Joanne Shortell took me up on my call for guest bloggers. I am glad she did, as I learned of a blogger and mental health advocate I'd like to introduce to you. Joanne has three websites. Strongly Bipolar is a blog similar to Prozac Monologues. Maevetour.blogspot.com/ is the source of the following piece. And Servicepoodle.com gives more information about the issue it discusses.
Rx for Joy Can Be Written by any Therapist in the U.S.
My current therapist is a nurse practitioner who can prescribe psychiatric drugs. My previous therapist was an MSW who could not. Both, however, could write a prescription for an emotional support animal (ESA). A short, simple letter (see sample below) from a doctor (any medical doctor, not just a psychiatrist) or any therapist will allow a person with a psychiatric disability or a chronic pain condition to have pets in no-pets housing, to avoid any pet deposit or pet fee, and to avoid size limitations or species restrictions. The person with the disability gives this to their landlord or co-op/condo board as a request for a reasonable accommodation. (See link: How to Get an Emotional Support Animal.
Why should I prescribe ESAs?
Maeve, Psychiatric Service Dog and Mental Health Advocate said it best in her Manifesto:
If the drug companies could patent pets, then animals would be the first line of treatment for every condition in the DSM. Animals interact with no drugs, can't cause metabolic syndrome or diabetes, never overwhelm kidneys or liver, are approved for pediatric use, and improve both mental and physical health -- EVEN OVER THE COURSE OF A LIFETIME OF USE. Rather than a few 6-week clinical trials, thousands of years of experience demonstrate our safety and effectiveness.
What types of animals can be ESAs?
ESAs need no special training and can be any species normally considered a pet. They can even be too young to be housebroken. Note: you may have heard that the Department of Justice recently limited service animals to two species: dogs and miniature horses. This does not affect the law regarding ESAs. See note at the bottom of How to Get an Emotional Support Animal with link to a memo from HUD, which enforces the law regarding ESAs in housing.
What types of housing are covered?
All condo and co-ops (whether rented or owned) are covered. All apartment buildings or complexes with more than four units are covered. See page 2 of the Fair Housing Information Sheet #6 from the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law for information on owner-occupied buildings with four or fewer units and single family houses.
Can an existing pet be declared an ESA? Is it possible to have more than one ESA?
Yes. I had my cat Sibol for nearly 10 years before she became a legal ESA and had been paying hundreds of dollars in pet deposits and pet fees for her each time I renewed my lease. That stopped after I requested that she and the puppy I intended to train as a service dog both be allowed in my no-dogs apartment as emotional support animals.
What law gives people the right to ESAs?
The U.S. Fair Housing Act, which is effective in all 50 U.S. states and cannot be limited by local or state laws, codes, or regulations.
Do ESAs have public access rights?
Not under federal law. The Americans with Disabiities Act (ADA) allows service dogs access virtually anywhere the general public is allowed, but unlike ESAs these dogs must be specially trained and must provide some service other than emotional support. See Legal Definitions of Types of Animals. It is possible for ESAs to fly with their owners if they are necessary to the owner on the flight or at the destination, but that right comes from a different law with different procedures.
What Should the Letter Say?
Here is a sample excerpted from page 6 of the Fair Housing Information Sheet #6 from Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. Their sample letter includes an additional paragraph which you may or may not want to include. The letter I used only had the two paragraphs below. When I ran it by a lawyer at the CT Fair Housing Center, she assured me the omitted paragraph was not necessary.
Dear [Housing Authority/Landlord]:
[Full Name of Tenant] is my patient, and has been under my care since [date]. I am intimately familiar with his/her history and with the functional limitations imposed by his/her disability. He/She meets the definition of disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Due to mental illness, [first name] has certain limitations regarding [social interaction/coping with stress/anxiety, etc.]. In order to help alleviate these difficulties, and to enhance his/her ability to live independently and to fully use and enjoy the dwelling unit you own and/or administer, I am prescribing an emotional support animal that will assist [first name] in coping with his/her disability.
What if the landlord refuses the request for a reasonable accommodation?
I contacted my state's Fair Housing Center. Presenting my landlord with the number and name of an attorney there ended the problem. You can find your Fair Housing Center by googling "Fair Housing Center" plus your state's name. One can also file a complaint with HUD. No lawyer is required, there is no fee, and it can be done by telephone, mail, or internet. See Fair Housing Equal Opportunity complaint Process.
Joanne Shortell, Maeve's Service Human
We would LOVE to speak to your group free of charge
Joanne and Maeve (her psychiatric service poodle) help people with psychiatric disabilities discover their rights to emotional support animals in no-pets housing without pet deposits or pet fees and their rights to service dogs.
photo of Maeve and Joanne's parents by Joanne Shortell, used by permission