Q: Help! My veterinarian refuses to write a letter saying that my dog is an emotional service dog so he can travel with me. She says it’s not her place. My sister’s veterinarian wrote a letter for her. Why the difference?
A: Your veterinarian is 100 percent correct. Much though she may care about you personally, the state of your emotions is not in her professional wheelhouse, legally speaking. It’s absolutely not her place to write a letter certifying that you require the emotional support of your dog to travel.
What you’re seeking is emotional support animal (ESA) designation for your dog. Here’s how it works:
If you are under the care of a health professional for your mental health and you require an animal for emotional support when you travel or in a living situation, you can have the doctor write you a simple letter stating that you require this animal for emotional support.
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That’s it. You can now travel with your emotional support animal (usually a dog or cat). But that doesn’t mean your dog will now be a “service animal” entitled to unfettered access, nationwide. According to federal law, ESAs are guaranteed access only to airline travel and housing.
It’s confusing, I know. Here are a few points by way of clarification:
▪ Service animals are dogs who have been specifically trained to perform tasks directly related to a person’s disability. They do not have to be registered. They’re granted access to any location. Owners can be asked only two questions if challenged: “Is he required because of a disability?” and “What task does he perform?”
▪ Emotional support animal handlers must present a doctor’s letter, if asked. Buying a “registration kit” online is useless.
▪ Three federal laws laws apply to service dogs and ESAs: the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act.
▪ The ADA ensures that service animals be granted access anywhere the disabled persons who rely on them might need them. ESAs are not under its jurisdiction.
▪ The FHA allows service animals and ESAs to live with their people, regardless of any community or landlord restrictions.
▪ The ACAA allows service animals and ESAs to fly with their people.
One last point: Remember, it’s considered fraud for anyone to misrepresent a need for an emotional support animal.
For more info, check out ADA.gov.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.