Many people rely on their pets for comfort and security, and that's never been truer than today. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, 23 million American households have acquired a pet, many to help cope with feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression.
Unfortunately, our pets also often limit us when it comes to issues like housing and travel. Finding pet-approved housing or hotels in many cities can be virtually impossible, and traveling can be cost-prohibitive and restrictive.
We investigated the legitimacy of CertaPet, which offers online counseling evaluations so that you can attain ESA (emotional support animal) certification for your pet. Read our full review below to see if CertaPet might open new doors for you and your furry companion.
If your psychological wellbeing is deeply connected to your pet, we highly recommend CertaPet as an option for ESA certification. Certifying your pet as an emotional support animal can open heavy doors when dealing with pet prohibition in housing and travel, and it can ease emotional distress. However, due to changes issued by the Department of Transportation in 2021 stating that it no longer recognizes emotional support animals as service animals, this has essentially invalidated CertaPet’s ESA letters for travel.
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CertaPet is a web-based service connecting pet owners with licensed mental health professionals who can evaluate the client and determine if they may be eligible for having their pet certified as an emotional support animal (ESA). After completing a brief consultation, patients may be granted an official letter of certification that deems their pet an ESA.
There are many reasons a person might choose to have their pet certified as an emotional support animal, but the primary two are housing and travel. ESA certification can ensure security for you and your pet in various housing situations and travel accommodations. Below, we'll look more deeply into the legal details of ESAs and how they might affect your and your pet's lives.
To understand CertaPet’s legitimacy, it's essential to look at the legal definitions of emotional support animals, service animals, and therapy animals. These definitions are crucial in determining whether or not your pet may be protected by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) or the Fair Housing Act. Most importantly, these definitions and regulations have changed significantly since 2021.
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The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a service animal as "a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability." Emotional support animals and therapy animals are not defined as service animals based on this definition. However, the ADA does note that this definition does not affect or limit the broader definitions of assistance animals or service animals under the Fair Housing Act or the Air Carrier Access Act.
An ESA is an animal companion that provides emotional or physical benefits for an individual who suffers from symptoms of an emotional or mental disability such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and more. ESAs are not required to be specially trained, and they are not limited to dog breeds, unlike service animals. To classify a pet as an emotional support animal, you must obtain a letter from a qualified, licensed therapist or medical doctor that designates them as such. (This is where CertaPet can help you.) While ESAs are not always granted the same access to public accommodations as service animals, they are protected under the Fair Housing Act.
Therapy animals are trained to provide therapy to patients in hospitals and other medical facilities.
There are two significant changes to note regarding the status of emotional support animals and how these changes may impact ESA certification from CertaPet:
Despite the changes in the Department of Transportation's regulation of emotional support animals, the Fair Housing Act still recognizes them as assistance animals and protects them as such.
If you live with a disability and have a service dog, you can still fill out a travel certificate so they can join you on the flight. Historically available for both ESAs and service dogs but negated by the latest DOT and ACAA regulations, a travel certificate is a form dated within the last year verifying that your dog is certified to help your disability. That said, we advise contacting your preferred airline or transportation provider to determine their regulations and restrictions regarding ESAs before investing in a travel certification.
To obtain an ESA certification letter through CertaPet, you’ll begin by clicking “Get Started Today” on the company’s website, which presents a brief questionnaire about yourself, your pet, and your emotional wellbeing. Depending on your answers, CertaPet will inform you if you are a good candidate to seek an ESA letter. If you are, CertaPet presents you with three available options for certification: “Housing,” “Travel,” and “Housing + Travel.”
Once you make a selection, CertaPet will arrange for a consultation between you and a licensed mental health professional in your state. CertaPet requires payment before your consultation, and it is important to note that obtaining an ESA letter from CertaPet is not guaranteed. However, If you are not approved by your assigned licensed professional, CertaPet will refund your payment, excluding the non-refundable $35 consultation fee.
The next step involves a call or video chat with a licensed therapist or mental health practitioner. After this brief, 20-30 minute evaluation, your provider will make a diagnosis of your mental health and approve or disapprove you for an ESA letter. If you are approved, you can download a copy of your ESL letter from the website. CertaPet will also ship a hard copy to your address along with an informational packet about your rights and responsibilities. Your ESA letter is valid for one year.
An ESA certification effectively prevents landlords, rental agencies, and HOAs from discriminating against you or your assistance animal. It regulates that you will not be required to pay additional pet fees or be prohibited from renting "pet-free" accommodations, as per the Americans with Disabilities Act. While an ESA letter may not be as effective as it once was for travel, it can still mean a world of difference in the housing market.
CertaPet LLC collects personal and non-personal data about users of its website through cookies and other technologies. This information may be used for targeted advertising, promotional communications, and marketing research. CertaPet is currently the only HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) Compliant website authorized to issue certified ESA letters, adding security and credibility to the service.
After completing the questionnaire on CertaPet's website, you must choose between three ESA letter options. Payment is required before you consult with a licensed mental health practitioner, but if your provider refuses to issue a letter, CertaPet will refund your payment minus the non-refundable $35 consultation fee. CertaPet accepts all major credit cards.
The ESA certification letter for housing is valid for one full year. It ensures no pet security deposits, monthly pet fees, or refusal to accommodate an ESA in most housing complexes in the U.S., under the protection of the ADA.
In theory, the travel ESA letter would let your ESA travel with you on major airlines. Based on the DOT changes made on January 11, 2021, the legitimacy of this letter is currently questionable. We recommend checking your airline's policies regarding emotional support animals before purchasing.
This combo plan includes the benefits of the Housing and Travel ESA letters combined.
CertaPet is one of several companies online that help customers obtain ESA certification for their pets. However, many of these services do not provide letters from licensed mental health professionals and are therefore illegitimate concerning ADA and FHA requirements. We suggest deeply researching lower-priced competitors to ensure they offer state and federally approved letters from fully credentialed mental health practitioners before investing in them.
On the other hand, if you have a current mental health practitioner or licensed therapist who is knowledgeable and able to produce an ESA letter for your pet, this option may be ideal depending on the comparative costs.
If you aren’t currently seeing a mental health practitioner but need a letter for your ESA, we think that CertaPet is the best option on the market.
CertaPet does not accept HSA, FSA, or insurance as payment methods.
At Innerbody Research, we customize our evaluation criteria depending on the type and nature of the health-related service or product. But in general for health products and services, we have five broad areas that we explore in our evaluations, including:
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