Almost every day we’re asked by a nurse, “can I bring my pet on assignment with me?” And the answer is absolutely yes, it may just be a bit more difficult to find housing. Many rental apartments or houses don’t allow pets on the lease, so if you can’t find a pet-friendly rental you may feel like your options are out. But, classifying your pet as an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) might just be the way to go! ESAs can live in no-pet buildings and aren’t subject to breed or weight restrictions. Keep in mind, this isn’t a cheat code so you can move four dogs into your apartment; ESAs are federally mandated and regulated to protect both pet owners and landlords. Our pets play a key role in our mental and emotional well-being, we're going over how the ESA’s guidelines for qualifying your pet, the documentation you need for landlords, and how to find a therapist or doctor to help:
Do I Qualify?
Emotional Support Animals are often confused for service animals, but it’s important to know ESAs are not service animals. According to the ADA National Network, "Emotional support animals provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities.” ESAs can be life-changing for those suffering from mental health issues. To qualify for an ESA, you just have to have an open and honest discussion with a licensed health professional about your mental health issues, and whether an Emotional Support Animal could help. If your therapist or doctor thinks an ESA would benefit you, you can request a signed letter as documented proof of their recommendation, which you can then use to live in no-pet housing.
What Documents are needed?
A common misconception about ESAs is that they need to be registered in some national database. That’s not the case, and there is no national registry for emotional support animals. In order to have your ESA living with you in a no-pet rental, you only need an ESA Housing Letter. Your letter will need basic information like your full name, a statement that you have a condition that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a statement that an ESA is being recommended to alleviate symptoms of the condition and what breed (dog, cat, bird, etc.), and the license information and signature from your healthcare provider. And that’s all. There are websites that offer to register your pet as an ESA, but that is simply a scam. Once you provide the ESA Housing letter to your landlord or HOA, they will verify the signature, and you’re all set!
Connect With a Licensed therapist or doctor
There are two ways you can get your ESA letter, and that’s through connecting with a licensed therapist or doctor in person or virtually. If you currently work with a psychologist, social worker, psychiatrist, licensed counselor, or mental health nurse, you can ask them to write an ESA letter for your landlord on their professional letterhead. You can discuss an ESA with your primary care physician, and they may write you a letter, but most letters do not come from physicians as they’re usually unfamiliar with a patients' mental health. If you aren’t currently working with a qualified healthcare provider or if yours isn’t familiar with ESAs, there are multiple websites that can assist in this process. Websites like ESA Doctors and CertaPet can answer any questions you have on the process, help you schedule an appointment with a licensed professional, and provide customer support when needed. If this is something you want to explore, we encourage you to do the research, and talk to the experts who can give you the best advice as to whether or not you qualify.