If you have an emotional or mental disability, you know that it can be extremely challenging. However, many people do not recognize that these types of disabilities can be just as life-altering as physical disabilities that are easier to see. Because of this, many people do not understand why someone with a mental or emotional challenge would need an animal to help provide support and comfort and to treat their disability. Because of this, many landlords and airline personnel are still resistant to the idea of Emotional Support Animals and do not want to give them the consideration they deserve under the law and fake ESA letters add some heat to the topic.
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Fortunately, the U.S. government does recognize the importance of ESAs and how effective they can be in treating those with emotional and mental challenges. That’s why they have developed laws to protect individuals who have valid ESA letters for their pets. These laws fall under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) which set forth laws regarding living arrangements and air travel. The FHA states that those with ESAs cannot be denied housing, even if there is a no pets policy. The ACAA states that those traveling with ESAs can keep their pets in the cabin with them during air travel and that no additional fees will be issued.
However, to benefit from these laws, you must have a valid ESA letter provided by a mental health professional or licensed Medical Doctor. Many people make the mistake of getting letters online that are not valid and will therefore not be accepted by landlords or airlines. A fake ESA letter is not only a waste of time and money, but it can also have very negative consequences on your living arrangements or travel plans.
How a Fake ESA Letter Ruined One Woman’s Vacation
I was in a very bad car accident six years ago. Though I was not badly injured physically, I lost someone very dear to me and have suffered from anxiety and depression ever since. I have been to a therapist regularly since my accident and early on he suggested I get a cat who could act as an Emotional Support Animal to assist with my therapy.
I did not know a lot about ESAs at the time, so I asked my therapist how I would find an ESA and how I could train a cat. Not only was I unfamiliar with fake ESA letters, I also had never owned a pet before and was unsure how to care for one.
My doctor assured me that cats are very easy to care for and that no training would be necessary for the pet to qualify as an ESA. He told me that having a companion animal would be very beneficial to my treatment and that it would be well worth any care or work I would have to put into it. My therapist suggested I visit the local animal shelter to find the perfect cat. Though I was hesitant at first, all of that changed when I met Boots.
Boots was one year old at the time I adopted her and has been my main source of comfort and love in the past six years. She has always provided me with unconditional love and I find that caring for her needs often helps me put aside my own anxiety and depression and focus on doing things for her. She has helped me cope with my problems in hundreds of different ways and I could not be more grateful to my therapist for suggesting I bring Boots into my life.
Taking Boots on Vacation
Boots goes everywhere with me, so when I decided I needed to take a vacation, I knew she would need to accompany me. Though I always viewed Boots as an Emotional Support Animal, I had never actually gotten a certified letter since I owned my own home and did not need to prove that Boots was a therapy animal. However, I knew that I would need one of these letters so that Boots could travel with me in the cabin of the airplane.
Looking back, I should have gone through my therapist to get the letter, but he was out of town and I was in a hurry to book my vacation. I looked up all the laws and regulations related to airport travel and found an online service that promised a quick and inexpensive turnaround for an ESA letter. I quickly paid my fee and received my letter a few days later, just in time for my trip.
With my letter in hand, Boots and I traveled to the airport, ready for a long weekend of sun and fun in Florida. Little did I know how much trouble awaited me.
When I was asked for my ESA letter so that Boots could travel with me in the airplane cabin, I quickly handed it over. It became clear that something was wrong, though, as the airline attendant scrutinized it longer than expected and then directed me to a manager. The manager informed me that the letter I had did not meet the guidelines for a verified ESA letter and was not in line with their airline policies. It was clear, it was a fake ESA letter.
It turned out that the online service I had used did not have any mental health professionals or MD on staff. Because an ESA letter can only be issued by a licensed Medical Doctor, my letter was useless. Not only had I wasted my money, but I had also potentially ruined my vacation.
ESA letters must, according to federal law, show a valid diagnosis of emotional or mental disability. This diagnosis has to come from a mental health professional who has examined you or gone through your medical records to arrive at this diagnosis. The letter also has to state that your ESA is an assistive aid and is a major part of your ongoing treatment. My letter had none of the requirements and would therefore not be accepted by the airline.
Instead of getting a quick fix online, I should have gone to my own therapist or I should have done more research to find an online service that had therapists on staff.
A Better Service
Boots and I did not get to travel to Florida that day. However, it was an important lesson that I will never forget and it led me to find an online service that provided valid ESA letters. By doing proper research, I was able to locate a service that had licensed mental health professionals on staff and that created letters that were fully recognized by all domestic airlines. I knew that if I wanted to book another vacation and have Boots accompany me, I had to do it right.
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The service that I went with not only had certified mental health professionals that I could independently verify, but they also conducted an online mental health screening. This screening is a necessary part of the ESA process as only those who qualify for assistance can get a valid letter. It was clear to me that the service I had chosen was legitimate and that they did business the right way. I knew that with my new ESA letter, I could travel anywhere with Boots and never again have to worry about repeating my embarrassing and frustrating experience.
How to Tell if an Emotional Support Animal Letter is Fake
Spotting a fake ESA letter is not difficult once you know what to look for. Here are some red flags that the online ESA service you are considering using is not valid.
- There are no licensed mental health professionals or MD on staff.
Emotional Support Animal letters, according to federal law, must be written by a licensed mental health professional such as a therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, mental health nurse practitioner or licensed Medical Doctor. If you cannot verify that one of these professionals has written your ESA letter, it may very well be invalid. Check with your specific state to see which types of licensed medical and mental health professionals can provide a legit ESA letter.
2. The LMHP or MD does not have a license to practice in the USA.
Even if the online service has licensed mental health professionals on staff, the letter they provide may still be invalid if the professional does not have a license to practice in the US. Landlords can reject ESA letters if they are not written by those who have valid licenses in one of the states. Before you purchase an online ESA letter, ask for proof that the LMHP or MD writing the letter has the right license.
3. There is no screening and doctor-patient interaction.
If an online service promises quick approval and review of your online ESA application and does not conduct an in-depth screening process and you never speak to a doctor, your ESA letter will likely be fake. Under federal law, you must have a health screening by the licensed doctor writing your ESA letter for it to be valid. That is why many individuals get letters written by the LMHP or MD they are receiving therapy from. However, it is still possible to get an online letter from a Medical Doctor you have not seen in person. To do so, however, the service must do a thorough check of your health records to determine if you have a valid mental or emotional disability and that you would benefit from an ESA.
4. The service refers to ‘registering’ your pet as an ESA.
Pets cannot be registered as Emotional Support Animals and you cannot purchase a ‘registered ESA’. In fact, no legitimate ESA registry exists. If the service you are working with offers to register your pet or asks you to sign up for a registry, they are very likely a scam. Your ESA is not required to be registered anywhere. For it to qualify as an Emotional Support Animal and to receive the benefits from housing and airline personnel, you must only have a valid ESA letter from a licensed medical doctor.
Be warned that many fake services can sound very legitimate as they use language such as ‘United States registry’ or ‘national registry’ and can have a very convincing argument about why you need to register your pet. They may also offer a framed certificate or ID tags for your pet to confirm their ‘registration’. While these may seem like bonuses, be aware they are not necessary and are likely an indication that you are working with a service that is not legitimate.
5. They have no customer service.
If you work with a reputable service, you will be able to contact customer support even after your valid ESA letter has been issued. Secondly, if you need help with verification, have an issue with a landlord, airline not considering your letter valid, or if you have any other questions, the service should be available for assistance. Lastly, if the company you work with disappears or does not respond to questions, they are likely a scam.
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