Amid the uncertainties that 2020 presented, the number of people looking for non-medical ways to cope with anxiety and nurture their mental health has dramatically increased. In addition to breathing, meditating, therapy, healthy diet, and exercise, many health professionals recommend animals as an effective “treatment.” Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are a great TOOL to help ease symptoms of mental illness like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other emotional disorders and mental health conditions. Live in Florida and looking for an ESA? Keep reading to understand how to qualify your pet as an ESA in Florida.
What is an Emotional Support Animal?
In short, an ESA is an animal that provides assistance or therapeutic emotional support by its mere presence. For more info, check out our article here. It’s imperative to note: an Emotional Support Animal is not a service animal. According to the ADA, an ESA “helps relieve loneliness, depression, anxiety and certain phobias, but does not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities.”
Florida also follows the ADA definitions of ESAs. They recognize that an Emotional Support Animal is a vital component in treating some emotional and mental conditions. You can’t just slap a sticker on Fido’s vest and call him your ESA. To qualify your pet as an ESA in Florida (or adopt one), the state of Florida requires you to have an emotional or mental disability listed in the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).
So How Do I Get an ESA?
Here are a few steps to help you obtain and register your ESA in the state of Florida.
1) Determine if you’d benefit from having an ESA. Would you be able to care for the pet, spend time with it and clean up after it? Do you enjoy animals and the companionship they offer? If so, you may be a good candidate for an ESA.
2) Connect with a licensed healthcare provider. In the state of Florida, Telehealth providers are approved to evaluate your need for an Emotional Support Animal. American Service Pets has a network of licensed healthcare professionals in Florida that can help! Your condition should substantially limit your ability to function in at least one significant life activity. Your mental disability must also be listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Once you’ve been evaluated by a health care professional and it’s been determined that an emotional support animal would be a good treatment to help ease or treat the symptoms of your condition, you will be issued an ESA Letter. This letter sort of acts like a prescription and allows your pet to be classified as an ESA.
3) Choose your companion. Most ESAs are dogs or cats, but it is not all that rare to have a lizard, rabbit, or other four-legged friends as an ESA. Take time to think about what type of animal would best suit your companionship needs. If you’re having trouble deciding, check out this article on where to find your emotional support animal. Once you have your furry (or scaly) friend by your side, be sure to license and vaccinate your pet, just like you would for any pet in Florida. You can find specific requirements on your county’s website.
4) Get a letter. This is one letter you don’t want to forge like that one time you tried to skip Jr. High gym class. Yes, we are covering this part again because it is crucial. Remember: an ESA letter must be from a licensed medical healthcare professional. It must be printed on their official letterhead with their license details, the issue date, and the state it was issued in.
5) Train your new companion to be well-behaved. It’s true that Emotional Support Animals don’t need formal training like service animals. Still, they are expected to behave in public spaces, just like any other pet. If you have a dog, you can check out this article on obedience training. If you’re not getting a canine companion, just remember to consider the context and situations your pet will face and work with him to mind his P’s and Q’s.
What Are My Rights as an ESA owner?
One important thing to remember (yes, we keep repeating this) is that Emotional Support Animals are not service animals. As such, ESAs are not covered by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). However, ESAs are covered by the Fair Housing Act.
Rights in Rental Properties
If your emotional support animal has a legitimate letter from a health care provider, he can live with you in a rental property – even if the property has a no-pet policy. You cannot be denied a valid request for a reasonable accommodation if you’ve presented your letter to the landlord or housing providers. Reasonable accommodation means you’re not trying to fit three miniature horses into a studio apartment. Obviously, that won’t work out.
As long as you’ve complied with the ESA rules, the fair housing act states that fluffy can live with you. Housing providers cannot charge any fee, pet deposit or insist that you provide any additional forms or follow any other procedure in order to cohabitate with your ESA. Your housing provider also cannot ask for proof of any diagnosis or request any of your medical records.
BUT. There’s always a but, right? You may be denied if:
- Your pet has been a threat to the property, is excessively noisy, harmful, or frightening.
- Your pet is too big. (mini horse in a tiny apartment)
- Your housing unit has four or fewer units, and the landlord is living in one of them.
- Your home is a single-family home rented without the use of a realtor.
Generally speaking, though, the fair housing act works in your favor, and you should have no trouble getting the stamp of approval for your emotional companion.
Rights in the Work Place
Unfortunately, ESAs don’t find any special treatment in the workplace. Since they are not service animals and don’t cater to any disability-related needs, they are not covered under the ADA. You can always talk to your human resources department, though. Maybe teach Fido how to turn up those puppy dog eyes and sit pretty; they may just make an exception. It never hurts to ask!
Rights While Traveling
In late 2020 the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that new rules would change the way ESAs were handled during air travel. Airlines are no longer required to recognize ESAs and provide reasonable accommodation in the cabin for free. All the airlines are handling this new rule differently, so we’ve outlined the major carriers here and here for you to check out. Of course, you can always call your airline before you fly to get the most up-to-date information.
Can I Have More Than One ESA?
The short answer? Sure! As long as your health provider deems it beneficial, you can have multiple ESAs. They will need to be licensed and vaccinated (as any pet in Florida needs to be). They would also each need to be identified individually by a licensed healthcare provider in an ESA Letter. Just be sure to weigh the options, especially in regards to housing. Your landlord is required to provide reasonable accommodation… but it might not be reasonable for several animals to cohabitate the space you’re renting.
Sharing life with an emotional support animal can be very rewarding and incredibly helpful for individuals with an emotional disability. While it may seem daunting to ensure your ESA is appropriately registered, we hope we’ve made that process a little less scary and that we’ve armed you with everything you need to know about having an ESA in Florida – now go soak up some sun with your new companion!