Are these online emotional support animal letters valid and legal?

by admin on September 30, 2010

Question by Roger Hammond: Are these online emotional support animal letters valid and legal?
I’m looking at this website particularly,
If I do get a letter from this company or another online company that does letters for emotional support animals, are they the same validity as a doctor that you know in person?
In response to the second answer: My rental agency does allow for ESAs, I confirmed it with them.

What I’m really looking for is would this document hold up in court as a medical prescription?

Best answer:

Answer by WRG
Those letter mean nothing. The law in your state may not even provide for emotional support animals and if they do a real doctor that has an actual medical relationship with you is going to have to sign the letter.

Add your own answer in the comments!

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kirsten 09.30.10 at 4:39 am

No, of course not. It’s a rip off. The landlord is permitted to require proof of disability before they permit an emotional support animal. That proof has to come from a doctor who is currently treating you. Just ask your regular psychiatrist or psychologist. After all, if you’re disabled by mental illness you’re surely already going to have one. Besides, what’s the point of getting a diagnosis if you don’t also get some treatment to relieve the symptoms?

— edited to add —

Unless it is written by a doctor who is treating you for mental illness, it has no legal meaning whatever. Anyone could get the same paper regardless of whether they are actually disabled, for a fee. Therefore, it is not proof of disability. For as little as $ 40 you can get a certificate over the internet “certifying” the dog as a service dog. It’s still just a fake.

Maybe you could put one over on the landlord with a fake certificate or letter. But then again, if the landlord is savvy you could wind up prosecuted for fraud. It just isn’t worth it to risk the dishonest shortcut.

Again, if you really are disabled, you’ll already be in treatment with a mental health professional, so why worry about it? And if you aren’t, then you shouldn’t be using the disabled to find a shortcut around a landlord’s rules.

2 mariahleadme 09.30.10 at 5:24 am

Hey…..I can send you the same “official verification” for only $ 50.00 USD!
It would have the same value (none) as the one they want $ 75.00 USD for.
Hurry! Save now! If you order in the next 10 minutes, you can get 2 for the price of 1! That’s right, 2 worthless pieces of paper that state that you are officially nuts for the price of 1!

On the serious side……….nothing available online or not in-person with your primary care physician is worth anything. All of the online “certification” programs are nothing but frauds and scams designed to separate you from your money. None of them hold up in a court of law. Not a single one of them is worth the paper they are printed on. Save your time and money by not falling for it.

3 hopesclan 09.30.10 at 6:12 am

Nope. It wouldn’t hold up in court. Neither one of the providers are qualified to diagnose or prescribe, for one. Only psychiatrists and clinical psychologists can do that. I also doubt they would be willing to show up in court and back your case. Medical letters are typically not allowed as evidence. I know for a fact both my doctor and my therapist would show up in court for me if there was ever a need.

M.ED…master’s in education. LPC… licensed professional counselor. LPC’s are NOT psychologists.

I am usually not a stickler to labels when we are talking about individual therapy. If a clinician with those labels was actually working with a client for a number of years, there is a difference. If a counselor of any type is registered or licensed, works well with you, has appropriate boundaries and the necessary skill (much gained in life experiences) that’s great. If you are regularly being seen for a ‘working diagnosis’ a counselor or therapists could write a letter attesting to that. Not so much the same with a scam.

However I have ALWAYS been told that a clinical diagnosis (not a working diagnosis for treatment) must come from a psychiatrist or PHD in clinical psychology. That is what is necessary to be approved for any disability claims. Clinical psychologists are rare and the testing one does is long and grueling (like 3 sessions of 2-3 hours). If we are diagnosing via tests alone, I think they would be the only ones qualified to do so. Possibly a psychiatrist (MD) but if there is a question, it is always deferred to the clinical psychologist.

4 petflyer 12.05.10 at 10:03 am

These letters are perfectly legal and satisfy all DOT requirements for flying with your ESA. In fact, some airlines have gotten so strict that the online professionals are the best option because they will be able to verify with the airlines that all is legit. Your personal shrinks secretary might answer the phonecall from the airline with ” who are you and why are you calling me? What’s an ESA letter? Well, the doctors on vacation til’ next next month so…..” It is perfectly legal and ethical to practice psychotherapy through e-mail or the internet. CFR 382.117 is completely satisfied by these letters and the airlines have no choice but to let you fly with your ESA if you have one.

5 Wayne O. 04.06.11 at 10:32 am

First, everyone seems to think they know the definitive answer, but most are either misinformed or simply ignoranat (see WRG, mariahleadme, and hopesclan). To qualify as emotionally disabled, the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA (which includes the Fair Housing Act and sections for the Dept. of Transportation) requires a letter from a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) who has assessed and diagnosed a patient, and considers an ESA to be a viable or necessary treatment modality. Statements or prescriptions from a medical doctor are NOT accepted, unless the MD is also a LMHP.

It’s important to note that the ADA is enforced by the US Justice Dept (Federal Law). Each state has its own laws regarding pets, service animals, and emotional support animals (State Law). Counties have their own specific laws (County Law). Cities and townships have ordinances or laws regarding pets, service animals, and emotional support animals (city law). Sometimes these laws are in agreement and without conflict. More often than not, however, they have conflicts with the ADA. Any time that a state, county, or city law is in conflict with federal law, federal law overrides the others. So if a state law is more restrictive than federal law (the ADA), for example, the ADA rules apply because it is federal law. The only time that state, county or city laws overrule federal law is when they are less restrictive than federal law.

A legitimate and validated online test battery and assessment by an educated and trained clinician (even an M. Ed in Counseling Psychology), overseen by an LMHP is no less valid than face to face testing and interviews in a clinician’s office. Is it non-traditional? Yes. Is it any less valid? No. And because of this validity, the prescriptive letter WILL hold up in court, as evidenced by the test results and interviews that indicate the severity of a patient’s disorder (disability). Now, if an online psychological services company is simply a “letter mill”, then that’s a different story. But it’s highly unlikely that a verifiable licensed mental health professional would sign off on such a business and jeapordize their license.

The results of testing and interviews are dependent on the patient’s responses, whether face to face or online. It’s interesting that many people have been able call their family doctor on the phone, explain their symptoms, and receive a medicine prescription without actually seeing their MD face to face. Yet that prescription is considered completely valid, even if the patient has overstated or even fabricated the situation for ulterior motives (they can also do that face to face in the dr.’s office).

The bottom line is that if a person has been legitimately assessed and diagnosed and been deemed “emotionally disabled” due to their disorder, and then been prescribed an ESA as treatment by a verifiable licensed mental health professional, the letter is valid. And an airline company or property manager who rejects it is in violation of federal law and is subject to Justice Department complaint or lawsuit. The law protecting disabled persons is broad and favors the disabled.

6 sussie 03.05.12 at 8:28 am

Any letters obtained from an on line doctor or company are bogus and not legal in the eyes of ANY one. Same as with the companies that claim to register your ESA or SD

7 jeannettte michaud 03.26.12 at 9:20 am

your saying i need is a letter from my psychologist

8 sussie 03.29.12 at 2:59 pm


9 gr8vines 10.10.12 at 12:05 pm

Here is the email that I received from Chilhowee Psych Services after I wanted to cancel my order for an ESA letter because American Airlines will not accept them:

Chilhowee Psych Services
Oct 9 (1 day ago)

to me
First, we’re glad (well, not that glad) to cancel and refund your order and we completely understand why. When our licensed clinicians first began providing emotional disability assessments, we used the Chilhowee Psychological Services (CPS) letterhead. As American Airlines began to see an increase in ESAs flying with passengers, they decided to see who CPS was, since they saw our letterhead more than most therapists. When they discovered that our assessments weren’t traditional (valid, but online), they decided to reject our letters (every ESA costs them money) and take their chances in court should a disabled passenger file a lawsuit. They also flagged our therapist (Stanford Sutherland), despite the fact that he has a private practice in Colorado. We decided to use Mr. Sutherland’s letterhead from his private practice, since there’s no way to identify an affiliation with CPS or the assessment being online. He’s listed on our website in bold letters, however, and they’ve already flagged his name.

There is another licensed therapist who is neither listed on our website nor identifiable as an associate of our mental health services agency in any way. He has a private practice in Oregon, and we refer clients to him who may fly with American or JetBlue airlines. Because he is not one of our local licensed therapists and completely independent from us, the process is slightly different when using him. The client must actually speak to him over the telephone (at least twice) or connect via Skype for two or more face to face sessions. These sessions do not last long and can even be back to back. In addition, there is an additional fee of $50 for this service to qualify for American and JetBlue.

Because American and JetBlue Airlines has never rejected his letter (he is not affiliated with us), we’d like to offer you a letter from this therapist and guarantee his letter will be accepted by them. The way the guarantee works is that, provided you do not inform American or JetBlue that you originally contacted our agency to obtain a letter, then if they reject the letter we’ll refund your entire order.

We’d like to keep you as a client and help make your life easier. Please let us know your thoughts.


Timothy Livingood, M. Ed. QMHP

Chilhowee Psychological Services
150 Morning Sun Drive
Suite 300
Woodland Park, CO 80863

Office: 719-687-1031
Fax: 719-687-2850

10 sussie 10.15.12 at 1:12 pm

They are feeding you a line. I live in Oregon. There is no one like that here.

11 Wayne O. 10.25.12 at 11:41 am

Sussie,I’m impressed that you know every therapist, social worker, psychologist, and psychiatrist in Oregon and somehow have personal knowledge that none of them assess and write letters of prescription. You are amazing! LOL

12 Sue 02.05.15 at 11:36 am

I agree. And what is really bad is that these companies are misleading the public. The laws state that the letter must come from a physician that is familiar with your condition. In other words, they have been seeing you for it. The key word here is SEEING you and FAMILIAR with your condition. If the airlines really wanted to push this, they could deny entry with any of these letters from these on line Doctors because they do not fall within the rules.

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>