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Oceanside Family Therapy & Assessments

Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Assessment

An emotional support animal (ESA), or simply "support animal", is a companion animal that a medical/mental health professional has determined to provide benefit for an individual with a disability.


This may include improving at least one characteristic of the disability. Emotional support animals, typically dogs. but sometimes cats or other animals, may be used by people with a range of physical, psychiatric or intellectual disabilities.  


At Oceanside Family Therapy and Assessments with work with active military, veterans, disabled veterans, children and other clients, most of whom have prior documented mental health, emotional or adjustment issues.

ESAs are prescribed by mental health professionals to provide comfort and support, but unlike service animals, ESAs are not required to have training in specific tasks.

In order to be prescribed an emotional support animal the person seeking such an animal must have a verifiable disability. To be afforded protection under United States federal law, a person must meet the federal definition of disability and must have a note from a medical professional/Licensed Mental Health Counselor stating that the person has that disability and that the emotional support animal provides a benefit for the individual with the disability. An animal does not need specific training to become an emotional support animal.

Unfortunately, this process has been abused. For example, people who do not suffer from any mental health diagnosis (and those who do) obtaining letters from Internet providers, with no face to face assessment. Some of these providers lack the proper qualifications, license, experience and specific training to assess for an ESA meaning their letters are not legitimate.


At Oceanside Family Therapy and Assessments, we are very aware of the mental health benefits of pets, including the many psychological benefits of animals in therapy. Not only are we trained in ESA assessments but also in Animal Assisted Therapy and the proven benefits on emotional well being for many patients of all ages.


Therefore, we offer legitimate, mental health assessments from a highly credentialed clinician, in order to determine if clients do in fact meet criteria for a mental health disability/diagnosis and would benefit from an ESA. 

 

Upon verification, through the face to face assessment process, if a client qualifies, we will provide a letter stating that fact. There is no registry or ESA registration number for the animal, rather the ESA is prescribed to the patient with a qualifying disability as allowed under the Americans with Disability Act, The Fair Housing Act, the Air Carrier Access Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. 

Tags can be purchased at Petco, Amazon, eBay, etc., if desired, however, it is the official letter that serves as proof of the disability qualification. We do not assess the animal(s) nor do we guarantee animal behavior in any way. ESAs are not registered service animals (eg. guide dog) rather, they provide emotional support.

Qualifying for an ESA in America


Americans who have an emotional or mental disability can qualify for an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). To get the qualification, the individual involved must have an emotional or mental disability/diagnosis that is certified by a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, or any other mental health expert. In some locations, landlords and property managers do accept confirmation filled out by a certified family doctor. However, the best approach is to locate an appropriate mental health expert who can write such a letter.

College residence halls and dormitories


On April 25, 2013, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development sent notice to its regional offices that public universities are required to comply with the Fair Housing Act, which includes allowing emotional support animals into college dormitories and residence halls. As of 2015, colleges in the United States are trying to accommodate students with a documented need for emotional support animals. We have worked with numerous universities to best accommodate a student requiring an ESA. Many universities have their own documentation/forms to be completed by the qualified mental health professional.


Airlines

The Air Carrier Access Act establishes a procedure for modifying pet policies on aircraft to permit a person with a disability to travel with a prescribed emotional support animal, so long as they have appropriate documentation and the animal is not a danger to others and does not interfere with others (through unwanted attention, barking, inappropriate toileting, etc.). These laws are subject to change at any time and policies may vary greatly between airlines, so clients must do their own research on travel with an ESA.

Update: Effective March 1st 2021 Southwest Airlines has joined other major US carriers in banning emotional support animals. A new Department of Transportation regulation went into effect on January 11th, 2021 that says airlines aren't required to treat emotional support animals as service animals. Delta, United, Alaska, JetBlue and American Airlines also no longer allow emotional support animals. The DOT rule defines a service animal as a dog "trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability." "Animals that previously traveled as emotional support animals may now travel as carry-on or cargo pets," American Airlines said.  - Please check with your airline directly, we have no control over any airlines or governing entities.

https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/disabilitybillofrights"A person with a disability may have a physical or mental impairment that impacts a major life activity - such as walking, hearing, or breathing. This may be on a permanent or temporary basis. For example, a person with a temporary disability may have a broken leg that is temporarily fused or immobilized. Airlines must accommodate the needs of air travelers with disabilities.


The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) is a law that makes it illegal for airlines to discriminate against passengers because of their disability. The Department of Transportation is responsible for enforcing the ACAA, which applies to all flights to, from, or within the United States." - The US Department of Transportation


Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights

Multiple Support Animals


While there do not seem to be any legal cases dealing with the issue of multiple emotional support animals, the basic requirements for this reasonable accommodation would still be the same. In other words, if a person were claiming the need for multiple emotional support animals, then he or she would need documentation supporting this need from his or her physician or medical professional. 


However, ESAs are not breeding animals and thus need to be spayed or neutered and identified as a companion animal only (as per our practice) prior to the mental health ESA assessment.

Do I Qualify?


If you are suffering from anxiety, depression, fear of flying, phobias, compulsive behaviors, PTSD, military trauma, or any of many other qualifying disorders and feel that you would benefit from a prescribed Emotional Support Animal, by a state of Florida licensed and NBCC (national certified) mental health provider - contact us for a mental health assessment and clinical interview today.

As we serve the entire state of Florida (and other states that allow assessments from a Florida practitioner) this service is offered through a face to face Telehealth platform. 


Visit the Telehealth page here and complete the New Client Packet, and the Telehealth Consent Form. Forms can be dropped off at the office, mailed or emailed to [email protected] along with prior psychotherapy treatment records, current prescriptions and other supporting documentation.

Telehealth and New Client Forms

ESA Assessment and 1st documenting letter
$350.00
ESA Updated Letter (after 6 months from original eval or to another requesting entity).
$150.00

Mental Health Assessment to determine qualification for an Emotional Support Animal - package (includes a review of results follow up appointment and documenting letter to the entity listed in the release form, if applicable). Total $350


Most landlords, employers or airlines etc. will prefer a current letter dated within 6 months to 1 year. Therefore, an updated letter may be necessary after that time, or anytime that a new entity requires a letter. ESA letters, are written to the requesting entity directly, not the client. $150