How to Get an Emotional Support Animal in Virginia

To qualify for an emotional support animal, known as an ESA in Virginia, you need to have an ESA letter. This is an official letter from a certified mental health professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or clinical social worker. The letter states that you have a mental or emotional illness and require a support pet as part of your treatment plan.

What, When, Where, How? How to Get an Emotional Support Letter

With Certapet’s 5-minute pre-screening process, it couldn’t be any easier to get an ESA letter. Certapet can assist by connecting you with a LMHP in your state. These mental health professionals are very knowledgeable and have extensive experience in prescribing ESAs to patients in need.

Could you qualify for an ESA? Take Certapet’s quick 5-min pre-screening questionnaire to see if you do!

ESA Owner 101: Laws and Punishments

There are two important laws that govern the rights of pet owners with an ESA. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). As wonderful as it is to enjoy the privileges that these two laws provide, it is equally important not to abuse them.

The Air Carrier Access Act

The ACAA protects persons with a disability from being prejudiced in as far as air travel is concerned. An individual in need of an emotional support pet may not be refused transportation by the airline. They may take their pet on board with them as long as the animal does not pose a threat to other passengers and airline staff. A person in possession of a legitimate ESA letter is also exempt from paying any fees associated with the transport of their pet.

The Fair Housing Act

Federal law states that a landlord cannot discriminate against a tenant based on race, religion, or disabilities. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) states that apartment blocks or housing communities that do not usually allow pets must make reasonable accommodation for the owner of an ESA and their pet. This means that: ESA owners are, by law, allowed to keep their support pet in housing that has a no-pet-policy. It also means that owners of ESAs are exempt from paying pet fees or deposits associated with living with a pet. ESAs are allowed access to “common areas”.

Breaking the Rules: Virginians Don’t Play Around

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Virginia’s disability rights law, people with disabilities may bring their service animals to all public accommodations. These include stores, schools, offices, motels, restaurants, and businesses. However, if you are seen to be abusing your animal or your pet is disruptive or poses a threat to others, a landlord or business owner is within their rights to ask you to leave and make reparations for any damage caused.

An issue that is becoming more prevalent is that of people falsely representing a pet as an ESA. Falsely claiming that your pet is an ESA can lead to fines of up to $ 10 000. Be sure that you have a legal emotional support letter from a LMHP. Do not claim to need an ESA if you do not really need one.

How Do You Train an ESA?

Emotional support dogs are different to service dogs in this regard. Service dogs require demanding and very specific training to complete the tasks that they will need to do as part of their daily roles as a service dog. Aside from a few basic good manners, ESAs do not need any rigorous training. You will want your ESA to be house trained and respond to a few basic cues such as Sit, Stay, Settle and a recall (this is when your dog returns to you when you call their name or whistle for them). These few skills are important for the safety of your dog. An obedient dog with good manners will also be more welcome in public spaces.

Where to Find a Suitable ESA in Virginia

If you have a specific breed of dog in mind, you can begin your search for a responsible breeder on the American Kennel Club site. You can also look up your local breeders’ club for a list of breeders in your area. The Cat Fanciers Association is a great place to look for specific cat breeds.

Just remember to do your due diligence before deciding on a breeder. You will want to choose a breeder that has their pets’ best interests at heart. A clean, warm and family-orientated environment is the best place for a puppy or kitten’s life to start out.

Adopt, Don’t Shop! Places to Look in Virginia

Rescue pets are often more suitable as ESAs. Mixed breed dogs are inclined to be less demanding in as far as training, exercise and stimulation are concerned. They also tend to have fewer health issues. A relationship with an emotional support animal is a two-way street. They give so much of themselves for our well-being. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing to give back in the way of giving a home and your love to a dog or cat from a rescue group?!  Have a look at these three animal rescue shelters as a start:

Virginia Beach SPCA

FYI – they have a super “Vet For a Day” event for kids who want to learn more about this noble profession!

Fairfax County Animal Shelter

With 4000 – 5000 cats, dogs and other small animals coming through their doors each year, you are guaranteed to feed your perfect furry friend here!

 Animal Welfare League of Arlington

These guys have been going since 1944 and facilitate over 1000 adoptions each year.

Out and About With Your Emotional Support Animal in Virginia

Dog Parks

Pet-Friendly Eateries

3 Common Questions on Getting an ESA in Virginia

1. What Kind of Animal is an ESA?

2. Where Can You Find an ESA in Virginia?

3. Are ESA Dogs Allowed in Public Spaces?


Comments (1)

Beverly Karen Weisbaum

Where is the screening located?

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