The popularity of an Emotional Support Animal has grown rapidly in recent years, with pet owners claiming their furry friends help them deal with everything from depression to social anxiety to PTSD.
The Emotional Support Animal online marketplace can be a predatory experience for many individuals. Sadly, the industry is rife with unethical vendors and clinicians, many of whom are actively scheming to exploit consumers, dupe landlords, and gain unfair advantage of individuals with disabilities.
Thankfully, ESAD Int’l (ESADoggy)’s perfect Emotional Support Animal letter is a noted exception.
Are Online Emotional Support Animal Letters Legit?
Two years ago, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson asked the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation of this industry. Said Carson, “Some websites sell certificates, registrations, and licensing documents for assistance animals to anyone who answers certain questions or participates in a short interview and pays a fee.”
For those like us fully engaged in the spirit of fair housing and our clients truly in need of an assistance animal, was HUD finally signaling an end to the wild west of ESA peacocks, untrained service dogs, and such?
In the end, not much has changed since Carson tenure, in fact, it has only gotten worse, as fraud is much more rampant, and there is a very good chance of you getting unwittingly duped.
How to get an Emotional Support Animal.
It is important to understand how an Emotional Support Animal letter “works.” An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is designated by a medical or mental health care professional who assessed and verified your “disability and disability-related need.” An ESA can be helpful for those suffering from:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Panic attacks
- Social anxiety disorder
While many therapists recommend ESAs and there is evidence that shows their effectiveness in treating certain conditions, many insurance companies will not cover the therapy cost as part of one’s treatment plan.
How to Register an Emotional Support Animal.
The prescription below, while likely well-intended, completely fails with HUD’s basic requirements for an Emotional Support Animal letter of recommendation.
- Your clinician must reside in your state. While not required by law and it is legally okay for a practitioner to be licensed in multiple jurisdictions, many landlords will balk at a letter issued by an out-of-state provider.
- HUD applies a reasonableness standard for fair housing. In other words, does the situation “make sense” – to wit, is it reasonable for a therapist located in Wichita, KS to issue an ESA letter to a client in San Jose?
- Those three-minute mental health questionnaires (known as a DSM cross-cut) are a dead giveaway of a letter mill. If you’re approved in 10 minutes, you just got scammed.
- The industry as a whole is finally moving to a “multiple sessions, delayed letter” model. In California, there is now a thirty-day window before an Emotional Support Animal letter can be issued.
- Nationwide, the days of “one and done” are finally coming to an end. Expect the need to meet one or more times with a nearby clinician, who will develop personal knowledge of your disability.
- Do not fail to disclose your assistance animal at lease signing. If you hid the existence of your animal and then sprang it on your landlord after getting caught, HUD considers that fraud and you will have no leg to stand to file a discrimination complaint.
- If you submitted an “ESA certificate or registration,” you bought and tendered junk documentation.
Red Flags that Likely Mean You Have Been Scammed.
Years ago, we once published a “black list” of ESA sites to avoid at all costs, as most websites evaluated engaged in fraudulent business practices and deserved to be shut down. We just ran out of time, patience, and ink, so we gave up.
With hundreds of online options, many selling completely fraudulent ID cards (see above), how do you avoid getting scammed?
- Be careful doing business with ESA vendors who advertise on Google (pay per click), as many of the most notorious retailers peddle their junk that way.
- If a site offers animal “registrations or certifications,” run away. Even if you have a broken ankle, hobble away at best possible speed.
- Google the name of the vendor along with “reviews” and have yourself a good laugh.
- Look for the vendor’s published HIPAA disclosure policy, especially how they handle your Protected Health Information (PHI). Most ESA letter providers skip over this, as it is costly and time-consuming to implement – even though Federal law requires their total compliance.
- Call the company and have them explain their understanding of HUD’s FHEO guidance – – Uncle Sam’s rules for Emotional Support Animals in housing. If they don’t focus on “disability and disability-related need,” they are clueless.
- Verify the assigned practitioner resides in your state.
- Google the name of your practitioner and “discipline.”
- Google the name of your practitioner and “suspended or revoked license.”
- Patently ignore any reviews except those on Google. Reviews, like those found on Trustpilot, can easily be bought.
- Lastly, make sure the vendor operates in an actual business location (check out their Google My Business page). All too often, no physical contact information is listed. Do you really want to share your most intimate of health care secrets with an anonymous organization operating from a PO box? Next stop, the dark web.
A bit of googling reveals countless, and pointless, Emotional Support Animal certifications — “official documents” provided after completion of a simple online form and payment.
They are completely phony.
As HUD General Counsel Paul Compton stated in 2020, “[…] websites are using questionable business practices that exploit consumers, prejudice the legal rights of individuals with disabilities, dupe landlords, and generally interfere with good faith efforts to comply with the requirements of the Fair Housing Act.”
$49 ESA ID Card and Harness to the Rescue!
Are you the proud owner of an Emotional Support Animal ID card?
“Why yes,” you said. “Thanks to USARegisterFido, for a mere $49, I avoided having to train my service dog, and now, I can take Rover everywhere! To school, out to a restaurant, all around town!”
A $49 investment somehow shortcuts years of training or having to spend upwards of $50,000 for a fully-trained Service Animal? Come on, did that not seem even remotely sketchy? All because you did not want to leave Fizzy the Cat home while you went to Trader Joe’s?
“Whether unwittingly or not, you just got scammed,” we’re sorry to say, “and using a fake Emotional Support Animal ID card to gain benefit can (and should) land you in jail.”
Fully complying with California law (AB-468), and serving individuals throughout the Golden State and across the nation, ESAD Int’l (ESADoggy) has been connecting people just like you with doctors and therapists who provide reliable verification of the disability-related need for an assistance animal. Verification is provided through a legitimate Emotional Support Animal letter, or what is referred to as an ESA Letter for Housing.
In business since 1996 and BBB A+ rated, our culture emphasizes kindness, compassion, and respect for all. We have a zero-tolerance policy for intolerance of any kind, all while holding ourselves to the highest ethical standards in promoting the mental health of those who use our platform.