Recently, and strictly out of curiosity, I went online to a web site called www.supportpets.com to see how difficult or easy it was to obtain a document to qualify my cat, Oliver, as an emotional support animal (ESA).  Once I entered in my personal information, including my email address, I was presented with a series of about 15 questions to which I had to choose answers of “yes, no, always, sometimes or never”.

The questions were along the lines of the below:

  • Do you feel anxiety when you are not with your pet?
  • Have you experienced an event that has caused you to be more anxious than usual? (COVID)
  • Does your pet give you comfort and relieve some of your anxiety?
  • Do you experience depression when away from your pet?
  • Do you notice that when you are with your pet that you are in a better mood?
  • Etc., etc.

 

I answered most of the questions with either “yes” or “sometimes” and once completed, (it took about five minutes), received immediate results that said, “Congratulations!  Oliver qualifies as an emotional support animal.”  

Then, I was instructed to pay $194 to have the document sent to me.  Naturally, I didn’t pay, but instead, I picked up the phone and dialed the number they gave me for any questions. 

I asked them if it was a medical professional that would be signing the documents and they assured me that yes, it was indeed a medical professional.  

I informed them that landlords requested that the tenant have a personal relationship with the doctor and if the medical professional who was signing the documents would be from my area.  With that question, I was put on hold for about three minutes.  The woman came back on the line and said that yes, they could accommodate that.  Now, whether they actually could or not was not determined as I was not about to give these thieves my $194.

Since then, I have received numerous emails asking me to complete my order for my ESA documents with an offer of 50% off.  Their long emails have stories and testimonies from others who have applied and gotten their documents.  One person claimed, “My ESA letters came within 6 hours of ordering!  Such quick delivery allowed me to sign a new lease in the high-rise apartment of my dreams that day.” 

Their emails also stated that my ESA order would include:

  • ESA approval from a licensed doctor delivered within 48 hours.
  • ESA Approval on 2nd pet free of charge.
  • ESA Approval that includes doctor’s license & signatures.
  • Full federal protection under both FHA and ACAA Laws.
  • Access to custom ESA forms if needed for landlords and airlines.

Now … advertisements for this company are showing up on my FaceBook thread and in advertisements everywhere I go on the internet.  Unbelievable.  

Reminder of the Law

Earlier last year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released new guidance clarifying the responsibilities of both rental housing providers and renters when it comes to reasonable accommodation requests for emotional support animals (ESAs) in housing.

Documentation from the Internet

It was stated that some websites sell certificates, registrations, and licensing documents for assistance animals to anyone who answers certain questions or participates in a short interview and pays a fee. Under the Fair Housing Act, a housing provider may request reliable documentation when an individual requesting a reasonable accommodation has a disability and disability-related need for an accommodation that is not obvious or otherwise known

In HUD’s experience, such documentation from the internet is not, by itself, sufficient to reliably establish that an individual has a non-observable disability or disability-related need for an assistance animal. 

By contrast, many legitimate, licensed health care professionals deliver services remotely, including over the internet. One reliable form of documentation is a note from a person’s health care professional [on their letterhead] that confirms a person’s disability and/or need for an animal when the provider has personal knowledge of the individual.

Information Confirming Disability-Related 

Need for an Assistance Animal

  • Reasonably supporting information often consists of information from a licensed health care professional – e.g., a physician, optometrist, psychiatrist, psychologist, physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner, or nurse –general to the condition but specific as to the individual with a disability and the assistance or therapeutic emotional support provided by the animal. 
  • A relationship or connection between the disability and the need for the assistance animal must be provided. This is particularly the case where the disability is non-observable, and/or the animal provides therapeutic emotional support. 
  • For non-observable disabilities and animals that provide therapeutic emotional support, a housing provider may ask for information that is consistent with that identified in the Guidance on Documenting an Individual’s Need for Assistance Animals in Housing (*see Questions 6 and 7) in order to conduct an individualized assessment of whether it must provide the accommodation under the Fair Housing Act. The lack of such documentation in many cases may be reasonable grounds for denying a requested accommodation.

To read HUD’s entire guidance notice, visit https://www.hud.gov/sites/dfiles/PA/documents/HUDAsstAnimalNC1-28-2020.pdf 

 

Don’t get me wrong.  I am an avid animal lover.  I do believe that certain cases of people needing an emotional support animal are legitimate, but what I don’t support is dishonesty, falsified information or any form of scam whatsoever.  And it seems to me, the websites that offer these docs, the medical professionals who work with them and the people who utilize them are guilty of all of the above.  

Disclosure:  Permission was granted from Oliver for the one-time use of his photo for this article.

 

Patricia Harris is Senior Editor of the AOA Buyers Guide and Magazine.