More individuals are gaining access to the mental health care they need thanks to dramatically increased access to health insurance that covers mental health care in the US. With that increase, we’ve seen a corresponding increase in individual’s utilization of Emotional Support Animals to provide companionship at home while they pursue counseling and therapy to address their underlying mental health issues and work toward positive progress in their daily lives.
With this surge in the ownership of Emotional Support Animals comes a corresponding increase in the very real trend of scams looking to capitalize on the vulnerable, and those struggling with mental or emotional problems.
There is NO SUCH THING as a National Registry for ESAs.
Valid ESA letters can ONLY be issued by a licensed therapist who assesses your individual unique mental state and needs in a personal consultation where the therapist asks questions and listens to your answers, assessing your mental health. This is done in a way that is in alignment with professional and ethical standards. From there, they can determine whether you truly qualify for an ESA and issue you a valid signed letter. That being said, there truly is NO state level or federal level “registry” for ESA pets, and any website that claims that you can “self-register”, “register ESA support animals now” or instantly grant an ESA letter via a quick, free online quiz; these are all fraudulent and should be avoided.
Here are some examples of scam sites to avoid:
Automated ESA registration sites are built to use a quiz that, no matter how you answer the questions, the result is that you “qualify” for an ESA. These systems then lead you through an automated system that asks you to pay money for an instant, printable ESA Letter – which, in a lot of instances, cannot possibly be valid since it 1. Wasn’t issued by a licensed therapist, and 2. Wasn’t granted after a thorough personal assessment that meets the rigorous mental health standards required.
Please be especially wary of any sites that offer incredible, beyond belief benefits for using their service or paying a fee.
While a valid ESA Letter can legitimately help you keep your support animal with you when you have no other option of housing except that which does not allow residents to keep a pet, NO ESA letter will make that housing rent-free from your landlord. Any suggestion from any website that, by using their service, you can get free rent instead of paying your property manager or landlord is absolutely a FRAUD.
ESA “kits” are a waste of money
ESA “kits” like the ones pictured here wrap a bundle of fraudulent services and products into convenient and appealing packages that dupe many people into spending money for unnecessary things.
A true Emotional Support Animal is a companion animal requiring no more training than any well trained pet. Your ESA pet provides you with support at home while you pursue counseling and therapy. Keeping your Emotional Support Animal at home does NOT require a vest, special ID tags, registration certificates or any special harness, leash or pet accessories. Many states have hefty fines if pets are misrepresented as Service Animals. If you fly with your ESA, you only need the ESA letter and nothing else.
Kits like these confuse ESAs with Registered Service Animals such as seeing-eye dogs. This is dangerous.
True Registered Service Animals undergo rigorous training to meet the needs of their disabled owners, ARE registered with the state and DO wear very particular vests and harnesses to show that the animal is a Registered Service Animal and should be allowed to help their owner in public spaces.
ESA pets, however, should NOT be brought into public spaces where pets are not allowed. Besides being a nuisance to others in public spaces when poorly trained pets naturally act out in noisy, bustling areas where they are easily overstimulated or frightened, news reports are increasing about pets getting loose and running wild in public spaces and stores, causing problems for their owners and damage to the store or space, even reporting strangers being bitten as they try to help catch the loose pet. ESA owners being led to believe that having an ESA Letter entitles them to bring their pet EVERYWHERE is just one of the ways that fraudulent websites do harm.
It is important to know that ESAs are ONLY ALLOWED FOR FLYING AND HOUSING PURPOSES.
TALK with your therapist during your assessment to verify where you should, and should NOT take your ESA pet. Your therapist can provide you with good information on what having an ESA Letter really means for you, where you can take your pet, where you should NOT take your pet, and more.
- ESA letters for flying are valid for only ONE YEAR – NEVER a lifetime – and you will need to renew your ESA Letter with your therapist or counselor every year to keep it valid. However, ESA letters for housing are good indefinitely.
- There is no database or registry either at the state or federal level – you and your therapist or counselor must work together to keep track of your annual renewal date, and re-assess to renew at the appropriate time.
- “Paperless” certificates are NOT valid. You MUST have a valid ESA Letter printed and signed by a mental health professional or a physician who is treating you for mental health issues. Your landlord is not likely to accept a digital file of a form letter that doesn’t include a real licensed therapist’s signature and contact information. Only a real letter, signed by your therapist or physician should be provided to your property manager as an addendum to your rental agreement to show that you CAN keep your ESA pet with you at home.
Scheduling your assessment online is Okay – BUT doing a short online quiz is not a real assessment.
Many licensed therapist and counselors use online scheduling systems as a convenience to clients. You can easily schedule your assessment online, and at the appointed time meet with or call your therapist or counselor to have the personal assessment you need to be granted an ESA letter, or to renew your ESA letter.
Online scheduling enables you to arrange your therapy session in advance to suit your needs. Making mental health services more accessible is one way of helping patients get the care they need.
What is NOT valid is any “quiz” or “test” you take online in an automated question and answer system. Many online scams are set up to look like quizzes, multiple choice or fill in the blank. These advertise that by answering a “quick” series of questions, the test will tell you if an ESA is something you can get. When the system then prompts you to pay for an ESA Letter, you know it’s a fraud.
Scheduling an appointment for a consultation with a licensed therapist through an online scheduling system is Okay.
Taking an online automated short quiz or test, then paying for an instant ESA letter where an actual human doesn’t thoroughly read and assess whether or not you qualify for an ESA is fake and fraudulent, designed to take your money.