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How to Ask Your Doctor for an Emotional Support Animal

Sometimes people do not have the privilege of receiving emotional support from family members or friends because there are not many in the area or they are all deceased. Enlisting the help of an emotional support animal can be a positive mental boost for those that need a furry shoulder to lean on. We will go over how you can get an ESA letter in California if you feel you need an emotional support animal.

What Is an Emotional Support Animal?

If you struggle with mental illness, you don’t have to suffer alone. Many individuals with mental or emotional disabilities can greatly benefit from having an emotional support animal. However, it can be confusing to know where to start if you're considering an ESA or therapy animal. In this article, we’ll discuss where to go and how to ask your doctor about getting an emotional support animal.

Do You Need an Emotional Support Animal?

The thought of having an emotional support animal may sound great, but is it really what you need to improve your mental health? First, it’s important to understand what emotional support animals are and why an official ESA letter is so important. Learn more about the role of an emotional support animal and how they help people cope with emotional or mental distress.

Are Emotional Support Animals Service Animals?

An emotional support animal can help you in numerous ways because they provide emotional support, comfort, and companionship. ESAs may also help your mental health by motivating you to care for a creature besides yourself. However, emotional support animals are different from service animals. Service animals, primarily service dogs, are individually trained to help people with specific tasks such as seeing, hearing, mobility, and other practical requirements of daily life. 

On the other hand, emotional support animals, such as emotional support dogs, help people struggling with mental or emotional disabilities such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), insomnia, or depression. They provide companionship and comfort just through their presence, without any special training or expectation to perform a specific task. 

After determining that you can properly care for an assistance animal and that an emotional support animal will improve your quality of life, you’ll need to consult with a licensed mental health professional to get their opinion on whether you need one. Ultimately, they will decide whether you qualify for an emotional support animal or not.

dog and man

Talking to Your Doctor About Emotional Support Animals

The first step in obtaining an emotional support animal is to schedule an appointment with your doctor or a licensed mental health professional. From there, update them about any changes in your mental health and be honest about how you’ve been feeling recently. Don’t be afraid to admit something is wrong or acknowledge that things are improving.

Your doctor may recommend other treatment options such as medication or counseling. Try to be open to these options, which could go alongside owning and caring for an emotional support animal. You don't need special permission to own an emotional support animal – your existing pet can serve this purpose. However, if you want to secure official status for your companion animal, you'll need an ESA letter verifying your mental health needs.

If you’re still interested in the idea of an emotional support animal, ask your doctor for recommendations for a licensed mental health professional, such as a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist, who can meet with you and write you an ESA letter. Your doctor may give you a referral for a licensed mental health professional in your area, or you might decide to use a telehealth platform to connect virtually with a therapist or counselor.

How to Get a Letter for Your Emotional Support Animal

Whether you choose an online ESA letter provider/telehealth platform or a mental health specialist near you, you'll need to participate in a consultation. Working with licensed mental health professionals ensures that pet owners have real, legitimate reasons for obtaining emotional support animal status for their companion animals.

Based on your consultation, your licensed mental health professional will determine whether you would benefit from having an emotional support animal. You'll discuss your symptoms and whether you have any mental health conditions that affect your day-to-day activities. If your licensed mental health professional determines that you have a qualifying disability (i.e. a mental or emotional disability), they’ll write you an emotional support animal letter to make it official. Remember that ESA letters expire after a year, so keep in mind that you'll need a follow-up appointment to get yours renewed.

Can You Bring an Emotional Support Animal Anywhere?

If you decide to get an emotional support animal to improve your life, you'll need to know where you can take your ESA and what rights you have. One crucial piece of information to remember is that emotional support animals are not the same as service animals. There are some critical differences between emotional support dogs and service dogs.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) permits service animals to enter nearly any public establishment to provide practical assistance to individuals with physical or cognitive disabilities. This also includes psychiatric service animals, which must complete the same strict training regimen as any other service dog.

There is no federal or state legal protection guaranteeing the rights of ESAs to enter places like restaurants, movie theaters, or hotels. The decision is entirely at the discretion of the owner, manager, or proprietor. However, if you have a valid ESA letter explaining your circumstances and how you would benefit from the presence of an ESA, the venue might accommodate you, even if they typically have a "no pets" policy.

Therefore, it’s essential to research and reach out to local venues to educate yourself on their ESA policies and regulations. This same strategy applies to airlines, too, as the Air Carrier Access Act does not require airlines to admit ESAs, only service animals. It never hurts to politely ask whether your ESA can enter an establishment with you – especially if you have an ESA letter to support your request.

Can an Emotional Support Animal Live Anywhere?

Although there are restrictions on where emotional support animals can go in public, ESAs and their owners are guaranteed reasonable accommodations for housing under federal law. The federal Fair Housing Act includes emotional support animals in its definition of assistance animals. This legislation specifies that people cannot be discriminated against due to a disability when obtaining housing. Rules such as pet bans and restrictions are waived for people who have an ESA letter. Likewise, ESA owners cannot be charged a pet deposit for having an emotional support animal live with them.

Conclusion - Should You Ask Your Doctor for an ESA Letter?

Owning an emotional support animal is a big responsibility, but it's also a source of comfort and emotional assistance that can help you thrive in your daily life if you are struggling with a mental or emotional disability. Consider speaking with a qualified mental health professional about your situation to decide whether a companion animal could improve your well-being and overall quality of life.

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