federal government and all American states have two laws that safeguard the well-being of emotional support animals. These are the Air Carrier Access Act and the Fair Housing Act. 

The two acts mentioned above give emotional support animal privileges that are not afforded to regular household pets. With an ESA letter, you can live in a house of your choosing without incurring extra fees. The only exception to this rule is pets that act up or threaten those around you. 

It is essential to acquaint yourself with the laws that protect the interests of ESAs and their owners. This article explores how various states implement these rules. If you have any questions and comments concerning this subject, do not hesitate to leave them in the section below. 

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