Federal laws on Emotional Support Animals ( ESA ) have changed since The Advocate Magazine published its article on ESA letters four years ago . ( See “ Read the original article ” box on this page .) Since 2018 , state regulatory bodies have also clamped down harder on the practice of writing ESA letters . In this article , I ’ ll discuss some of these important updates .
ESAs No Longer Protected for Air Travel ( But Still Protected for Housing )
In my previous article , I explained that federal law protected ESAs in only two contexts — air travel and housing . In other words , no one was required to accommodate the presence of an ESA outside of those two contexts . That ’ s no longer the case . On 12 / 10 / 2020 , the U . S . Department of Transportation ( DOT ) amended 14 CFR , Part 38 to clarify that only service animals — not ESAs — would be required to be accommodated for air travel .
As explained in my previous article , ESAs are different from service animals . Service animals are trained to perform specific duties on the behalf of an individual with a disability , and those duties are necessary for the individual to enjoy access to myriad community services . Conversely , ESAs are not necessarily trained to perform specific duties — their mere presence alleviates emotional or psychological distress .
A service animal , according to the DOT , bit . ly / 3SY6NK2 , is a “ a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability .” Gone are the days of travelers arguing with airline staff about whether their emotional support peacocks , tarantulas , ferrets , iguanas , pigs , ducks , guinea pigs , rats , and snakes should be permitted to travel with them on the plane at no additional cost .
Client Requests for Emotional Support Animal ( ESA ) Letters
Dr . Aaron Norton is the executive director of the National Board of Forensic Evaluators , a visiting instructor at the University of South Florida ’ s Department of Mental Health Law and Policy , Southern Region director for AMHCA , board liaison for AMHCA ’ s Ethics Committee , and chair of the Florida Mental Health Counselors Association ’ s Government Relations Committee .
Read the original article on ESA letters in The Advocate Magazine
“ Regulations Related to Responding to Client Requests for Emotional Support Animal Letters — Four Facts ,” pages 22 – 26 of the Fall 2018 issue at bit . ly / 3Mqy8BX .
cannot bring some ESAs on flights for those other airlines ; it just means that they have to follow the policies those airlines have for bringing pets onto planes , including fees for those privileges .
The removal of federal protections for ESAs in air travel has no impact on protections related to housing . Currently , therefore , housing should now be the primary focus of ESA letters written by Clinical Mental Health Counselors ( CMHCs ).
Complaints of Misuse of ESA Letters
Interestingly , disability rights groups were among those who pushed for the removal of air travel protections for ESAs in the federal code , arguing that :
1 . Poorly behaved pets masquerading as accommodations for disabilities interfere with the abilities of trained service animals to perform their duties ( e . g ., service animals are sometimes attacked by ESAs ), and
2 . The abuse of the ESA designation by individuals who do not truly have a disability and / or who do not truly require the presence of the ESA in order to access air travel caused undue hardship on individuals with disabilities who legitimately required the use of a service animal .
I think there ’ s validity in their arguments . Several months before the DOT amended its rule , The Guardian reported in 2019 , bit . ly / 2zveQqw , that California experienced a 1,000 percent increase in ESAs registered by animal-control facilities , a popular website for ESA letters increased its number of certified ESAs by about 200 percent per year over four years from 2015 through 2019 , and Delta reported in 2018 an 85 percent increase in “ animal incidents ” involving ESA misbehavior on planes .
Though federal law no longer requires airlines to offer protections for ESAs , a small number of them choose to do so , according to an article on DoNotPay . com ( i . e ., bit . ly / 3epvK1S ): Latam Airlines , Volaris , Westjet , Air France , Asiana Airlines ( to / from the United States only ), China Airlines ( dogs only ), KLM ( dogs only ), Luthsana ( to / from U . S . only ), and Singapore Air ( dogs only ). Not surprisingly , most of the major airlines that Americans commonly use for both domestic and international flights are not included on this short list . This doesn ’ t necessarily mean that passengers
State Legislatures and Licensure Boards Are Cracking Down on Inappropriate ESA Letters
Since my original article on ESA letters ran in The Advocate Magazine , states including California , Florida , and Ohio have increasingly taken measures to address inappropriate ESA letter practices . As reported in the New York Times , nyti . ms / 2KxE4MD ,
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8 The Advocate Magazine 2022 , Issue # 3 American Mental Health Counselors Association ( AMHCA ) www . amhca . org