ESA Certification in Virginia
An emotional support animal (ESA) is a living, domesticated animal that provides emotional support to a person with a disability. These animals can come in many forms, such as dogs, cats, and birds. An emotional support animal counts as a type of assistance animal; that is, it is considered a “reasonable accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
However, it should be noted that an emotional support animal is not the same as a service animal. A service animal is a dog or miniature horse, among other possible animals, that is trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. A service animal may be specially trained to perform tasks that a regular animal would not be capable of. They can, for example, alert a person to the presence of a specific type of food, alert them to their own location, and even alert others in the event of a seizure.
Meanwhile, an emotional support animal is not specially trained. Instead, it simply gives comfort to a person with a debilitating disability. For example, someone with a fear of being in crowded places may seek the comfort of a dog to make them feel safe. Someone who has panic attacks can be comforted by their emotional support cat or bird.
Understanding Emotional Support Animal Certification in Virginia
Although an emotional support animal does not need to go through a rigid training or certification process, you cannot simply decide one day that your pet is an emotional support animal and be done with it. An emotional support animal, much like service animals, are often granted leeways that a pet without an emotional support animal certification cannot obtain. For example, a person with a disability may want to travel by plane. They could ask their doctor if they can bring their emotional support animal on the plane with them.
Many regular pet owners often pretend that their pet is an emotional support animal in order to obtain these advantages, even though they do not qualify for them. Because of this, rules and regulations are set in place so that these perks are only given to those who deserve them. In the case of Virginia laws, you would need to have an ESA letter.
An ESA letter certifies that the animal in question is an emotional support animal. It must be from a licensed mental health professional (LMHP), such as a doctor or therapist. The letter must also specify what kind of disability the pet owner has, and why the extent of their condition calls for the need of an emotional support animal. It must detail what the animal does to help their disability and why it is important to them.
With this letter, you can now go to any public and private entities in Virginia and ask for accommodations. For example, you can now take your emotional support animal to any public building, as long as it is not causing a disturbance to others in the area. You can also take your emotional support animal to most any other area of the state, even in areas where pets are not allowed.